Art dealer of the Avantgarde

Marchands-amateurs and Art Dealers

Alfred Flechtheim was sent to the art metropolis of Paris in 1906 as part of his commercial training. His meeting there with a small colony of German artists, collectors and art writers in the legendary Café du Dôme provided the initial stimulation that essentially strengthened his wish to act as a marchand-amateur – an art dealer without an own gallery or representation. It was during this period that the acquisition and sale of works of art became a passion. He advanced to one of the leading German collectors of contemporary French art and jointly organised the trail-blazing Sonderbund exhibitions in Düsseldorf (1911) and Cologne (1912) that brought the French avant-garde and German Modernism together for the first time.

Paul Cassirer’s exemplary role
Flechtheim’s friend and patron Paul Cassirer (1871–1926) played an exemplary role and encouraged him to make the art trade his profession, especially when the commercial collapse of his father’s company became official. Flechtheim’s role changed from a collector to that of a gallery owner and art dealer. His meeting the marchand-amateur and writer Wilhelm Uhde (1874–1947), who had been living in Paris since 1904, brought Flechtheim into contact with Parisian collectors and dealers who were to become particularly important for his work as an art dealer and publisher in Düsseldorf (1913) and Berlin (1921). Uhde drew Flechtheim’s attention to Picasso, Braque and Rousseau and ensured that Flechtheim had access to major private collections, made him known to Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler and introduced him to Julius Meier-Graefe and Harry Graf Kessler, among others. During this early phase, however, Flechtheim was primarily concerned in acquiring works of art. According to George Grosz, Flechtheim invested all his wife’s dowry in artworks on his honeymoon in Paris in 1910.

Art dealer of the avant-garde
Flechtheim advanced to become the most important German art dealer for Fauvism and Cubism. It is not clear to what extent he was guided by commercial considerations or what role his personal passion for the avant-garde played. The Paris-based art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, who originally came from Mannheim, became Flechtheim’s most important business partner. Like Flechtheim, Kahnweiler saw Cubism as the beginning of a new age in art. Flechtheim did not just draw energy and enthusiam from Paris but also from the commodity with which he traded. His pronounced Francophile leaning was something Flechtheim’s artists shared unreservedly. Almost without exception they worked, lived or studied in Paris. This was true for the group of Spanish artists too, including Pablo Picasso, Juan Gris, Manolo Martinez Hugué and José de Togores, whom Flechtheim also represented in his gallery. When he opened the gallery in Düsseldorf in late 1913, the most notable art exhibition in the first few months was that of the Café du Dôme artists for whom this was the first presentation of their work in Germany.