The Gurlitt Hoard and The Orpheus Clock:
With Digressions on the Subject of Raubkunst

Gurlitt Hoard contained Franz Marc's Waldinneres mit Vogel (Taube)

Franz Marc, Waldinneres mit Vogel (Taube), 1912.

Following below my reviews of two catalogues relating to the Hildebrand–Cornelius–Gurlitt bequeathal (artworks from the Gurlitt hoard) as has appeared on the Museum Books website and archived on Humanities Commons. First some digressions on the subject of Raubkunst.

One of the works recovered in Munich in 2012 you see here, Franz Marc’s Waldinneres mit Vogel (Taube) (1912). As in Die Vögel (also 1912 – I am just saying!) which lives at the Lenbachhaus, it is very hard to reproduce and thus to see the tone and hue of the violet Marc uses in these paintings about the avian experience. More on this soon, but hopefully you can get a bit of an idea of just how luminous and concatenate the purple and jades are in this canvas. Doubtful it can undergo conservation.

Franz Marc, Waldinneres mit Vogel (Taube), 1912, detail.

Both of these catalogues are very good, and I’m sure the forthcoming second part of the Gurlitt Status Report will be excellent too. (In another of the case’s amusing-macabre turns, these volumes are issued by the Hirmer Verlag, Hirmer, you may recall being the menswear hoarding store of choice of Cornelius Gurlitt. The companies are unrelated.)

But one of the things a scholarly work, at least under the present rules of publication, cannot capture is the intense emotion the discovery of the Gurlitt trove aroused in those who love the work – and not just art historians. One of the most intense experiences I had in Munich was the day in 2013 the Gurlitt seizure was revealed in FOCUS magazine. When the Süddeutsche Zeitung and Frankfurter Allgemeine began flashing notifications and tweets about the story at around 15:00 on 3 November, Schwabing’s ride-or-die Expressionism lovers (i.e. everyone in the neighborhood) literally ran out onto the streets both to steal a “just out walking” glimpse of the Gurlitt flat on the north side and to snatch up physical copies of FOCUS. I was fortunate to be on the U3 on the way to Schleißheimerstr already and just jumped off at the Olympiapark stop and, for once observing Bavarian queue rules, jostled my way up to the front of the news seller’s and grabbed the last one.

When I heard Simon Goodman speak at the Getty Research Institute this past March I was struck of course by his story, which is told in his book The Orpheus Clock: The Search for My Family’s Art Treasures Stolen by the Nazis (2015), but also by his marshaling of those powerful narrative and emotional resources that come from outside academic art historical presentation. You can view the whole talk at the Getty website.

Franz Marc, Waldinneres mit Vogel (Taube), 1912, detail.

First and foremost is the title: Who wouldn’t want to read a book called The Orpheus Clock, no matter what it was about? Goodman never wavers from the issue of provenance research that is in the foreground of the saga – if you watch the video you will hear Thomas W. Gaehtgens recount how Goodman quietly and unassumingly worked in the Getty library for years without revealing himself – but the story of the family, and the intrinsic value of the stolen and then recovered artwork, moves the narrative.

The other thing that strikes me, as my own Raubkunst at the Ringling project inches forward, is the cost of this kind of research, in every sense. For all his drive, patience, eloquence, and charm, Simon Goodman had a few advantages in his quest. But finally even the well-educated polyglot with many financial security, business, legal, and social connections could only use the threat of raining shame upon Sotheby’s and Christie’s to move them to reveal important information about the eponymous 16th Century silver and paintings by Cranach, Degas. Drive and weaponized publicity should not be the only avenues of retributive justice available. Systemic cooperation needs to lead.


Franz Marc, Sitzendes Pferd, c. 1912.
Look at this multimedia extravaganza! LOOK AT IT! LöL. Don’t ever tell me again FM isn’t funny.

