Between Definite and Dubious

Sculptures and Their Histories

Acquired 1933–1945

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4 Mai to 5 November 2017

The Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung took a look back at a chapter in its history that has rarely been a focus of attention to date: the Nazi period and the acquisitions made during those years. With the aid of twelve selected objects, the exhibition offered insights into the history of the museum in the years 1933 to 1945 and told the stories of the people intimately linked with the twelve works. Since 2001, the Städel Museum has been examining its collections with regard to artworks whose owners were deprived of them in connection with Nazi persecution. It was thus one of the first museums in Germany to embark on this task.

In the spring of 2015, its provenance research activities were expanded through the addition of a comprehensive project supported by the German Lost Art Foundation and the city of Frankfurt am Main: the systematic examination of the Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung holdings. The special exhibition presented this initiative’s current research results by way of a tour through the sculpture collection’s three main departments—Antiquity, Middle Ages and Renaissance to Neoclassicism.

The exhibition told the eventful stories of collectors such as Harry Fuld, Maximilian von Goldschmidt-Rothschild or Carl von Weinberg, who maintained close ties to the Liebieghaus for many decades, but also of personages meanwhile all but forgotten, for example Oswald and Alice Feis. At the same time, it looked at the sometimes contradictory actions of the museum’s employees, particularly Liebieghaus director Alfred Wolters, during the National Socialist era.

A concentrated overview of the Liebieghaus history with a special focus on the period from 1933 to 1945 served as an introduction. The show also addressed such issues as lawful and unlawful art acquisitions in Germany and abroad, personnel policy, the closure of the museum due to the war, the placement of its collection in external storage, war losses, and the restitution agreements of the post-war period. The twelve selected objects stood for various acquisition forms and the related courses of action. Within this context, the exhibition also presented its most recent, as-yet-unpublished provenance research findings to the public.

Curators Dr. Eva Mongi-Vollmer, Dr. Iris Schmeisser, Anna Heckötter
A research and exhibition project sponsored by German Lost Art Foundation and the city of Frankfurt am Main