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Guggenheim's Thannhauser Collection of Early Modernists Goes on View in Europe

  • Thannhauser Collection Installation view_
September 2, 2018
Balasz Takac is alias of Vladimir Bjelicic who is actively engaged in art criticism, curatorial and artistic practice.

Collecting art is quite a task conditioned primarily by a person’s taste, wealth, knowledge and general interest in art. All of these things have to be on point in order for the collection to stand out, especially when it comes to modern art. One of the best collection of early modern art is the famous Thannhauser Collection established at very beginning of the 20th century.

Before we reveal what the collection consists of and how it is being interpreted in the contemporary moment, it is necessary to point out that Heinrich Thannhauser was not only a prolific collector, but also an art figure of great relevance for the art scene. He was perhaps the main suspect for the rise of Expressionist art in Germany. Throughout the years, his art collection grew and the collector’s support of the artistic progress was in sync with that of Solomon R. Guggenheim, the founder of of the eponymous Museum, which will be analyzed further in the text.

The collection of this fascinating figure will be presented at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao for the first time outside of New York after its arrival in the Guggenheim in 1965. Under the simple title Van Gogh to Picasso: The Thannhauser Legacy, the audience will have a chance to dive into the works of modernist masters such as Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cezanne, Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet and Pablo Picasso.

Paul Cézanne - Still Life
Paul Cézanne – Still Life: Flask, Glass, and Jug (Fiasque, verre et poterie), ca. 1877. Oil on canvas, 45.7 x 55.3 cm. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Thannhauser Collection, Gift, Justin K. Thannhauser

The Thannhauser Collection

The first Thannhauser Gallery opened in Munich in 1909. It was named the Modern Gallery (Moderne Galerie) and was located in the heart of city’s commercial district. This exhibition space was designed by architect Paul Wenz and was perceived as one of the largest and prettiest galleries in Munich. Spread on two floors, it had nine separate rooms on the ground and a sky-lit gallery on the upper floor.

Initially, the gallery exhibited the works of the French Impressionists, Post-Impressionists and the latest works of Italian Futurists. It housed the first exhibitions of the burgeoning avant-garde proponents of Neue Künstlervereinigung München (New Artists’ Association of Munich) in 1909 and Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) in 1911. The Modern Gallery organized the first major Pablo Picasso retrospective, and interestingly so, it participated in the groundbreaking Armory Show in 1913, an event which introduced European Modernism to the United States.

Justin K. Thannhauser, the son of Heinrich Thannhauser, opened the branch of the gallery in Lucerne (Luzern), Switzerland in 1919. In 1928, it was taken over by their cousin Siegfried Rosengart, who changed the gallery name to Galerie Rosengart. In 1927, Justin established the Berlin branch, but during the 1930s the business was disrupted by the Nazi government due to the belief that what they showed was degenerate art. Heinrich Thannhauser passed away in 1935, and all of his galleries were closed two years later, while his son Justin moved to New York in 1940 and continued working as an art dealer.

Finally, Justin Thannhauser gave away the most essential and iconic works of his collection to the Guggenheim Foundation in 1963. The works were on loan at the museum and were shown in 1965, and formally the collection became the property of Guggenheim in 1978 after the collector died. Additionally, the museum received a total number of ten works after the death of Hilde Thannhauser, Justin’s wife, in 1991.

Camille Pissarro The Hermitage at Pontoise
Camille Pissarro – The Hermitage at Pontoise (Les côteaux de l’Hermitage, Pontoise), 1867. Oil on canvas, 151.4 x 200.6 cm. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Thannhauser Collection, Gift, Justin K. Thannhauser

Highlights of The Exhibition

The exhibition will be presented chronologically, so it will show the development of various tendencies and innovations from French Impressionism to early Modernism. The audience will be able to see an extraordinary selection of paintings and works on paper by Claude Monet, Georges Braque, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and others.

Before the Mirror, painted by Manet in 1876, and Mountains at Saint-Rémy, by Van Gogh from 1889 are two works of special importance for the collection since they feature a dedication to Thannhauser from the artist. The works from the Guggenheim’s broader modernist collection, by Braque, Robert Delaunay, and Juan Gris, and rarely shown works on paper by Georges Seurat will also be included in the presentation.

The works will be accompanied by the archival materials such as installation photos of the Thannhausers’ European galleries and even personal documents, many of them reviled publicly for the first time.

For this particular occasion, the museum engaged in a number of conversations. For example, Van Gogh’s paintings Roadway with Underpass from 1887 and Landscape with Snow from 1888 were closely examined and carefully attributed to the artist through revelations about the geographic settings, a stamp on the reverse side of the canvas, characteristic brushwork, and trademark grounds and pigments.

Vincent van Gogh - Mountains at Saint-Remy
Vincent van Gogh – Mountains at Saint-Rémy (Montagnes à Saint-Rémy), July 1889. Oil on canvas, 71.8 x 90.8 cm. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Thannhauser Collection, Gift, Justin K. Thannhauser

The Thannhauser Collection at The Guggenheim

After all stated, the impression is that this spectacular collection represents an important survey of European avant-garde art production during the late 19th and early 20th century and it reflects the circulation of experimental tendencies. The decision of the Thannhausers to give away the collection extended the museum’s approach to representing and interpreting modern art.

The extensive bilingual publication about the Thannhauser Collection will be available from October 2018 and will include new contributions analyzing the histories of works before they were gifted to the Guggenheim as well as essays from conservationists perspective.

Currently, the Thannhauser Collection is installed in the Thannhauser Gallery on Level 2 of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, while the majority of the works from the collection will return to Europe with the upcoming exhibition Van Gogh to Picasso: The Thannhauser Legacy at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao which will open on 21 September 2018, on view until 24 March 2019.

After Spain, the exhibition will travel to France, where it will be installed at the Hôtel de Caumont, Aix-en-Provence from 1 May until 22 September 2019.

Featured image: Installation view: Thannhauser Collection, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Photo: David Heald. © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 2018. All images courtesy The Guggenheim Museum.