The Gurlitt Hoard

In the wake of the revealed discovery in November 2013 of what has become known as the “Gurlitt hoard” – the thousands of artworks seized in a 2012 raid by the by German Federal, Bavarian State, and Munich police upon the Schwabing apartment of then 80-year-old Cornelius Gurlitt – a number of thoughtful and well-researched books have emerged, notably The Munich Art Hoard: Hitler’s Dealer and His Secret Legacy (2015) by Catherine Hickley.[1] Gurlitt, the peripatetic son of art dealer, gallerist, and sometime-curator Hildebrand Gurlitt, died in May 2014, bequeathing his collection to the Kunstmuseum Bern. The lifting of the embargo by a German court to allow Gurlitt’s trove to be dispensed to the museum was far from acclaimed – in fact, with many of the Gurlitt hoard works by 20th Century luminaries missing since the 1930s recovered from Gurlitt’s possession-jammed flat still of uncertain provenance – quite the opposite. Thus the museum of the city of Bern has been placed on defensive alert even while surely exulting over the acquisition of paintings, drawings, and prints by Franz Marc, August Macke, Henri Matisse, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and many others that greatly enrich our understanding of the historical avant-garde.

A Gurlitt hoard research catalogue and attendant exhibition was promised by the Kunstmuseum Bern, surveying the contents of its permanent collection as well for the presence of Raubkunst. And director Matthias Frehner kept his promise. The depth if not the scope of Modern Masters “Degenerate” Art at the Kunstmuseum Basel, the resulting publication, is even more ambitious than anticipated. lt offers a comprehensively illustrated checklist of the paintings from the Gurlitt acquisition as well as many other fascinating images and tales, from an account of the activities of patron-donor Othbar Huber to archival photographs rarely seen of Kathe Thannhauser and Herwarth Walden. However the excellent series of volumes Gurlitt Status Report: – Confiscated and Sold, Kunstmuseum Bern – Nazi Art Theft and Its Consequences, Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany (the second has just appeared – watch this space for updates) taking stock both more specifically and in consideration of the broader ramifications of the Gurlitt situation to some extent eclipses the Bern effort, launched from a collaborative co-exhibition at the Bundeskunsthalle Bonn.
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A Trip to the North: Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, Oldenburg

SINTRAX Kaffeebereiter, 1932, Gerhard Marcks.

SINTRAX Kaffeebereiter, 1932, Gerhard Marcks.

August Macke, Stillleben mit Tulpen, 1912

August Macke, Stillleben mit Tulpen, 1912

First I would encourage you to just skip this text and go right to the photos!

Otherwise: I went to Animalia: Interdisciplinary Perspectives and Explorations at the beginning of September mostly to see what the undergraduates and MA candidates were working on. The animal studies program at Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg is based within the Institute for American / English Studies. Though there was a mix of literary and cultural Human Animal Studies at hand the distinctive approach of this program is to examine the discipline through gender studies.

A highlight of the trip (in fact I devoted a whole day and night and went back the next day for this little side excursion) was visiting the Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte Oldenburg which is actually three buildings: Oldenburger Schloss, Augusteum, and Prinzenpalais; devoted to regional history, international “Old Masters,” and modern art, respectively.

The museums were fantastic in showcasing some artists you hear less about, or in prominent placement of less-famous works by people who are very well-known. The outstanding discoveries for me were a mournful 1937 still life by Gabriele Münter called Puppe, Katz, Kind; a the cheerful small Stillleben mit Tulpen by August Macke (which I think might be unfinished; it is very uncharacteristic in its facture of his work at this time) from 1912; Wilhelm Lehmbruck’s early Grace (1905); the subdued placement of Kurt Lehmann’s Sinnender Knabe (1948), who had a lot to think about, and a  delightful whirligig coffee making device from Gerhard Marcks’s highest Bauhaus phase in 1932.

The Prinzenpalais is the collection that recently had its Max Liebermann Reiter am Strand (1909) returned to it, one of the most expeditiously executed rectitudes of the 2013 Cornelius Gurlitt recovery in München. The Prinzenpalais’s reaction to this turn of events seems strangely half-hearted, with just a small vitrine of the correspondence relating to Hildebrand Gurlitt’s involvement in the brokering the resale of the then-Entartete Kunst Reiter, and no explanation of the situational context really anywhere. I asked the docents if they were happy about having the painting back; they clearly weren’t all that happy, and doubly not to have someone ask informed questions.

