Art dealer of the Avantgarde

Working as an art dealer after emigration

Flechtheim had to leave Germany in October 1933 and reached Paris by way of Switzerland where he received assistance from his friend and business partner Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler. It was also Kahnweiler who provided considerable support in helping Flechtheim establish a foothold in London. Prior to this, Flechtheim had put a number of works in storage in Switzerland while preparing his emigration and sounded out the possibilities open to him to work there too. According to statements made by Flechtheim himself, the Basel art dealer Bernoulli, who was also a friend of his, had let him have ‘a little shop above the business’. In addition, he had sent a number of works on loan from French artists (Juan Gris and Fernand Léger, Kunsthaus Zürich, spring 1933) to Switzerland and stored them for the time being. When the closure of Flechtheim’s gallery business in Germany became unavoidable, Kahnweiler asked for works given to Flechtheim on a sale on commission basis to be returned. Clearing up this matter, however, ultimately took several years. Kahnweiler came to a swift agreement with Alex Vömel in Düsseldorf. Works that had been sent to Berlin, however, were in some cases no longer to be found and Flechtheim offered works from his own personal collection as alternatives. Other sections of his galleries’ holdings, as well as works to be sold on commission, reached France and later England thanks to trade relations that were still intact.

After a large exhibition project planned for Paul Rosenberg in New York came to nothing, Alfred Flechtheim tried working from London for Kahnweiler, or rather his Galerie Simon (Paris), and for the Mayor Gallery (London). Between 1933 and 1936 Flechtheim had to travel to and from Germany so as not to lose his German citizenship. The reason why this was tolerated may well have been that, as a German citizen living abroad, he brought in foreign currency for the German Reich. Although there is no written documentation of this fact, Thea Sternheim, as a contemporary witness, touched on this subject. Despite having neither a permit for permanent residency nor a work permit in England and only technically working as a representative of the Galerie Simon, Flechtheim succeded in making a new start in London. In 1934 he exhibited almost thirty works by Paul Klee at the Mayor Gallery, followed in 1935 by a Togores and Léger exhibition in Leicester Galleries and, in 1936, of French 19th-century art at the New Burlington Galleries in London. In 1935 and 1936 Flechtheim organised exhibitions on Auguste Renoir, André Derain, Edgar Degas and Marie Laurencin held at Thos. Agnew & Sons, Ltd.

His early and unexpected death put a sudden end to establishing the art of German and French Modernists in London. An obituary by an unnamed contemporary of Flechtheim’s, published in The Times of 11 March, 1937, concluded:

“During the time he spent in London he never complained of the changes in his fortunes, and one of his proudest moments was at the opening of the French Exhibition in Burlington Gardens in 1936, which contained many splendid pictures, never before seen in London, from Continental collections which he had helped to form.”