The New Walk Museum and Art Gallery are hosting an exhibition of the largest collection of German Expressionist artwork in the UK,. With support from Arts Council they are re-displaying the collection this summer. The new permanent gallery uses innovative museum design to uncover the remarkable story behind the collection. Exploring how and why German and other Expressionist artists revealed their innermost emotions through art, dance, music and drama. The public may view the complete German Expressionist collection on-line on a new website, launching this summer.
A stunning exhibition of over 100 artworks, which explores the development of Leicester’s German Expressionist Art Collection, will be displayed at the gallery in opening on 24 May. The collection, which began in 1944 amidst the darkness of war with paintings saved from destruction in Nazi Germany, now numbers over 350 artworks, the first and largest of its kind in the UK. The exhibition will feature works by Marc, Kandinsky, Munter, Heckel, Schmidt-Rottluff, Kirchner, Kollwitz, Dix, Feininger and Grosz. The initial collection began with works acquired from a ground breaking exhibition, ‘Mid-European Art’, which took place at New Walk Museum & Art Gallery in 1944. The exhibition featured works from private collections which were brought to England for safe keeping from the Nazis by artists and private collectors.
By 1939 a progressive art collecting policy had been established by the first long-term Arts Assistant A.C.Sewter. Its emphasis on the purchase of contemporary British and continental (including German) art paved the way for the first acquisitions of such work in 1944 and the subsequent development of the collection. Among the many refugees who fled Germany prior to the Second World War were artists and collectors of the works then vilified and outlawed as degenerate by Hitler and his National Socialist Party.
Private collections were brought to England by owners such as Tekla Hess, widow of the Erfut shoe manufacturer and renowned collector Alfred Hess, and the art historian Dr. Rosa Schapire. The key figure in the museum at this time was Trevor Thomas, a person of great vision and drive who was Curator/Director from 1940 to 1946. He recognised the excellence of the Hess collection and, in 1944, staged the exhibition ‘Mid-European Art’, to which works from this and other local émigré collections were lent. From this exhibition the museum’s first acquisitions were made, Franz Marc’s Red Woman, Lyonel Feininger’s Behind The Church, Emil Nolde’s Head with Red-Black Hair and Max Pechstein’s The Bridge at Eruft, all originally from the collection of Alfred Hess.
A further significant exhibition in 1953, of the art of Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, consisted of works lent by the collector Dr. Rosa Schapire and the artist. Dr. Schapire considered this to be one of the most important events of her life in England and in 1955, after her death, the museum received part of her collection of the Schmidt-Rottluff’s graphic work.
Expressionism: The Total Artwork Opens 24 May 2014 New Walk Museum & Art Gallery Leicester