Staatsgalerie Stuttgart concludes research project on Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
The Staatsgalerie Stuttgart has concluded its project to investigate the provenance of 143 graphic artworks by the artist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938). The German Lost Art Foundation supported the project with a one-year funding grant.
Researchers began the investigation on the assumption that these works by Kirchner had originally belonged to Dr. and Mrs. Gervais (Zurich). According to the inventory entry, the works were acquired by the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart from the unknown Académie Internationale Davos in 1957.
The aim of the research project was to identify the yet unknown collector Dr. Gervais, ascertain whether any of the pieces had been previously owned by Jewish citizens, and gather further information about their provenance. The only thing researchers knew about the Gervais collection was that Maria Lemmé (1880-1943) – a Stuttgart artist of Jewish background – started delivering Kirchner’s works from German-Jewish collections to the Gervais’s in Switzerland in 1935. Maria Lemmé was murdered in the concentration camp Theresienstadt. Determining the provenance of the entire collection is regarded as highly problematic.
The investigation by the Staatsgalerie concluded that there is no proof whatsoever of the existence of a collector named Dr. Gervais. In light of the historical circumstances – Kirchner’s artistic estate was considered German “enemy assets” after World War II and was to be liquidated in Switzerland – the experts at the Staatsgalerie believe that the Gervais’s were invented by the dealer in order to sell Kirchner’s works back to Germany. Even though the exact conditions of sale remain a mystery, the Staatsgalerie has ruled out the possibility that the sheets were Nazi-confiscated property. It is far more likely that the collection originated from the artist’s estate itself.
The Staatsgalerie has been investigating the provenance of its collections since October 2009. The German Lost Art Foundation has supported these efforts by financing a short-term and two long-term projects.