Explosive documentary: “life is an art – The fall of Max Emden”


A cinema film is not achieved, what was the provenance research. Two paintings will now be given to the heirs of the Department store magnate Max Emden. Director André Schäfer tells us why the case is exemplary.

In the 1920s, the businessman Max Emden, Scion of an old Hamburg merchant family that made a fortune with luxurious Department stores. It’s houses like the ultra-modern KaDeWe in Berlin and the “oberpollinger” in Munich. His home city of Hamburg gave the patron of the arts at that time, numerous works of art, land and real estate. He donated the city’s first Golf course and Polo club.

In 1928, the Jewish art collector brought in Switzerland in safety, his possessions in Europe, were seized after the seizure of power by the Nazis “aryanized” or sold off at knock-down prices. His valuable art collection had to sell Max Emden and about the art trade. In 1940, he died in exile in Switzerland. Some of his images came via a detour in the private collection of Hitler, who wanted to set up in Linz, a “Führer-Museum”.

Together with the grandson of Max Emden, Juan Carlos Emden, has gone to a German film crew on a search to find out what happened to the famous art collection, and where the pictures are today. They found, of all places, in the seat of the Federal President, where the term of Horst Köhler, a valuable Canaletto from the collection of Max Emden.

Director André Schäfer told in the Interview, why the story of two images is also a proxy for dealing with looted art – and valuable everyday objects, libraries and works of art from former Jewish art possessions.

Deutsche Welle: Mr. shepherd, you are a historian, but in the main film-makers. How much art-historical advice you have used to find this painting as an example of failure to provenance research for your documentary? For this you must have a detective-like instincts.

André Schäfer: of course We have help had through the lawyer for the family of Emden, Markus Stötzl, has already took care of for 12 years prior to the lost art collection. The told us where these pictures hang. And then we have of course, tried to get the camera access to all the pictures.

In the private Bührle collection, (in a valuable Monet painting from the former Max-Emden-owned, op. d. Red.) no one has granted us access. But at least two public museums: the Museum Kunst Palast in Düsseldorf and the Museum of Military history in Dresden. Therefore, we have placed these two images of Canaletto, the story of the movie.

Escape to Switzerland: Department store magnate Max Emden lived after fleeing from Nazi Germany to the Brissago Islands

And then there’s a young doctoral candidate who has worked in Munich at the Institute for contemporary history about the Jewish gallery owner, Anna Caspari. Then again, these two images showed up. And where, then, was to demonstrate how it ever worked: That there was a Museum man from Hitler personally commissioned, and then the gallery owner Caspari requests: His client was interested in Canaletto. If you know a collector that might want to sell?

Sell a macabre formulation is want to Yes. Today the “NS-persecution-related deprivation of cultural goods is called” in the terminology of the Provenance research…

Alone, this formulation implies something completely different. The were business people, where it was pretty bad, where it went such a bad state financially, because the money faucet for Jewish emigrants from the German Empire was virtually made by the Nazis. The had to somehow get money. And since you may Want to ask the way: your pictures are not for little money to sell, so you have at least a bit of what? And this is happening.

Millionaire, and passionate art collectors: Max Emden in exile in Switzerland

The issue of looted art is highly complex, which has been already noticed in the “Gurlitt case”. How have you managed that in “the case of Max Emden” down, and break them than to make history manageable?

We have tried to focus on a couple of little examples. Nothing is better, if you can, what it is, show correctly. And the Moment, where a wonderful provenance researcher at the Museum Kunst Palast in Düsseldorf this Canaletto paintings from the Depot, and the Museum assistant in this picture on the easel through the whole Museum to present it to us, that was a great Moment.

And based on this a picture and a sibling picture, namely, a view of the City of Dresden, which hangs in the military historical Museum in Dresden, on the basis of these two images, we were able to explain the whole case, because, to be detectable, where the two pictures were bought by Max Emden. How much he has paid for it. And then how they ultimately the same Person – it is a Jewish art dealer, Anna Caspari of Munich – were there not re-sold.

Hitler had fallen in love with Florence in the Uffizi gallery, apparently, in the old Italian masters. And the Museum people and art dealers, has said that Worried me of the old Italian masters. This Jewish art dealer and, after 1933. The were only allowed to work further, because you needed them – and in any case before the beginning of the campaigns against the great Collectors in France and Austria, too, of course.

Who discovered the image in Bonn, Villa Hammerschmidt?

The lawyer for the family of Emden. Markus Stötzl has written on behalf of the heirs of a letter to Mr Köhler, with the content: do you Know what hangs there in the dining room? This was already no longer there.

Family affair: the case of Max Emden “in Hamburg to work for the documentary”

And one of my colleagues of Florian film has been viewed from the WDR archive quite a lot of cassettes on the Villa Hammerschmidt. Iirgendwelche reports, reports, because he was kind of the hope, is filming like maybe a camera at random times on the wall, where this picture of Canaletto. And see since the Pope’s visit to Ratzinger by Horst Köhler welcomes and behind the two depends on exactly this image.

That was already sensational. And an absolute joyful day for all of us who have worked on the Film. And therefore: “The case of Max Emden,” as we have called the movie in the subtitles, of course, for very, very many cases in which images have not been long returned to the rightful heirs.

Info: The documentary film, “life is an art – The fall of Max Emden” by the Directors, André Schäfer and Eva Gerberding is at the Premiere on 10.4. 2019 in Hamburg’s Abaton-Kino presents. Cinema start: 25.4.2019