…With Parallel Commentary on the Case of Turm der blauen Pferde

Supplement to „Raubkunst at the Ringling”

 

In this sidebar to “Raubkunst at the Ringling,” which has appeared in this week’s in Lapsus Lima, I compare the fate of Geburt der Pferde and Schöpfungsgeschichte II, whose whereabouts are known, with the case of Marc’s famous 1913 painting Turm der blauen Pferde, which remains missing. Despite the circus that has sprung up around its memory, Turm der blauen Pferde, as a physical object, is absent. While these case studies are of interest in and of themselves, I hope also to raise questions about the ethical conduct on the parts of some museums, which, as public institutions, have an obligation – perhaps now more than ever – to stimulate, educate, and provide access and information to the patrons they ostensibly serve.

Turm der blauen Pferde has also given me, in a roundabout way, inspiration for my next line of inquiry, which takes me at last back to animal studies. I am very grateful for the support of Mónica Belevan of Lapsus Lima publishing imprint and HAUT Architectural Solutions for keeping me focused on this project and to many others who know who they are. This project began in the summer of 2016 and got a push  from the Raubkunst al Erinnerungsort workshop that winter sponsored by the Zentrum für Historische Forschung Berlin der  Polnischen Akademie der Wissenschaften; the Zentrum’s own scholars were then immediatley relieved of their positions for not preemptively falling in line with Poland’s implementation of the law forbidding citizens to accuse the Poles of Holocaust-related crimes. And things are worse now.

In the summer of 2017, a jointly-sponsored exhibition titled Vermisst: Der Turm der blauen Pferde von Franz Marc: Zeitgenössische Künstler auf der Suche nach einem verschollenen Meisterwerk (Missing: The Tower of Blue Horses: Contemporary Artists in Search of a Lost Masterpiece) opened at both the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich and the Haus am Waldsee in Berlin. The parallel shows feature works themed around Franz Marc’s 1913 totem of Modernism. Naturally as a Marc researcher nothing delighted me more than seeing artists of our own time so moved to create by Marc’s work.

But it also seems to me that by making a crime committed by the Nazis into a social media event – the Pinakothek exhorted visitors to the exhibit to “keep the mystery of this icon of painting alive”[i]– German museum culture once again obfuscated reality. In fact the only “mystery” is that the whereabouts of the famous stolen painting are unknown, and the museums who profit from celebrating the work of the Blaue Reiter have done very little to abet Turm der blauen Pferde’s recovery. Perhaps because of this intent to diffuse, the thematic homages to monumental painting were ranged from tepid to terrible (the notable exception being Marcel van Eeden’s High Mountains, a Rainbow, the Moon and Stars).

In fact over the years, many opportunities to learn more about the Turm’s fate have gone unmet. In early 2001, Jan A. Ahlers, the Herford textile magnate and well-known collector of Expressionist art, received an intriguing offer. An anonymous “seller,” his or her identity nonetheless verified by an intermediary at a bank in Zurich, wanted Ahlers to quietly purchase and repatriate Marc’s Turm der blauen Pferde. The canvas, according to this account, had been hidden by then for more than 50 years in a bank vault in Switzerland.

Instead of accepting a meeting, Ahlers approached the then recently-opened Franz Marc Museum in Kochel and the Westfalian state authorities. To Ahlers’s surprise, nothing happened, and, frustrated, he ended up telling his story to the Berliner Zeitung and Artmagazine.[ii]Ahlers died in 2013, having never been interviewed by German federal or state investigators. The seller or sellers, and with them the painting, disappeared once more.

