Art from a private collection in the Rhineland

1918 - 1933 - Art from the period between the world wars of the 20th century. This year's spring auction of Modern Art features 66 Lots from a Rhineland private collection.

The genesis of the complete collection of 66 privately owned artworks (lots 288–353) offered here lies in a very personally defined selection of art and artists from the turbulent and fateful period between 1918 and 1933: between the end of the First World War (whose centenary is in 2018), the revolution and the Nazi seizure of power in 1933. As is well known, they put a sudden end to the uneasily dynamic cultural flowering which unfolded in the 1920s, following the collapse of 1918.

A geographical focus on the art of the Rhineland developed among the choices made in gathering the present collection. A familiar band of artists developed and became concentrated there. They battled on behalf of the “modern” in the tradition of a stirring sense of art-political calling, and their efforts emanated all across Germany. Along the famous “Rhine rail” region from Bonn to Cologne to Düsseldorf, the – for western Germany epochal – Sonderbund exhibition had already been organised in 1912/1913, and the activity of key figures in the public presentation of art, such as Karl Ernst Osthaus and Alfred Flechtheim, had already provided the audience modern art needed. Walter Cohen, then an assistant at the town of Düsseldorf’s art museum, organised the exhibition “Das junge Rheinland” (tellingly “in memory of August Macke”) at the Kölnischer Kunstverein in 1918, after the war. This show took up, so to speak, where the 1913 exhibition “Rheinische Expressionisten” in Bonn had left off. Cohen’s exhibition would provide the name for the artists association also named “Das Junge Rheinland”, which was founded in Düsseldorf in 1919, and for a journal published from 1921 to 1922, the organ which the young Gert Wollheim served as editor. During this period until 1924/1925, Düsseldorf brought together and concentrated a new generation of artists in an exemplary way. They felt particularly provided with support, companionship and representation through successful commercial initiatives: the new “Graphisches Kabinett von Bergh & Co” (opened by the doctor and patron Dr Hans Koch in 1918), the reopening of Flechtheim’s gallery in the Königsallee in 1919 and the exhibiting and sales activities of Johanna Ey, who gathered an exceptional circle of artistic and revolutionary avant-gardists around her and showed their work with great success. 

Thus, in its personal – though perhaps not always systematic – selection the collection unites the breadth of artistic positions in an exemplary manner: from Expressionism, Cubism and abstraction to the breaks with the older, pre-war, French-influenced avant-garde carried out by Dadaism, Surrealism, primitivism, Verism and the New Objectivity. Along with the landscape and still life it is in particular the portrait, the image of humanity and the figure, whose motifs could be compared in their variations and in which the stylistic changes and content become manifest. It is also fascinating that, in spite of all the political and art-political fermentation of this period, it was not the collective idea but ultimately artistic individuality and quality which remained the defining impulse – in this sense, the works of the collected artists, who include August Macke, Alexander Kanoldt, Walter Ophey, Walter Gramatté, F.W. Seiwert, Gert Wollheim, Otto Griebel, Werner Scholz, Hannah Höch and the Belgian Oscar Jespers, among others, serve to represent the ideals, struggles and individual artistic fates of that period.