Investigation of the Provenance of Two Works from the Lemmers-Danforth Collection: Table Clock in the Form of an Elephant, Game Table of Diane de Portiers
- Dr. Anja Eichler
Telephone: +49 (0) 6441 99 41 30
- September 2015 to February 2016
Due to a matter of current interest, the Municipal Museums of Wetzlar commissioned the investigation of the provenance of two artworks which the city of Wetzlar has owned since 1963 and are part of the collection established by the Wetzlar paediatrician and passionate art collector Irmgard Baroness von Lemmers-Danforth (1892-1984). The funding period of this short-term project financed by the German Lost Art Foundation began in November 2015 and concluded in February 2016. The two objects in question were the Figurative Clock in the Form of an Elephant (ca. 1600-1610) and the so-called Game Table of Diane de Portier (dated 1556).
Lemmers-Danforth is said to have purchased the game table for her private collection from a Cologne-based art dealer in 1949, and the figurative clock in the late 1940s on the Frankfurt art market. Written documents substantiating the purchases can neither be found at the Municipal Museums of Wetzlar nor in the Historical Archive of the City of Wetzlar. With regard to their provenance, however, there is evidence that the game table was put up for auction on 14 December 1937 by the client no. 739 “Frhr. v. G. R.” at the Frankfurt Kunsthaus Heinrich Hahn, and was sold for 750 reichsmark. The auction house’s abbreviation “Frhr. v. G. R.” most likely refers to either Maximilian Baron von Goldschmidt-Rothschild or his eldest son Albert Baron von Goldschmidt-Rothschild. In this point, there is need for further clarification. The figurative clock had belonged to Maximilian Baron von Goldschmidt-Rothschild’s art collection until 11 November 1938 when he sold it to the city of Frankfurt/Main in the aftermath of the November Pogroms. In this way the clock eventually ended up in the Frankfurt municipal Museum für Kunsthandwerk (Museum of Arts and Crafts). In 1943, the museum traded the figurative clock for the Louis XV Bronze Wall Clock from the Frankfurt-based Kunsthandlung Carl Müller-Ruzika.
In the trade literature, there is evidence – though unsubstantiated due to missing source information – that both the game table and figurative clock had been owned by the Rothschild family until 1926, namely by Mathilde Baroness von Rothschild, the mother-in-law of Maximilian Baron von Goldschmidt-Rothschild and grandmother of Albert Baron von Goldschmidt-Rothschild, at which time they entered the collection of a Frankfurt art dealer. There is reason to doubt this claim as it seems both objects had been owned by the Rothschild/Goldschmidt-Rothschild family until 1926 and again until 1937/38. In any case, more research is necessary to clarify this matter – not least of all, to determine earlier circumstances of provenance which appear suspicious or unlawful (i.e. prior to 30 January 1933) in the sense of the priority principle.
The museum has received requests for restitution or clarification of provenance for both objects.