Yet the earth continues to give up its Nazi secrets, sometimes literally, as in 2010 when excavators in Berlin surveying property around the new Reichstag found Emy Roeder’s 1919 die Schwangere, missing since 1937, dangling from the prongs of a backhoe. It was both thrilling and horrifying to learn in November 2013 that Marc’s missing 1911 canvas Pferde in Landschaft had also been hiding since the 1940s, this time quietly in the Schwabing apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt. Saddening was the fact that many, many people – amid them museum staffers, Bavarian state police, and German federal agents – had been aware of what became known as the “Gurlitt Hoard” for years, and cooperated with the police in not revealing its somewhat accidental seizure – the elderly son of another art-dealer-to-the-Nazis, Hildebrand Gurlitt, was actually nabbed for behaving suspiciously on a train from Zürich to Munich, and was found to be carrying more thn €100,000 in his pockets.[iii] Naturally the curators of the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau München – the repository of the world’s largest collection of the art of the Blaue Reiter – were called upon to authenticate the Marc painting as well as works by Wassily Kandinsky and August Macke. Annegret Hoberg, for more than 25 years the Blaue Reitercurator at the Lenbachhaus and the acknowledged expert on Marc’s professional career, had been in on this omission of silence. Hoberg has devoted her life’s work to the Blaue Reiter. Yet she did not love it enough to shout joyfully from the rooftops of the Gurlitt discovery, or think enough of the citizens of Munich (whom I assure you are as enthusiastic fans of the single native Bavarian Blue Rider as they are the Bayern München football club) whose taxes and donations pay for the city gallery to break the silence.

I believe Turm der blauen Pferde probably exists somewhere in the world – though since I began this quest I have changed my position on what a hopeful outcome to its loss would entail. But questions related to provenance research seem to begin, not end, with the discovery of missing and stolen artwork from the entartete Kunst catalogue. The story about Turm der blauen Pferde, which, while likely true has now grown so distant as to become apocryphal, made me curious about the psychological resistance, particularly in museum and legal cultures both in Germany and the United States, to dealing directly even with confirmed cases of located “missing” artwork, such as in the case outlined in my story Raubkunst at the RinglingMarc’s missing painting is paradoxically one of the most recognizable art objects in the world, reproduced after World War II ad infinitum on postcards, postage stamps, T-shirts, coffee mugs, and keychains. Marc was an emblem for Germany’s reclamation of the historical avant-garde, and, yet, as a daring and heroic cavalry officer awarded the Iron Cross before being killed at Verdun in 1916, he was indisputably a patriot. Reified through replication, the shock of Marc’s crystalline colors and embodied animals was displaced and diminished. Turm der blauen Pferdeis a cipher, an eternally reproduced copy without an original.

Turm der Blauen Pferde is two images, one the 2 by 1.3 metres painting missing since 1949, when it was last seen in Berlin’s Haus am Waldsee, the other 14 by 9 centimetres postcard in the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen in Munich.The images are not identical but they do show the same group of four horses, and we can reconstruct their identities from knowing more about what Marc had been reading and looking at before he made these two paintings.

In his biography of Marc, Klaus Lankheit gives an elegant account of the large painting:

The artist’s most famous [work] captures us in its spell. (…) We are drawn to the image even as we are forced to keep at a respectful distance. The group of four horses glows like a vision in front of us. Moved just to the right of the central axis, the outline of the narrow portrait fills the canvas almost entirely revealing to the side just a glimpse of an equally mysterious landscape.

The powerful body of the animal in front measures only slightly under life size. The horse appears to push forward from the depths and to [animate] immediately in front of the viewer by throwing his head to the side. His position in space cannot be calculated, because the bottom of the frame overlaps the two legs.[iv]

This is valuable information, because Lankheit had the opportunity to closely study the painting that has been seen by very few people living today. Lankheit’s passage eschews a lengthier description of the celestial markings adorning the animals, which are one of the chief differences between the postcard and the painting. Lankheit observes also how the “clear-cut crescent of the moon” is in contrast on the chest of the darkest of the four horses, acknowledging the individuation of the animals.[v ]There is a solar aspect to both the painting and the postcard, and we can infer that Marc is making both a reference to and a statement about animals representing the Helios horses for the new age. In Marc’s vision the horses are unrestrained by a charioteer. They are ennobled not by the gods and goddesses but by their union with the Earth and the constellations.

The horses in the painting inhabit a more vibrantly colored landscape (owing possibly to the deterioration of the postcard, or the enhancements to the digital images and photographs we have of the painting we have at hand to consider), have less distinct outlines, and fewer astronomical markings. Nevertheless, the open-topped, heraldic crescent has been retained on the chest of the front horse.

