drawing of angles

The Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt (HLMD) and the Heumann Collection

published on August 2, 2023

Two drawings

In the graphic art collection of the Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt are two drawings—by Johann Martin von Rohden and by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld—acquired by the museum’s curator Gisela Bergsträsser when the Heumann Collection was auctioned at Ketterer’s in Stuttgart on 29 November 1957. A recently conducted audit of the drawings’ provenance brought a wealth of material to light. This includes an annotated personal copy of the sales catalogue from the museum library containing a report of the auction from the newspaper Die Welt and a seat reservation in the auction room for a “Dr. Bergsträsser” as well as other material.

The auction

The auction of Chemnitz banker Carl Heumann’s collection attracted to Stuttgart a number of art collectors, dealers, and museum representatives interested in buying the works, including representatives of the Kunsthalle Bremen, the Berlin Kupferstichkabinett, the Frankfurt Städel, and the Munich Lenbachhaus. Of the art galleries, Boerner and Nathan were represented, as well as collectors such as Prince Ernst of Saxony and a “Hohenzollern Prince”. A large part of the collection was auctioned off by Heumann’s three heirs in 472 lots. Though often short of cash, the HLMD nevertheless managed to acquire lots 292, “Italian Landscape” by Rohden, and 322, “The Three Marys at the Tomb” by Schnorr von Carolsfeld. The newspaper report in Die Welt of 6 December 1957 contains some information on the collector and his fate: he died shortly before the end of the war attempting to rescue pictures from the upper floor of his bombed Chemnitz house. Only through his death did Carl Heumann avoid being deported to Theresienstadt, for he was of Jewish ancestry. His collection of German drawings from the period 1750 to 1850, that he had built up after World War I, on the other hand, survived the National Socialist terror regime and the war undamaged in a bank safe. The Russian occupation forces handed the collection back to Heumann’s son, whom the US Army freed from a forced labour camp, making it possible for him to bring it to the West.

Drawing of a Tree
Johann Martin von Rohden, Italian Landscape, c. 1825, Inv. HZ 4265

After the auction the collection—that had been exhibited in Chemnitz in 1930, in Breslau (today Wrocław) in 1933, in Leipzig in 1934, and finally as part of the exhibition “Graphic Art of German Romanticism” in the Wiesbaden Museum in 1937—was largely dispersed. Whereas in the first three mentioned presentations—in which the choice of exhibits varied from place to place—Heumann’s name was still mentioned, it is missing from the 1937 exhibition catalogue edited by Juliane Harms. It is very likely that Gisela Bergsträsser, who worked as a volunteer at the HLMD from 1936 onwards, visited the exhibition in Wiesbaden and thus knew the collection intimately. In an interview on her 80th birthday she said: “…and then the drawings also interested me at the time (…). The curator of those years was fired because he was Jewish—something that did not terribly interest any of the others. So, I often went there to look at the drawings.” But Erich Wiese—director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Breslau until he was dismissed by the National Socialists in 1933—also knew the collection since it was exhibited in Breslau in precisely that year. In making purchases Wiese, who was director of the HLMD from 1950 to 1959, seems to have had a predilection for objects that he knew from earlier in his career. According to Bergsträsser’s meticulous annotations in the auction catalogue, Wiese purchased a drawing by August Richter for his personal collection. Later a drawing by Carl Gustav Carus—"The Rhine by St. Goar”—progressed from Wiese’s collection to that of the HLMD.

Udo Felbinger

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