National Gallery and the Barber Institute of Fine Art acquire Lovis Corinth portrait

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National Gallery and the Barber Institute of Fine Art acquire Lovis Corinth portrait
Lovis Corinth Portrait of Dr Ferdinand Mainzer, 1899; Accepted in lieu of Inheritance Tax and allocated jointly to the National Gallery and the Henry Barber Trust; Image: © The National Gallery, London.

LONDON.- A painting by the German artist Lovis Corinth (1858 –1925) has been allocated in lieu of tax jointly to the National Gallery, London, and the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham.

The first object under the Acceptance in Lieu Scheme to have been allocated to more than one museum or collection, the picture will be displayed in rotation, and will be seen first at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham as it re-opens to visitors this week.

The portrait of Dr Ferdinand Mainzer (1871–1943), a German-Jewish gynaecologist, historian and writer, and a key cultural figure of early 20th-century Berlin, was painted by Corinth in 1899.

The artist and sitter were to become great friends but in the 1930s, Mainzer became active in the Solf Circle, a Roman Catholic group which, at considerable danger to themselves, fiercely opposed Hitler and the Nazi regime. Mainzer and his family fled Berlin to England with the help of Circle members, as the SS closed in. Betrayed by a Gestapo infiltrator, most of the remaining members of the Circle were executed in 1944.

Mainzer and his wife then moved to Los Angeles in the United States where - in the remarkable German-speaking expatriate community comprising Theodor Adorno, Thomas Mann, Max Reinhardt and Arnold Schoenberg - he died in exile in 1943. His granddaughter, Gisela Stone, settled in London, eventually bringing the portrait to her home there, where it hung unremarked until her death in 2016.

A member of avant-garde circles, Mainzer turned to writing history because an injury to his hand meant he could not pursue his surgical interests. His biography of Julius Caesar was translated into English and French and is said to have inspired the American playwright and novelist Thornton Wilder’s The Ides of March (first published in 1948).

In the painting, Corinth captures the sophistication and wit of Mainzer’s personality. The doctor, with his perfectly manicured and twirled moustache, leans back in his chair, eyebrows raised, and peers sceptically at the artist through pince-nez.

The portrait is a key transitional work in Corinth’s career, painted in the Impressionist style influenced by his mentor Max Liebermann but already exhibiting, through its sombre palette and bravura paint handling, intimations of the Expressionist style that would come to the fore in his art in the following decade. Corinth’s arrival in Berlin at the turn of the century is widely seen as the moment when that city superseded Munich as the principal focus of avant-garde art in Germany.

Corinth is unrepresented in the National Gallery’s Collection and the only comparable work by the artist in the UK is the Portrait of Carl Ludwig Elias, Age 7 ¼ in the Leicester Museum and Art Gallery, also painted in Berlin in 1899. Along with Klimt’s Portrait of Hermine Gallia of 1904 (NG 6434) in the National Gallery’s Collection this acquisition shows the influence on modern art of the Secession movements in Berlin and Vienna.

The portrait will also complement the collection of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, founded in 1932, which includes, in acquisitions made for the Henry Barber Trust during the directorship of Richard Verdi (1990–2008), a representative and substantial group of works on paper by a range of German Expressionist and closely associated artists. These include Beckmann, Dix, Klinger, Kollwitz, Marc, Nolde, Schiele, Schmidt-Rottluff – and Corinth (a rare print, his Christ on the Cross woodcut, 1919). These works have been augmented by further outstanding print purchases by subsequent directors, most recently Käthe Kollwitz’s The Young Couple (1904), acquired in 2018 for the Trust by the current Director, Nicola Kalinsky.

The Corinth portrait has joined other important collection paintings at the Barber Institute for reopening this week including a further recent acquisition on display for the first time – The Reader (about 1817) by Marguerite Gérard and the Van Dyck portrait of François Langlois (probably early 1630s) – like the Corinth jointly owned with the National Gallery.

Nicola Kalinsky, Director of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, says: ‘We are extremely grateful to the Acceptance in Lieu panel for their thoughtful and creative decision which will allow this dynamic and arresting portrait to be seen in both London and Birmingham. At the Barber, it will introduce our visitors to Corinth’s distinctive qualities as a painter as well as offering a poignant lens through which to view a troubled period of European history.’

Dr Gabriele Finaldi, Director of the National Gallery, London, says: ‘The Barber Institute of Fine Arts and the National Gallery already share a portrait by Van Dyck of the artist's friend François Langlois and now we jointly own Corinth's portrait of his friend Dr Mainzer. Once again the Acceptance in Lieu scheme has brought a fascinating work of art into public ownership and we are very grateful.’

Edward Harley, OBE, Chairman, Acceptance in Lieu Panel, says: ‘I am delighted that this painting by Lovis Corinth has been acquired in a joint-allocation between the National Gallery and the Barber Institute through the Acceptance in Lieu Scheme. This is the first time a work accepted in lieu will be shared between two institutions, meaning that it can reach a broader public in different parts of the country. Corinth’s portrait of Dr Ferdinand Mainzer will be the first painting by the artist to enter either institution’s holdings. I hope that this example will encourage others to use the scheme to find a place for great art in our national collections.’

Caroline Dinenage, Culture Minister, says: ‘Whether through the Acceptance in Lieu and Cultural Gift Schemes, National Heritage Memorial Fund or Art Fund grants, this spectacular acquisition is the latest example of collaboration between national and regional museums across the country.’

Lovis Corinth (1858 –1925) was a German artist and writer whose mature work as a painter and printmaker realised a synthesis of Impressionism and Expressionism. Corinth studied in Paris and Munich, joined the Berlin Secession group, later succeeding Max Liebermann as the group's president. His early work was naturalistic in approach. Corinth was initially antagonistic towards the Expressionist movement, but after a stroke in 1911 his style loosened and took on many Expressionistic qualities. His use of colour became more vibrant, and he created portraits and landscapes of extraordinary vitality and power. Corinth's subject matter also included nudes and biblical scenes.

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