The postcard to Else Lasker-Schüler, Turm der blauen Pferde is inscribed with the title of the work. In the horses’ other lives in the monumental painting, they inherited and kept that name and traveled to Berlin for the 1913 Erster deutscher Herbstsalon. Of the sometimes seemingly playful greetings to Prince Jussuf, the postcard is unusually somber, and Lasker-Schüler seems to recognize the peculiarity of the luminous hierarchy of four when she speaks of them as “whinnying archangels.”[vi]

My point in relating these details is that as a real object with an actual history of its own, and a post-life as Raubkunst, is that Turm der blauen Pferde deserves, on the one hand, as a painting, to be the subject of continued study and interpretation. As art historians we know that this practice is really what keeps a work of art alive in the minds and eyes of spectators. As a victim itself of looting, the painting’s fate deserves to be known. The German museums devoting so many resources to celebrating its disappearance would do well to take a hard look at the circumstances of its vanishing, and uncovering its likely whereabouts.

And yet. And yet. Marc himself had told Annette von Eckardt in 1914 in a response to a telegram she had sent that summer from Sarajevo describing the cataclysm set in motion that he wasn’t worried about the afterlives of his work. My new research project has taken me to Norway, to the Iron Age carvings of horses and runes on stone totems, and farther away and back, to the Aurignacian peoples who decorated the Chauvet Cave with their own towers of horses. Visiting an archaeological site in Rogaland in fall 2018, I stood with Elna Siv Kristoffersen of the Arkeologisk Museum i Stavanger looking at a small depression near the North Sea that had recently yielded a 900-year-old Viking ship. I asked how the Kristoffsersen, who studies the animal totems associated with Fifth Century Norse funerary practices, how she went about deciding where to excavate. “Oh, we don’t,” she exclaimed. “These are sacred places. They reveal themselves when they are ready. We don’t disturb the dead.” Seeing me simultaneously nodding, smiling, and, suddenly, tearful, Kristoffersen added softly. “We’ll never know what really happened in the past – not really. It is hubris to think this is possible. Some things must remain mysteries.”

After a moment she asked, “What about your painting?” I had showed Turm der blauen Pferde and told its story at a conference devoted to horses at the museum. I realized at that moment something that the new project would turn on; that I had felt, deep down, all along, a feeling confirmed by the circus at the Haus am Waldsee and Pinakotheken. “It’s gone,” I said turning to to Kristoffersen. “I hope they never find it.”

 

 

[i]“Missing: Franz Marc’s The Tower of Blue Horses,” last modified 3 March 2017, https://www.pinakothek.de/en/exhibitions/missing-franz-marc-s-tower-of-blue-horses-contemporary-artists-search-of-a-lost

[ii]Joachim Nawrocki, “Ersitzen oder Besitzen?” Die Welt, 25 May 2001.

[iii]For a complete account of the Gurlitt case, see Catherine Hickley. The Munich Art Hoard: Hitler’s Dealer and His Secret Legacy. (London: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2016) On the role of the media in reporting on restitution and Nazi looted art: Alexandra Herfroy-Mischler. “When the ast seeps into the present: The role of press agencies in circulating new historical narratives and restructuring collective memory during and after the Holocaust transitional justice.” Journalism.  Vol 17, Issue 7 (13 July 2015), pp. 823-844

[iv]Das berühmteste Bild des Künstlers (…) schlägt uns in ihren Bann. Wir werden mit Macht an das Bild herangetrieben, schon im selben Augenblick aber zu achtungsvoller Distanz gezwungen. Wie eine Vision leuchtet dicht vor uns eine Gruppe von vier Pferden auf. Aus der Mittelachse nach rechts gerückt, füllt ihr Umriß das schmale Hochformat fast ganz aus, nur seitlich den Blick auf eine ebenso geheimnisvolle Landschaft freigebend. Der mächtige Körper des vorderen Tieres mißt nur wenig unter Lebensgröße. Das Pferd scheint aus der Tiefe nach vorn zu drängen und unmittelbar vor dem Beschauer zu verhalten, indem es den Kopf in edlem Schwung zur Seite wirft. Seine Stellung im Raum läßt sich nicht errechnen, denn der untere Bildrand überschneidet die Beine (…).” Klaus Lankheit. Franz Marc: Sein Leben und seine Kunst. (Köln: Dumont), 120. My translation.

[v]In a volume Marc had in his own library – he discusses it as early as 1899 – Plato tells us that the four Helios horses had distinct attributes and personalities. The first (the horse in the front of the painting) is characterized by immense beauty, size, and speed. Though Marc shows the sun and moon glowing within this animal, he also has an individuated, recognizable blaze painted on the team leader’s face. The second horse, named after Hera, steers the chariot; the third “dark horse” upon whom the sun nonetheless shines is called Poseidon (slower than the second); and the fourth, stiffly relegated to the back, takes her name from Hestia: “The horses are peaceful and friendly and one does nothing without the others.” Plato and John Alexander Stewart, The Myths of Plato Translated with Introductory and Other Observations, (London: Macmillan, 1905), 173.

