To this day, the private collection of the entrepreneur Max Fischer (1886-1975) of Stuttgart is little known although it unites classical modern art of the highest quality. The generosity of the heirs in leaving the collection to the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart
in the form of a permanent loan is now enabling the museum to pay tribute to this comprehensive collection for the first time, and to present a selection of 180 works - from a total of more than 250 - to the public. The significance of this collection will also become evident in the juxtaposition with individual works from the Staatsgalerie's holdings.
The Collector Max Fischer
Dr. Max Fischer was a collector who played a prominent role in the multifaceted Stuttgart art scene of the post-war period. In amassing his collection, Fischer relied on his own perusal of scholarly texts on art, with whose aid he acquired the ability to assess quality confidently. Apart from the societal circumstances which prevailed after World War II, this was a decisive criterion for the building of a collection concentrating primarily on Expressionism. The result was a superb collection with a clear profile, which - despite its private nature - increasingly received loan requests from all over the world.
An Overview of the Holdings
In addition to Expressionist works on paper by Max Beckmann, Heinrich Campendonk, Otto Dix, Conrad Felixmüller and Max Pechstein, the early acquisitions in the area of modern art also included paintings by the Stuttgart artist Oskar Schlemmer. Fischer purchased further important works in the 1920s primarily in the Kunsthaus Schaller in Stuttgart. Among them are the touching composition Two Girls (ca. 1923) by Carl Hofer, an interior by Oskar Kokoschka (ca. 1925) for which Fischer paid the considerable sum of 3,000 Reichsmarks, as well as the dream-world watercolour Two Female Nudes (1912) by Franz Marc.
Fischer acquired the majority of his collection in the Stuttgart Kunstkabinett which - founded in 1946 by Roman Norbert Ketterer - was to become the most important auction house for art of the twentieth century. Outstanding Expressionist works at what were still very moderate prices convinced the collector to concentrate increasingly on Edvard Munch, Emil Nolde and Max Beckmann. Among the artists of the Bauhaus, he had a special predilection for Oskar Schlemmer and the Cubist-inspired Lyonel Feininger. The Brücke - Blauer Reiter - Bauhaus core of the inventory was enhanced by sculptures of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Wilhelm Lehmbruck, and a substantial number of works by friends of the collector: the Stuttgart artists Alfred Lörcher and Ida Kerkovius as well as their teacher Adolf Hölzel.
The Heavyweight in the Collection: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
With nearly sixty prints, forty-eight drawings and a group of six paintings executed between 1908 and 1924, the artist most prominently featured in Fischer's holdings is Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Max Fischer succeeded in assembling a Kirchner ensemble covering the entire development of the artist who died in Davos in 1938 and including all of the media in which the latter worked. A group of brush-and-ink and pastel drawings - some very large in scale - executed between 1912 and 1915 and depicting women in the studio or on the street constitute a highlight of Fischer's Kirchner collection. During a bidding battle at the Stuttgart Kunstkabinett, Max Fischer relinquished the prominent landscape painting Sailboats near Grünau of 1914, today in the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, to then-director and confidant Erwin Petermann, and purchased the colour lithograph of the motif instead. The collector exhibited an unerring sense of quality in his acquisitions of drawings and prints from the second phase of the artist's career - lasting more than twenty years - in Davos, Switzerland. The development from the vibrant pictorial structure of the Berlin period to the formal calmness in Davos can thus be strikingly retraced. The drawings and famous woodcuts are today considered masterpieces (Moonlit Night in Winter, 1919; Spruce Trees, 1919; Junkerboden, 1919).
Apart from Kirchner, Max Fischer also collected works by Brücke artist Erich Heckel. It is an indication of his expertise that he concentrated on the essential works of printmaking by this artist of the years 1907 to 1919. The latter include his early experiments with the painterly qualities of lithography (Cabaret Singer of 1907/1906?) and representative woodcuts which were groundbreaking for his further work (Two Women Resting; Fränzi Reclining, both of 1909, and the famous White Horses of 1912).
Mavericks: Emil Nolde, Edvard Munch and Max Beckmann
Among the forerunners to the Brücke artists, the simplified, planar art of the Norwegian Edvard Munch is particularly prominent. Fischer recognized its significance for the Expressionists and invested substantial funds in purchasing important early prints. One of the collection's very special works is the frottage Head by Head (1905), existing in only a few copies, for which Munch rubbed coloured chalk into the printing block. This work is juxtaposed in the show with a colour woodcut of the motif belonging to the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart's Department of Prints, Drawings and Photographs (Head by Head [Man and Woman Kissing]), 1905).
The Northern German Emil Nolde sparked a true explosion of colour in his watercolours, of which the Fischer collection comprises a fine, representative ensemble (Female Head Facing Left, 1912/13; Maritime Landscape, 1920; Happy Mother, 1931-35 from the series of large-scale Fantasies). The pièce de résistance in Fischer's Nolde collection is surely the ecstatic Female Dancer, 1913 - painted with brush and ink directly onto the stone - which he purchased by auction from Ketterer in November 1950 for the incredible sum of 207 Deutschmarks.
Max Fischer sharpened the profile of his collection by selling works. In order to purchase an important painting of the 1940s by Max Beckmann (Akademie I, 1944) at a very high price, he disposed of works by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec as well as his entire Dürer and Altdorfer holdings. With a dynamic that virtually bursts the confines of the format, the studio painting executed by Beckmann in exile in Amsterdam is yet another highlight of the Fischer collection. The dialogue between the painter lost in gloomy contemplation and the oversize, heroically vibrant model mirrors the artist's depressive mood.
Alexej von Jawlensky
Fischer introduced a special accent with his Alexej von Jawlensky workgroup, consisting of four paintings from the early and decisive phases of the artist's development (Country Road, 1904/06; Still Life with Flowers and Oranges, ca. 1909; Variation on a Landscape Theme, 1916). Among these works is the portrait of a Spanish woman wearing a mantilla and exhibiting the icon-like depiction practiced almost exclusively by Jawlensky from 1917 onward (Large Head of a Woman [Manola], 1912/13).
Bauhaus: Oskar Schlemmer, Paul Klee
Already before World War II, Fischer purchased two landscape paintings by Bauhaus artist Oskar Schlemmer (In Front of the Cloister, 1914; Stuttgart Landscape, 1912). The Heroic Scene of 1935, in which the artist - prohibited from exhibiting his works in public - reacted to the political circumstances, was the last Schlemmer work to be acquired by Fischer. The confusion of the densely crowded figures contrasts strongly with earlier large-scale major works (Five Men in a Room, 1928; Scene at a Balustrade, 1931; Boy in Blue and White, 1931).
In the works of Paul Klee, the collection strategy so carefully pursued by Max Fischer over decades is particularly convincing. In 1925, only one year after the Staatsgalerie had acquired the painting Rhythm of the Windows (1920), Fischer purchased the watercolour The Parlour Maid's Suicide (1923). The last Klee acquisition to enter the collection - in 1955 - was A Park and the Trespasser (1939), executed long after the artist's Bauhaus period. Alongside the filigree earlier compositions, this late work using elements of collage and paste paint has an almost frightening quality about it. As is also the case in the late works of Schlemmer and Beckmann, premonitions of death and the threats posed by the events of the time are starkly present here. The collector Max Fischer, who sought the "insight of truth" in his preoccupation with art, was moved precisely by intense works such as this one, and it was they who lend his collection its distinctive profile.