Oldenburg has a nice Altstadt near the Landesmuseum but as middle-sized German cities go is somewhat difficult to get around in as it has only bus service, no UBahn or even a Straßenbahn or light rail system. Right now there is a lot of road construction with many ersatz Haltestellen and barricaded sidewalks, which the Münster- and Hamburg-aggression level Radler do not seem to be taking into consideration. Excluding Berlin, the farther north I go, the less I like it, and the more I recognize what a confirmed Südländerin I am.

 

“That’s the Way I Am:” Franz Marc on the Gurlitts and Art Dealing

 

Franz Marc, Rotes Reh und gelbe Antilope, 1913, Mischtechnik und Collage (Silberpapier)

Franz Marc, Rotes Reh und gelbe Antilope, 1913, Mischtechnik und Collage (Silberpapier)

So, Franz Marc always said he was from the future…he amended the amount of how far in the future to 50, then 150, then “about 150 to 500 years” as his own time ran out, and often when saying this was expressing a complaint about his contemporaries that in 2013 we could characterize as: Haters gonna hate.

The recent (and continuing unabated in München) interest over the paintings stolen and hoarded by Hildebrand Gurlitt and his son, Cornelius Gurlitt, has turned to a conversation about the meaning of ‘ownership’ of priceless artworks probably at the very, very, very least obtained via coercive means, and the role of art dealers in the procuring of art and broker of deals for artists.

I began to think about this discussion, in an earlier version though informed by perspicacity, in terms of Marc, who always had a lot to say about art dealers, ranging from the fatalistic to a kind of grudging respect to affection and back, in the case of Hans Goltz, to sputtering but somewhat amused indignation. It seemed beyond the realm of possibility that Marc had encountered the Gurlitts, as Hildebrand Gurlitt was not born until 1895. However I should learn never to  ‘bet’ against Marc’s knack for knowing somehow what someday would be meaningful. So, of course he knew the Gurlitts, in the form of the Fritz Gurlitt Gallery, through the eponymous owner and Fritz Gurlitt’s son, Wolfgang (the first cousin of Hildebrand), who had taken over the Berlin gallery and brokerage in 1907.

I was very excited to discover in revisiting Marc’s correspondence with August Macke the followng passage, in which Marc describes his interaction, with Wolfgang Gurlitt (the entire letter follows the break):

Sindelsdorf bei Penzberg, den 12. III. 13 Oberbayern

Lieber August,

… Das Beispiel Pechstein ist für mich typisch. Ich habe kein reines Gefühl mehr vor seiner Persönlichkeit. Mir ist höllisch Angst vor einer Popularität wie der seinen. Nolde tut auch keinesfalls mit, die ›Brücke‹ hat sich bis jetzt auch gesträubt. Aber was die tun, ist mir schliesslich auch nicht ausschlaggebend; wenn sie mittun, ist es ›der Not gehorchend, nicht dem eignen Triebe‹. Meier-Graefe hielt letzthin in München einen Vortrag, in dem er uns  alle als Geschäftsmacher bezeichnete und das Publikum aufforderte, es solle sich gegen uns verbinden etc.!! Und Cassirer denkt im Grunde genau so. Mit diesem Kreis will ich nichts zu tun haben. Ich habe die Erfahrung gemacht, dass, wer was von mir haben will, zu mir selber kommt. Wer sich für mich und uns alle interessiert, geht sehr wohl in den ›Sturm‹ und kauft auch dort; der ›Sturm‹ ist als Ausstellungsraum glänzend, riesengross, gutes Licht, dunkle Wände; Ich hab recht gut dort verkauft; tout Berlin braucht gar nicht hinzugehen, ist mir viel lieber so. Gurlitt bedrängt mich seit Monaten, ich soll doch nur bei ihm ausstellen; ich habe ihm jetzt durch Niestlé sagen lassen, wenn er mich durchaus für seinen Salon braucht, soll er mit kaufen anfangen. Auf dem Ohr scheint er aber taub zu sein; wozu soll ich dann bei ihm statt im ›Sturm‹ ausstellen? Ich war dreimal in Berlin (wegen Niestlé) dort und habe, glaube ich, einen einzigen Besucher dort getroffen. Legros war ebenfalls öfters in der Niestlé – und gleichzeitig Pechstein-Ausstellung und traf nie einen Menschen dort. Wenn was Interessantes dort ist, geht man hin, so gut wie in den ›Sturm‹. Tu Du, wie es Dir am besten scheint; ich will mich zurückhalten; ich fühle es als Pflicht gegen meine Ideen über das Ziel unserer Arbeit, das nicht über den Weg der Berliner ›Sommerausstellungen‹ zu erreichen sein wird. Du schimpfst oder lachst, – ich bin nun einmal so. Dass Du Kandinskys Vier Klänge ›schlecht‹ findest, ist mir vollkommen unverständlich; ich denke das Gegenteil: sehr gut. …