[vi]“Deine glückseligen, blauen Pferde sind lauter wiehernde Erzengel und galoppieren alle ins Paradies hinein.” Franz Marc and Else Lasker-Schüler, Der Blaue Reiter präsentiert Eurer Hoheit sein Blaues Pferd: Karten und Briefe, (Prestel: München, 1988), 144. My translation. See also: Betty Falkenberg, Else Lasker-Schüler: A Life, (McFarland: Jefferson, N.C.: 2003), 86.

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Art History at the Library:
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Michelangelost™ is the newest name for the blog I have been writing since 2006, which began as mostly about dogs and animals. It has since had several titles, including Errata and German Modernism, and expanded to include numerous topics. Even though this website is...

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The only social media I participate in; this feed is mostly about art history and animals.

Art History at the Library:
The Second Coming

I was very happy to have the grant renewed and be invited back to the SouthShore Regional Public Library for another series of “Art History at the Library” discussions.

The library had in mind a series that was a little more intensive than “art appreciation”-cruise ship type talks. I did try out some kind of conceptual themes last time, but I also was able to implement my tech whirligigs and to do something I had wanted to do for a long time, have the audience be able to drive a lot of the content. I experimented with this just by stopping often to ask if people had questions or comments, and to my delight they did.

I try to memorise what I’m going to talk about so it’s possible to both extemporise as desired by the patrons’ concerns and also not get thrown off track.

Anyway the schedule for the fall is below. Thank you again to the Hillsborough Public Library Cooperative for supporting this project.

15 September: Special Guest Appearances: Art in Movies and on Television.” Participants are invited to think of their own favorite examples to discuss and share. This talk will examine the appearance of artworks and references to famous works of art in popular movies and television programs, including Vikings, Bojack Horseman, The Young Pope, Skyfall,  and more. We’ll also discuss films that are about artists and art. I am especially excited to be able to talk about some of the painterly images from The Young Pope, which so centre the body. I know a lot of people hated this show, but I liked how it looked, and found director Paolo Sorrentino and cinematographer Luca Bigazzi neomodernist visual world were stunning but also very ambiguous about the questions of faith and the supernatural raised by the narrative.

20 October: “The Body in the Book: Beauty and Suffering in Illuminated Manuscripts.”The session will be about the process of making illuminated manuscripts and scrolls including well-known examples such as the Book of Kells and the Grimani Breviary as well as less-familiar secular texts.

17 November: “What’s the Difference Between Arts and Crafts? Fashion, Textiles, and Design.” Rather than trying to come up with a definitive answer to this question, we will discuss how aesthetic hierarchies come to be. Which tdo we prize more, purely aesthetic innovation, of the form of utilitarian objects, and why? Participants are invited to share examples of their own works and of course their opinions!

15 December: “A Celebration of Animals in Art.” This discussion will cover artwork that recognizes the power of animal life, from the cave paintings of Chauvet and Alta to Tanja Thorjussen’s endangered Arctic wildlife and everything in between.

Franz Marc’s Blaues Pferd I (1911) in Bojack Horseman, above, and shots from The Young Pope (2016) below.

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read more

Art History at the Library:
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I was very happy to have the grant renewed and be invited back to the SouthShore Regional Public Library for another series of "Art History at the Library" discussions. The library had in mind a series that was a little more intensive than "art appreciation"-cruise...

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Introducing Michelangelost™:
The Intersectional Criminal Tribunal

Michelangelost™ is the newest name for the blog I have been writing since 2006, which began as mostly about dogs and animals. It has since had several titles, including Errata and German Modernism, and expanded to include numerous topics. Even though this website is...

read more

Email

Unfollow Me on Twitter

The only social media I participate in; this feed is mostly about art history and animals.

