The ThyssenArt Beast (1928-2009): A Letter To Tavarua Blogspot (by Caroline Schmitz)

Dear Author of Tavarua – The Traveler Blogspot,

I feel compelled to comment on your post dated 21 October entitled ‘A Legendary Art Collector’, where you repeat several of the Thyssen mantras, including that the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection was once housed at the family castle in Hungary. How far away from the truth you are can be seen from the evidence as described in our book. For instance, the foreword to the first exhibition of this collection, which took place in Munich in 1930, is extremely explicit and I will quote the most relevant passages from it to illustrate my comment to you:

‘…It was known to the inner circle of experts that during the last few years, shielded from the public, the basis for a new collection was created in Germany…..Even the owner and creator of the collection so far renounced the pleasure of seeing all of his treasures assembled in one place. Rather, he left them first of all under the seal of confidentiality in all those various locations where they had been acquired. This is why the Directorate of the Bavarian State Art Collections were so grateful and excited when, upon their suggestion, the collector Dr Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza decided to assemble the works, dispersed in Paris, The Hague, London, Berlin and other cities, temporarily in Munich and to entrust them to the ‘Neue Pinakothek’ for an exhibition…

…Here they are gathered for the first time to be appreciated by the public. One will note with amazement what has been possible in a surprisingly short period of time…I only wish to point out that it was possible to use the big movements on the art market, which the recent turmoils have brought with them, with circumspection and energy……

…Here they are: an exquisite male portrait by Michael Pacher and a female portrait by Albrecht Altdorfer, which we wholeheartedly commend as one of the high points of German art, as the perfect representation of German womanhood of that time in insurpassable truth and freedom…

…This new creation stands entirely alone in our German present……We believe that the national treasure can experience no greater enhancement and grounding than through the acquisition of great, noble works of art…

…The increasing impoverishment of our ‘Volk’ [the German people] and the financial crisis of our stately powers, which are becoming more dangerous every day, make us fear that the maintenance of cultural institutions will fall behind more and more…

…Dr Rudolf Heinemann-Fleischmann also carried out the laborious task of gathering all the works to be exhibited from their various locations….’ (Dr Fr Dörnhöffer, Munich, June 1930).

The sad truth about the Thyssen connection with Rechnitz (which has been Austrian, rather than Hungarian since 1921, before which it was known as Rohoncz) is that to this day the Thyssen family uses the name of the place to hide both the real provenance of their paintings and their own national provenance, which was firmly German, not Hungarian, Swiss, or anything else. This would not be quite as bad if, in March 1945, an appalling crime had not taken place in Rechnitz, which has tarnished the town’s image for ever.

The fact that, to this day, the Thyssens refuse to own up to their involvement in the Rechnitz Massacre of over 180 Jewish slave labourers to my mind makes their continued use of the town’s good name as a cloak for the early years of their collection especially distasteful.

Jan Lievens, 'Rest on the Flight into Egypt' (ca. 1635): The first painting purchased for the Thyssen / Rohoncz Collection, in the year 1928. It never went anywhere near Rohoncz (Rechnitz) Castle and neither did any of the other 524 of Heinrich Thyssen's paintings.

Jan Lievens, 'Rest on the Flight into Egypt' (ca. 1635): The first painting purchased for the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection (Rohoncz Collection), in the year 1928. It never went anywhere near Rohoncz (Rechnitz) Castle and neither did any of the other 542 of Heinrich Thyssen's paintings.

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