International symposium on Max Stern
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Current ongoing research in connection with the Max Stern Gallery partly prompted by requests for information and restitution addressed to German museums has led to the decision on the part of the city of Düsseldorf to cancel the exhibition “Max Stern – from Düsseldorf to Montreal” scheduled to be shown at the Stadtmuseum in spring 2018. In the light of a considerable number of unanswered questions, the city will host an international symposium, with the aim to honour Max Stern, to provide a forum for the research on the related complex of topics and to discuss possible forms of presentation and documentation of this subject area.
Max Stern – historical background
The art historian Max Stern (1904-1987), who originally lived in Düsseldorf, was a victim of National Socialism.
Having received his PhD in 1928, Max Stern joined the gallery of his father Julius Stern founded in 1913 and took it over in 1934 following his father’s death. The gallery’s activities focused on dealing in art of the Düsseldorf School of Painting, later also in contemporary art and, increasingly, in Old Masters. The gallery was, alongside the Alfred Flechtheim Gallery, Paffrath Gallery and exhibition venues such as the Kunstsalon Tietz, among the most renowned addresses of the Düsseldorf art trade in the first third of the 20th century.
On the grounds of his Jewish ancestry, Max Stern was denied admission to the Reich Chamber of Fine Arts and, thus, denied permission to continue his art business until he was finally forced to liquidate his gallery at the end of 1937. On 13 November 1937, 228 paintings from the “Inventory of Max Stern, Düsseldorf” went to auction at Lempertz in Cologne. Shortly after, Stern fled to London via Paris, and into exile in Canada in 1941.
The exhibition – genesis of the idea
The aim of the Max Stern Art Restitution Project in Montreal founded in 2002 is to identify, localise and recover the works that were included in the Auction 392 at Lempertz, amongst others, on 13 November 1937.
Among the works put up for auction in 1937 was the painting “Self-Portrait” by Wilhelm von Schadow. It was acquired by the Stadtmuseum Düsseldorf in 1973, having been handed back to Lempertz by a private collector in 1972.
In November 2013 the city of Düsseldorf restituted Schadow’s “Self-Portrait” to the heirs of Max Stern, i.e. to Concordia University and McGill University, both in Canada, as well as to the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. Since then, the work has been loaned to and on permanent display at the Stadtmuseum, thus continuing to be accessible to the public, for which the city of Düsseldorf is very grateful.
In the context of the work’s restitution in 2013, the idea arose to organise a special exhibition on the Düsseldorf gallery in spring 2018. Among the parties involved were, in particular, the Stadtmuseum Düsseldorf, the Max Stern Art Restitution Project, scientists of Concordia University, as well as the archive of the National Gallery of Canada, which houses the Max Stern estate.
Provenance research on Max Stern
The art dealer Max Stern is associated with countless works of art that passed through his hands or are linked with him in a variety of other ways. Each individual work calls for a differentiated case-by-case analysis.
In connection with current requests for information and restitution, provenance research has formulated a number of new lines of enquiry and desiderata concerning the life and activities of Max Stern as an art dealer against the backdrop of his persecution by the Nazi regime, as well as regarding his gallery’s inventory, his private collection, networks and client base.
All of these new pieces of information and developments must be taken into consideration, especially with a view to provenance research issues. This is a matter of due diligence.
The exhibition at the Stadtmuseum was not able to do justice to these new scientific lines of enquiry relating to Max Stern and his art dealing activities. Therefore, in October the Mayor, the Head of Cultural Affairs and the Director of the Stadtmuseum took the joint decision to cancel the Max Stern exhibition, on the basis of the existing exhibition concept and upon consultation of specialist expertise.
A scientific symposium is intended to accommodate this complexity by way of case-by-case analyses and context research illuminating, amongst others, Max Stern’s art dealership in comparison to other art dealers from Düsseldorf and the Rhineland.
It offers the opportunity to bring together, for the first time, international scholars and scientists from museums, universities and other research institutions. The Canadian institutions, which have been researching Max Stern for years, have expressly been invited to take part in this exchange. The symposium is to be realised in the fall of 2018 by the position for provenance research established by the Department of Cultural Affairs of Düsseldorf in collaboration with Düsseldorf arts institutions.
The symposium’s findings are to serve as a basis for considerations regarding possible ways of presenting and documenting research results and conceiving an exhibition on Max Stern.
To reach an agreement as to how to proceed, the Mayor has been in close contact with the Jewish community of Düsseldorf. In this context, a meeting has been arranged between the Head of Cultural Affairs, the provenance researcher of the city of Düsseldorf and the Director of the Stadtmuseum.
The city and the Jewish community have a common interest in conducting the discussion with a high degree of objectivity, sensitivity and prudence, and in preventing the exhibition’s cancellation from becoming a matter of public debate.
Provenance research of the city of Düsseldorf
For years the city of Düsseldorf has worked on the basis of the Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art (1998), the Joint Declaration (1999), the Terezín Declaration (2009), and in compliance with the Guidelines Concerning the Implementation of the Joint Declaration (2001). Identifying possible objects of looted art in its possession and finding just and fair solutions has been a matter of great concern for the city.
Since 2010 the city has proactively initiated a number of projects with the support of the former Office for Provenance Research an Investigation in Berlin and the German Lost Art Foundation in Magdeburg, in order to promote systematic provenance research on works held in collections of the city of Düsseldorf.
In order to systematise and solidify this aim, the city established a permanent position for provenance research in October 2016, being among the first cities to do so in Germany.
The current status of research on the provenance of works which are connected with the Max Stern Gallery and in the city’s possession will shortly be published on the internet.