Research on the purchase of the Dr. Conrad Doebbeke collection in 1949 and 1954 by the State Capital Hannover

Funding area:
Nazi-looted cultural property
Funding recipient:
Landeshauptstadt Hannover
Federal state:
Lower Saxony
Contact person:
Dr. Annette Baumann

PositionProvenienzforschung zum Kunstbesitz der Landeshauptstadt Hannover

Tel.+49 (0) 511 168 44501

Type of project:
long-term project

The State Capital Hannover administrative authority has a long and rich history of acquiring objects for its collections. As a result, it has accumulated extensive stocks from a wide range of artistic genres and periods. Ongoing research projects focusing on the citys art collection are examining masterpieces that were possibly confiscated or sold as a result of persecution during the National Socialist era and subsequently acquired by the city of Hanover. The projects also aim to identify legal successors who are potentially eligible to claim these works. In addition to researching the origin of those acquisitions suspected of having been unlawfully incorporated into the citys collection during the National Socialist period and for which compensation was not directly paid after 1945, the current provenance research is also concentrating in particular on masterpieces (and their changes of ownership in the past) that first became the property of the city authorities after 1945. This is in accordance with the Washington Principles.

In order to reconstruct the citys art collection after the end of the Second World War, a set of around 120 paintings, prints and sculptures belonging to Dr. Conrad Doebbeke (18891954) of Berlin-Wannsee was purchased in 1949 by the responsible body of the State Capital Hannover. From 1950 onward, the masterpieces acquired were put on show to the public in the Städtische Galerie, which was housed in the Landesmuseum Hannover. When the Sprengel Museum Hannover was established in 1979, the modern works were transferred to the new building while the 19th century artworks remained in their existing location.

The collection which the city of Hanover took over from Conrad Doebbekewith the aim, so it was argued, of making up for the losses suffered under the Nazi dictatorship, like those during the confiscation campaign carried out by the Reich Chamber of Culture in 1937contained a wide range of masterpieces by leading proponents of German Impressionism, such as Lovis Corinth and Max Liebermann. Also among them are works by notable figures including Wilhelm Lehmbruck, Hans von Marées, Max Slevogt, Wilhelm Trübner and the sculptor August Gaul. The collection is enhanced by masterpieces of Classic Modernism, particularly Expressionismand thus those by artists ostracized and regarded as degenerate in the Nazi era like Erich Heckel, Alexei Jawlensky, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Otto Müller, Emil Nolde, Max Pechstein, Christian Rohlfs, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Edvard Munch and Paula Modersohn-Becker.

The municipal institution that originally acquired the works was the Kestner Museum in Hanover (now the Museum August Kestner). Taking a lead role was the former director of the Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum (formerly the Provinzialmuseum) Ferdinand Stuttmann, who also became responsible for the curatorial supervision of the citys painting collection in 1937 after the Kestner Museums original director, Karl Küthmann, was dismissed due to nationalistic policy reasons.

The correspondence preserved provides evidence of the procedures taken by the city of Hanover to purchase the collection and also of the storage arrangements in the Landesmuseum and transportation to third parties. This correspondence is now located in the Stadtarchiv Hannover and in the Lower Saxony State Archive.

As far as is known at this stage, there are no private papers from Conrad Doebbekes family in existence, which is why the research activities are reliant on parallel records originating from official procedures. In the project, the focus is therefore on investigations into the background, the personal and family environment, and the biographical and professional path of the former real estate agent Conrad Doebbeke, who was registered at Berlin addresses. After the end of the Second World War, he became an art dealer by officially registering a business as such. Conrad Doebbeke and his wife Elsa, née Magnussen, had a son, Tomy.

Starting in the 1950s, other museums in the Federal Republic of Germany also acquired works formerly owned by Doebbeke, albeit in much smaller numbers. Even after the purchase made in Hanover, a list dated 1953 refers to an inventory of still more than 350 works of modern and ostracized art belonging to Conrad Doebbekes wife Elsa. During the project period, cooperative arrangements were established with the participating museums that temporarily stored parts of Doebbekes art collection until well into the 1950s or which also acquired individual works.

In the National Archives in Washington, there are documents going back to a legal procedure conducted with the Allies. In them is listed a set of masterpieces that was seized from Wiesbaden bank depositories by the US military government in 1945. The acquisition is substantiated by the attestations of participating dealers, which at the same time provide some evidence about Doebbekes activities as a buyer of art during the National Socialist era.

In line with the objectives set out in the project application, the following goals were achieved:

•bullet The archive holdings relating to the acquisition of the Dr. Conrad Doebbeke collection by the city of Hanover in 1949 and in subsequent years were indexed and secured.

•bullet Research into the trade routes and purchasing processes (largely focusing on Berlin) and into the origin of the masterpieces from the Doebbeke collection was intensified.

•bullet Provenance research on individual masterpieces from the purchase of the Dr. Conrad Doebbeke collection by the city of Hanover in 1949 and in subsequent years

was carried out.

Through targeted searches in the appropriate archives, it was possible during the project period to collect personal and biographical data relating to Conrad Doebbeke himself and also to his family, in accordance with identifiable evidence.

The relevant files include those in:

•bullet The Stadtarchiv Hannover

•bullet The Lower Saxony State Archive in Hanover

•bullet The Federal Archives in Berlin

•bullet The Washington National Archives

In 2007, the painting Römische Campagna (Roman Landscape, 1914) by Lovis Corinth, which was among the works purchased from Dr. Conrad Doebbeke, was restituted to the community of heirs of Dr. Curt Glaser (18791943) as a result of a decision by the city council. The painting was taken from the items inherited from his brother Felix, who had died in 1931, and put up for auction in Berlin on May 9, 1933, as part of the collection and library of a Berlin art lover (Internationales Kunst- und Auktions-Haus GmbH. Berlin, Kurfürstenstraße 79, May 9, 1933; cat. no. 156, lot. no. 264, fig. pl. 5). Up to now it has not been possible to prove that Doebbeke personally made the purchase at this auction, or that he did so for the three paintings by Lovis Corinth and Oskar Kokoschka that were restituted back in the 1950s.

Research on the acquisition of the Conrad Doebbeke collection and the origin of his masterpieces sold to the State Capital Hannover will be continued by the municipal Provenance Research Office.

To create transparency in accordance with the Washington Principles, the State Capital Hannover is systematically indexing its acquisition transactions made since 1933. Cultural goods that are proven to have been confiscated as a result of persecution will be published in the Lost Art Database. As part of its efforts to actively carry out provenance research, the State Capital Hannover has joined 14 other museums in the online and exhibition project focusing on Alfred Flechtheim, the art dealer persecuted by the Nazis: and has examined the provenance of masterpieces formerly traded by him which are now owned by municipal art institutions.

(c) Landeshauptstadt Hannover, Stelle für Provenienzforschung zum Kunstbesitz der Landeshauptstadt Hannover, Dr. Annette Baumann