05 December 2012

MoMA gets a discount on German Expressionists

Cafe Couple, Otto Dix
Source: MoMA

Want a great deal on a painting by German Expressionist Otto Dix?

One such work--“Café Couple/Paar in Café”--belonged to noted German art dealer and collector Karl Buchholz who had sought refuge from Nazi Germany and greener pastures in New York in the mid-1930s, where money and opportunities flowed in the blossoming American market for Expressionists and other European modernists. The Alien Property Custodian (APC), an enforcement arm of the US Department of the Treasury, seized the painting and other works belonging to Buchholz after he was labeled as an “enemy alien”. His property became subject to “vesting” after the United States declared war on Germany following the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Eventually, the US government made these types of seized assets available for purchase by anyone interested in bidding on them.

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York acquired the Dix painting for a song in 1945. What a deal!

In 1952, the APC sold another Dix painting--Workers' Children [Arbeiterkinder] from 1922--as part of the "vested" Buchholz collection.  The painting was on display at the UWM Art Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in November-December 1986, as part of a larger exhibit entitled "Reactions to the war: European art, 1914-1925."

Many works by Otto Dix entered private and public collections in Weimar Germany but became subject to seizure and forced sale under the Third Reich due to their "degenerate" status.  One such painting belonged to Curt Glaser, an eminent art historian and critic under Weimar who lost his job within months of Hitler's accession to power in January 1933 and was forced to sell his property, including a vast collection of works of art and books in a now-notorious forced sale in June 1933.  One of those items sits in the Freiburg Museum of Modern Art.