Determining the provenance of two works from the collection of Lemmers-Danforth, donor panels “Kanonikus” (Canon) and “Ritter” (Knight) (cat. GE 10 a, b), formerly part of the art collection of Ottmar Strauss
- Dr. Anja Eichler
Telephone: +49 (0) 6441 99 41 30
- February 2017 to April 2017
The two donor panels, stained glass windows from the collection of Lemmers-Danforth, were the subject of an investigation funded as part of a short-term measure. They were auctioned off at an auction held by Hugo Helbing auctioneers on May 21–24, 1935. The stained glass panels depicting the images “Kneeling canon” and “Knight” are made of white and polychromatic blow-molded glass with graduated black and brown leading. Information on their provenance in the catalog by W. Koeppe (Die Lemmers-Danforth-Sammlung Wetzlar: Europäische Wohnkultur aus Renaissance und Barock, Heidelberg 1992, p. 302) indicated only that the objects had been acquired at an unknown auction prior to 1963. It was therefore necessary to investigate the provenance between 1935 and 1963 with regard to the acquisition of the pair at the 1935 auction by the collector Irmgard von Lemmers-Danforth in order to clarify whether the objects should remain where they were or be restituted following the claim of October 4, 2016, submitted by Strauss’s heirs to the City of Wetzlar via the law firm Trott zu Solz Lammek. Art historian Dr. Katja Terlau was commissioned on a two-month contract to carry out investigations starting in February 2017 into the whereabouts of the two donor panels since 1935.
She arrived at the following conclusions regarding the provenance of the pair: the two donor panels had once been part of the collection of Eduard Ritter von Grützner, Munich. They were put up for auction in 1930 in an auction held by Hugo Helbing, Munich, and auctioned off as of June 24 for 2,000 Reichsmarks for the pair.
They were then acquired for the art collection of the Cologne industrialist and privy councilor Ottmar Strauss (1878–1941). Before Strauss officially emigrated to Switzerland in 1936, large parts of his collection were auctioned off in three auctions at Hugo Helbing in Frankfurt am Main in 1934 and 1935. In the 45th catalog of the third auction, held between May 21 and 24, 1935, the two stained glass panels are listed as “donor panels” along with a description, measurements and provenance information under the numbers 279 and 280 and illustrated on plate 44. According to a price report for the auction in the newspaper “Die Weltkunst”, the two objects were sold for the following prices: lot no. 279 for 720 Reichsmarks and lot no. 280 for 700 Reichsmarks, a total of 1420 Reichsmarks for the pair.
A copy of the catalog for this auction, which is currently privately owned, was annotated with handwritten comments in pencil at the time and contains additional information on prices and buyers. Under the number preceding each of the works there is the figure “1,000” underlined in red; under each entry there is another “1,000” and after it in parentheses “prev. 2,000”. These figures refer to the auction in 1930 in which the pair of donor panels was sold for 2,000 Reichsmarks. These were undoubtedly the prices on which the estimated prices for the 1935 auction were based. After entry no. 279 there is the handwritten note “720 Lemmers” and after no. 280 is written “700 Lemmers”, referring to the latest prices achieved and the buyer of the works.
According to this, the purchase prices in 1935 were clearly lower than those of 1930. The buyer “Lemmers” refers to the pediatrician Dr. Irmgard Freiin von Lemmers-Danforth (1892–1984) of Wetzlar, who had already bought artworks belonging to Ottmar Strauss for her own collection at a previous Helbing auction. In an old photograph of her living rooms from 1955/1960, the two glass panels can be seen on the right-hand wall underneath a window.
The research carried out by Dr. Terlau therefore concluded that the gap in provenance during the years in question between 1935 and 1983 could be closed as there was evidence that the donor panels had been bought by the collector at the auction concerned and had been part of her collection since then.