Guggenheim Museum Restitutes Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Painting to Heirs of Jewish Collector

Arttforum 4 October 2018

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s Artillerymen, 1915.

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation announced today that it will restitute a painting by German Expressionist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner to the heirs of the German Jewish art dealer Alfred Flechtheim (1878–1937).

According to a statement issued by the museum, the Guggenheim Foundation spent two years investigating the provenance of Ludwig Kirchner’s Artillerymen, 1915. It learned that the work was in the possession of Flechtheim’s niece, Rosi Hulisch—who committed suicide before she was to be shipped to a concentration camp—when it was acquired by Kurt Feldhäusser, a member of the Nazi party, in 1938.

After Feldhäusser was killed in Germany in 1945, his art collection was left to his mother, who consigned it to the Weyhe Gallery in New York a few years later. Morton D. May of St. Louis, Missouri, purchased Artillerymen in 1952 and donated it to the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1956. In 1988, the painting was transferred by MoMA to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in exchange for other works.

The Guggeneheim claims that at the time it did not realize that the painting had a questionable history because it relied on Donald E. Gordon’s catalogue raisonné of Ludwig Kirchner’s work. Published in 1968, the catalogue incorrectly states that Artillerymen had been owned by German collector Hermann Lange before it entered Feldhäusser’s collection.

Michael Hulton, Alfred Flechtheim's great-nephew and an heir, praised the Guggeneheim Foundaiton “for doing the right thing.” He said, “Overall, restitution is about recognition and paying respect to the suffering of the Nazi victims’ families. This is consistent with the promise that the international community gave us, the survivors and descendants of the victims, in 1998, at the Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets, to remedy the historic injustice of Nazi looted art. The Guggenheim Foundation has been exemplary in fulfilling that promise.”

Commenting on the return of the work, Richard Armstrong, director, of the Guggenheim Museum and Foundation, said, “An essential part of the work of the Guggenheim Foundation is the ongoing investigation into the history and provenance of our collection, and we regard this responsibility with the greatest seriousness. After an extensive examination of the extraordinary circumstances surrounding this work and in keeping with the 1998 Washington Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets and the guidelines of the American Association of Museum Directors, we are satisfied that it will be restituted to the Hultons.”
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