One of the things I always like about Marc is that although he is (vaguely) aware of the practical importance of money and often worries about not having any, neither can he be easily enticed or motivated by it (no one seems ever to tried the ‘immediate gratification’ tactic of food, alcohol, cigarettes ‘oder sonst was.’).  Also, for a mostly guileless and impetuous person, Marc could sometimes machinate fairly well…

Here Marc tells August of Gurlitt’s persistence in trying to have some dealings with him. On the one hand, Marc doesn’t really have any intention of bailing on the Der Sturm enterprise, but on the other, he wants to keep a line into Gurlitt on behalf of his longtime friend, neighbor, and fellow animal lover and animal painter, Jean-Bloé Niestlé, whose drawings of birds, while very skillful, fell somewhat outside the concern of the avant-gardes. He says Gurlitt actually seems a bit out of it in terms of critical culture, and that, further, no one ever seemed to be at the gallery anyway. It’s interesting that Marc expends a lot of effort trolling Gurlitt for  Niestlé, and also that (this is a long and very affctionate letter) that he takes the opportunity to inject a comment preemptively defending Wassily Kandinsky to August, who was not a fan: ‘I think the opposite: very good.’

Actually, in the next few months, the Gurlitt gallery, which had already seen the first and only Brücke group show in 1912, will have a very successful Henri Matisse solo show, followed in 1914 by consecutive spaces devoted to Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel, and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, and the handling of all of Lovis Corinth’s prints, and printing portfolios and catalogues of work by Pechstein and  Oskar Kokoschka. This probably goes to show that Marc was right to trust his instincts…

In any case it is quite amazing that Marc was very aware of the family who would one day sell Tierschicksale to Kunstmuseum Basel (still waiting to hear the explanation for that) and keep a Blauen Pferde hidden for seven decades. I picked this multimedia print work by Marc because it was made almost exactly 100 years ago, when Marc wrote this letter to August. It’s also very unusual for Marc in that it is truly a collage – the animals are cutouts from another print, and the brown spots are pieces of colored paper.
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One of the Happiest Days in the History of Art History

Recovered Blue Horses

bluehorsesrecovered

 

So you have probably heard by now the incredible story of how hundreds of amazing paintings were recovered right here in München – right here in Schwabing! – from the derelict apartment of an “art dealer” who had stored them in haphazard fashion amid cans of apricots and bottles of sherry. Included in the cache are long-missing works by Max Beckmann, Picasso, Renoir, Matisse. Of course most happily found is the painting above, one of Franz Marc’s Blue Horses missing for more than 70 years.

It has been super-exciting to be so lucky to be here for this momentous occasion. Everyone – not just at the museum but everyone in the city – is talking about the fantastic aspects of the story (please read up on it; it’s sure to become even more fascinating) but what is most awesome is the jubilation and delight people are expressing. I can’t think of many places where a city-wide celebration would erupt over such a story.

Of course I am not unmoved.  FOCUS magazine broke this story on Monday. When I saw the headline in the Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Twitter feed I ran out to the news vendor to get a copy and snagged the last one, and the last print SZ in the stack too. I am very happy to have these print artifacts of this wonderful occasion.

Here are links from the Daily Mail (UK); Time Magazine (US); and Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE).

I am thrilled that one of the missing Blue Horses was found period, but it’s beyond overwhelming to be right here…Hopefully Turm der Blauen Pferde is hanging out in someone’s garage or wine cellar or something.