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Marzella: “Brücke”-Expressionism in Stockholm

A subject that was repeatedly painted by the Brücke-artists such as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner is the young girl “Marzella”. A version of it is now displayed in the Moderna Museet, Stockholm. The work of an artist who was considered as “degenerate” in the Nazi era, has a colorful history.

Marzella, von Ernst-Ludwig-Kirchner
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner:
Marzella (1909-1910),
Oil on Canvas, 76 x 60 cm,
Moderna Museet Stockholm, NM 6072 (Source: Wikipedia)

The Painting

The painting shows in frontalview a naked young girl in an only indicated interior. She is sitting with her legs crossed on a blue and black striped pillow or blanket, with the arms in the lap over each other. Her dark hair is held together loosely by a white ribbon and falling over her shoulders. The bright flesh tones in the triangular shaped face is a mask, the cool tones stand out clearly from the warm yellow of the background from. With hard contours in black, red and green Kirchner distinguishes his model additionally from its surroundings. The sensual red lips and dark eyes are in contrast to the girlish undeveloped but naked body and the child’s hair bow.

This artwork was created in the years 1909/1910, about 4-5 years after the founding of the group “Die Brücke”.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner was one of the founding members of the Brücke. Like many other artists Expressionist styles had threatened his artistic career with the takeover of the Nazis massive. In 1933 he was expelled from the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin. 1935 works by Kirchner were exhibited in the “Chamber of Horrors of Art” (Schreckenskammer der Kunst) in Dresden, 1937 another 25 paintings in the famous exhibition “Degenerate Art” (Entartete Kunst) in Munich. In total 639 of his artworks were seized. In 1938 he committed suicide in exile in Switzerland.

The artist name Kirchner leads to a particular attention in the Provenance Research today. Total 766 artworks by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner were removed as part of the seizure action from public collections. They will include the painting “Artiste (Marcella)” from 1910, which was confiscated at the Kunstverein Jena and is now located in Berlin’s Brücke Museum:

Marzella, Artistin, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Artiste (Marcella), former belonging of Jena Kunstverein, EK-Inventory No 13904 (Source: Wikipedia)

In the past there have been a number of restitution cases in which the artist were affected, although the situation is not to be lumped together. One famous example to be mentioned is the return of the “Berlin Street Scene” (Berliner Straßenszene) from the year 1913.

Provenance of “Marzella”

There have been a couple of owners of the “Marzella” before the present one, the Stockholm Moderna Museet:

Marzella Timeline01As the chart shows, there are still some question marks in this origin story.

1. Collection Gräf, Wiesbaden

Little is known about the early days of the “Marzella” after its creation. In September 1910, she was seen at an exhibition of the “Künstlergemeinschaft Brücke” in the Dresden Gallery Arnold, as seen on a photo (left next to the door):

Exhibition of Künstlergemeinschaft Brücke at Galerie Arnold, Dresden, September 1910 (Bildquelle: Wikipedia)
Exhibition of Künstlergemeinschaft Brücke at der Galerie Arnold, Dresden, September 1910 (Source: Wikipedia)

The Galerie Ernst Arnold was already existing since 1818, and was one of the first to show works of art of the “Brücke”-artists, but also other artists of the nowadays so-called Modern Art. It is most likely that the “Marzella” had found its first buyer at that exhibition.

The catalogue raisonnée of Gordon in 1968 names for the catalogue number 113, the “Marzella” by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner,  the “Collection Gräf, Wiesbaden” as the first owner. Maybe the art dealer and Kirchner connoisseurs Botho Graef is meant, who also owns the “Artiste” (see figure above) before it came to the Jena Kunstverein (now in the Brücke Museum). However this Botho Graef is not yet to bring in conjunction with the city of Wiesbaden.

2. Dr. Müller-Wulckow, Oldenburg

Walter Müller-Wulckow, ca. 1950, Marta Hoepffner (Bildquelle: Wikipedia)
Walter Müller-Wulckow, ca. 1950, Marta Hoepffner (Source: Wikipedia)

Walter Lothar Müller-Wulckow was a German art historian, journalist and founding director of the National Museum for Art and Cultural History Oldenburg (18.03.1886 in Wroclaw – 08.18.1964 in Oldenburg (Oldenburg)). Growing up under the name “Müller-Dienst” in Dresden and Frankfurt / Main, he studied art history, archeology and philosophy in Heidelberg, Berlin, Munich and Strasbourg. After his marriage in 1907 he was known with the name “Müller-Wulckow”. He received his doctoral degree by Georg Dehio in 1911 with a thesis on German graphic in the late Middle Ages. He inherited in 1910 a significant amount of money, which he used, among other things, to acquire contemporary art, including works by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.
1917-19 he worked as an assistant at Frankfurt Städel Kunstinstitut and founded the “Frankfurter Association of Contemporary Art”. As a writer for several magazines and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung he was an important mouthpiece for the dissemination of modern art in Germany.
From 1921 Mueller Wulckow was director of the Oldenburg State Arts Museum. In 1932 his commitment to modernity nearly led to his dismissal as director of the museum, as the Nazis were already in power in Oldenburg. Müller-Wulckow itself was thoroughly in line with the Nazi ideology, but his understanding of art was incompatible with the Nazi cultural leaders. The seizure of “degenerate art” he dissapporved. 103 works of art were to be confiscated from the Oldenburg Museum, Müller-Wulckow could it at least prevent some works by an “inventory confusion”. After 1945, he was classified as non-biased (in particular through its commitment to modernity) and was able to continue his duties as museum director.

Müller-Wulckow died 1964. At this time this artwork came to art trade and thus to the subsequent owner Graf von der Goltz. A Kirchner monograph from 1958 mentions as owner “Kunsthalle Bremen, loan from a private” – maybe Müller-Wulckow had exhibited the painting in the Kunsthalle. In 1960 the “Marzella” was issued in Dusseldorf,  indicated as provenance is “privately owned Oldenburg”, which presumably also meant Müller-Wulckow.

Accourding to an information by courtesy of Marei Döhring (Werner Murrer Rahmen) Müller-Wulckow bought the Marzella in September 1918 at the Kunstalon Luwig Schames. This could help to close an important gap in the paintings history. So it is proven that Müller-Wulckow owned the painting throughout the whole Nazi-period and it is not a case of Nazi looted art.

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