Introducing Michelangelost™:
The Intersectional Criminal Tribunal

Michelangelost is the newest name for the blog I have been writing since 2006, which began as mostly about dogs and animals. It has since had several titles, including Errata and German Modernism, and expanded to include numerous topics. Even though this website is becoming more of an official enterprise, I have kept my experimental and sometimes idiotic posts in the archive. The name Michelangelost™ came to me in Berlin, where Michelangelostraße is one of the stops on the Tiergarten Buslinie 200. Because the name of the stop is so long it was (funnily to me) abbreviated as “Michelangelost” on the scrolling Haltestelle legend. A remarkable photo was taken to document this occasion. I love obscurantist plays on words plus it seems descriptive of where we are in the art world right now. I had intended the Michelangelost™ project to be devoted to art criticism in the broadest sense, extended beyond galleries and museums to organisations, scenes, and academic affiliates, but I like the word and this photo in a more general way. So you will have to stay tuned for that secondary project, which now tentatively has the name “Intersectional Criminal Tribunal.” wink Meanwhile I am experimenting with this new design and how to retroactively typeset the older posts. – Until soon.

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I was very happy to have the grant renewed and be invited back to the SouthShore Regional Public Library for another series of "Art History at the Library" discussions. The library had in mind a series that was a little more intensive than "art appreciation"-cruise...

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The Intersectional Criminal Tribunal

Michelangelost™ is the newest name for the blog I have been writing since 2006, which began as mostly about dogs and animals. It has since had several titles, including Errata and German Modernism, and expanded to include numerous topics. Even though this website is...

read more

Email

Unfollow Me on Twitter

The only social media I participate in; this feed is mostly about art history and animals.

Birds: Ornithology as Art:
Jonathan Elphick's exquisite book project

Kestrel in Flight

Charles Maurice Detmold (1883-1908), Kestrel in flight, 1901. Watercolour. British Museum. Dept. of Prints and Drawings.

We, as mere humans, cannot see and feel as birds do as they navigate their habitats. Birds have immediate needs that relate directly to food availability, energy, water, and temperature, social contact, reproduction, predator detection, and shelter that are more complex than the features we perceive on their behalf as “nature.” Nevertheless, it is urgent for us to understand what bird species need from their surroundings as human intrusion, habitat loss, and climate change conspire to accelerate our need to make the best use of those habitats we can manage for the remaining populations of birds who survive. This is part of what makes Birds: The Art of Ornithology by Jonathan Elphick such a vital contribution to our historical knowledge.

A recent zoological conference in London featured a game of “Animal Studies Tic-Tac-Toe,” in which “David Attenborough” occupied a central square. Though the game was in jest, it is certainly true – and tellingly so that this is often the case even for those whose profession ostensibly involves the fauna of the wilderness – that for most people, the experience of nature is mediated by films such as those in the Life and Planet Earth series, augmented by precision editing, emotional cue music, and witty commentary.

Though not the overt intention of Birds: The Art of Ornithology, this book is a powerful reminder that connecting meaningfully with nature requires leaving the house, and that this experience is both transcendent and daunting. Birdwatching especially demands patience, silence, and solitude. Elphick conveys this foregrounding with subtlety, and describes the conditions faced by naturalists in the time before photography and video, who, tasked often only by their own passion – what John James Audubon characterized as “…nothing was left to me but my humble talents” – set out not only to observe birds but to record their activities and document their environments.

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Condensation Cubes

Possibly Etruscan horse, bronze, c. 3rd Century BCE

Possibly Etruscan horse, bronze, c. 3rd Century BCE

Over the summer I began writing for Arte Fuse with this review of Vapor and Vibration: The Art of Larry Bell and Jesús Rafael Soto at the Tampa Museum of Art. I quite like the show, and thought the curator was quite successful with this experimental pairing of two artists with no personal connection. It’s been so soothing to just sit quietly in the Animals in Ancient Art gallery at the TMA too, so I was sad to learn its last day is 1 July. The TMA also has a lovely collection of Etruscan mirrors.

While at the museum I saw for the first time some paintings of birds by Hunt Slonem. I got to observe many macaws in Miami and cockatoos, a nonnative species who have crossed the Tasman Sea to make themselves at home in New Zealand, are also very familiar. I thought the two paintings shown here used some interesting techniques to get to what’s essential about these clever and beautiful members of the parrot family. The focus on the pink tones and sociability of the cockatoos and of the strong beaks and feather structures of the macaws, absent their brilliant colors, is quite thoughtful.

Until soon. – JMC

Hunt Slonem, Cockatoos, 2004.

Hunt Slonem, Cockatoos, 2004.

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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