Art dealer of the Avantgarde

Contracts with artists

“I have a number of contracts with artists. Some I guarantee a minimum income and have a larger share in their paintings, watercolours and graphic works; others are not given a guaranteed sum and I only take a small commission”, was how Flechtheim explained how he drew up contracts with artists and representatives. The art dealer generally sought sole agency contracts that mostly included agreements on minimum prices for works of art. The gallery owner operated, therefore, as an agent and took a commission as payment for his participation in a sale. The amount earned depended on whether or not he guaranteed the artist a regular income, among other factors.

Sales on commission
In the case of sales on commission, Alfred Flechtheim accepted works of art without capital expenditure and sold them for the artist in the gallery’s name. Several years have to be invested before a previously unknown artist makes a breakthrough on the market and Flechtheim relied on his intuition for Modernist and avant-garde artists and artistic quality. With regard to the marketing of artists, Flechtheim was seen as an art dealer of the new generation who understood the world of art lovers and collectors and knew how to draw attention to his artists. Flechtheim basically considered it his obligation to exhibit works by artists under contract regularly (in group or solo exhibitions, with or without a catalogue), to ensure their participation in other exhibitions and to advertise accordingly, which not only included placing advertisements but also holding lectures on Modernist art.

Promoting artists

Flechtheim’s artists were mostly still unknown and a foreseeable increase in the value of works of art could only be achieved if he succeeded in selling works by the artists to important collections – either publicly or privately owned – so that these could be used as ‘references’ for further business contacts. He pursued his aims by making price concessions, donating works to museums, exchanging pictures, sending works out ‘for persusal’ and working together with art societies, museums and their associations of friends. With these aims in mind, he organised 150 exhibitions in fifteen years.

To provide additional advertising for his gallery, Flechtheim ‘invented’ his gallery publications ‘Der Querschnitt’ (1921) and ‘Omnibus’ (1931). ‘Der Querschnitt’ was not just an organ for the gallery that had evolved from art catalogues but was also an important sales tool in which a number of illustrations of works by the artists could be seen in addition to interesting articles on art and culture, sport and politics, and in which reports on exhibitions could be published. Hermann von Wedderkop (1875–1956) was the editor of the gallery publications from 1922–31. Wedderkop and Flechtheim had met back in 1907 in Paris.

Flechtheim’s commitment as a publisher of portfolios of graphic works should also be mentioned here. The considerable financial outlay that this involved and the running of a large number of galleries was a great risk that – during these uncertain times – brought Flechtheim to the brink of bankruptcy on several occasions.


In addition, Flechtheim supported his artists time and again by acquiring works for his own collection that he also offered to museums as loans. However, were these works really purchased using private funds and were not, therefore, included in the gallery’s holdings? What is known is that there was a lot of activity from the very outset with regard to works described as being part of the art dealer’s private collection. Flechtheim of course also sold works in his gallery earmarked as coming from his private collection which brought him tax advantages. His private collection was of a varying size and it is not without founding that George Grosz described Flechtheim’s private flat as an ‘intimate continuation’ of the gallery space. Flechtheim’s adept and tactical approach does not always make it easy to identify the works of art correctly either. The art dealer Eduard von der Heydt’s collection of works from the South Seas, for example, was presented under Flechtheim’s name, as he was the better known art dealer, to improve sales prospects, although he never actually owned these works himself.