Otto Dix (1891–1969)
Elsa, the Countess (1921)
oil on canvas, 33.46 x 22.05 in. (85 x 56 cm)
Otto Dix’s Elsa, The Countess was in the collection of Jewish Dresden lawyer Dr. Fritz Salo Glaser (1876-1956). It was sold by Glaser under duress due to Nazi persecution.
Glaser was born in Zittau, Germany, the son of a merchant who was a leader in the local Jewish community. Glaser was not a religious individual and left that community upon his father’s death in 1922. He studied law at the turn of the century, earning a doctorate and establishing his own practice in Dresden at Wilsdruffer Strasse 1 in 1904, mostly working in tax law. Glaser voluntarily served in World War I and then served as a contract lawyer for the “Red Aid” in district courts in and around Dresden. He sympathized with communist ideology.
During the interwar Weimar Republic, Glaser immersed himself in the flourishing German cultural scene, hosting social events at his house and amassing a collection of contemporary artists, including German Expressionists, Abstractionists, and New Objectivity artists such as Emil Nolde, Paul Klee, Oskar Kokoschka, Otto Dix, and Wassily Kandinsky. Some he even befriended, notably German artist Otto Dix. His collection consisted mostly of watercolors and graphics on paper, but he owned approximately forty paintings as well.
The National Socialists came to power in 1933, and that very year, the persecution of Glaser due to his Jewish heritage and communist sympathies began. Some of the earliest anti-Semitic laws of the Third Reich targeted those in the judicial system. The “Law on Admission to Legal Practice” of April 7, 1933, barred any Jewish lawyer from practicing in Germany. Glaser would have been excluded and allowed to continue his practice having been a German WWI veteran and already admitted to the bar years prior. However, another law was applied instead, debarring him due to his “communist activities.” His knowledge of tax law allowed him to work as an advisor until July 1937, at which point he was completely barred from any work in his profession. Unable to work, he turned to selling off his art collection piecemeal to support his livelihood and family.
In the cover of darkness, during Kristallnacht on November 9, 1938, Glaser fled his home to avoid arrest and deportation to the Buchenwald concentration camp. Upon his return, he was arrested and imprisoned for three weeks. His financial distress worsened after the November pogroms. On November 12, the “Ordinance on Reparations by Jews of German Nationality” was issued by the Reich and read: “The antagonistic stance of the Jewry toward the German people and Reich, which does not shrink even from cowardly acts of murder, requires us to stage decisive defense and require hard reparations.” The Reich had levied a RM 1 billion reparations payment on Germany’s Jews.
A prior ordinance from April 1938 had required Jews with assets valued at RM 5,000 or more to register their assets with the state. Those individuals were now required to forfeit 20% of the value of their reported assets beginning in December 1938. Glaser was assessed an “atonement tax” of RM 23,250. To pay the tax, he sold paintings by Klee, Kandinsky, Kokoschka, Nolde, and Schmidt-Rottluff from his collection. This was complicated further as another ordinance issued by the Reich that December forbade Jews from selling their works on the open market. Glaser was frequently harassed by the Gestapo, who searched his residence at Bergstrasse 23 in Dresden on several occasions. In an attempt to further conceal the illegal sales of his artworks, he destroyed the records of his collection.
Glaser was arrested again after the failed assassination attempt on Hitler in Munich in November 1939. He stayed in Berlin upon his release and remained there until 1941. Upon his return to Dresden in January 1942, he strung together work in construction, cleaning, and with the railway. During these final three years of the war, he continued to sell works from his collection to survive. It is believed that he sold Elsa, the Countess to Berlin collector Dr. Conrad Doebbeke during this time. An incomplete letter from Glaser to his son Volkmar that was found in his estate, comments on the current events of the war and the destruction of cities, dating it to the period of 1942-1945, when Glaser had returned to Dresden. It discusses the negotiations of the potential sale of two paintings by Otto Dix to an individual. Given that two Dix paintings, including Elsa, the once belonged to Glaser were in the possession of Doebbeke soon after the war, one must assume that the negotiations and eventual sale were with Doebbeke. Additional correspondence within the Glaser family further corroborates that Glaser sold works to the Berlin collector.
Glaser received notice that he was to be sent to Theresienstadt on February 16, 1945; his family was safe, as they had already sought shelter with a farmer in a town outside of Dresden. On the night of February 13, the Allies unleashed a multi-day aerial bombing attack on Dresden, which allowed Glaser to escape deportation and join his family.
Tragically, the persecution of the family continued after the fall of the Third Reich in 1945. Glaser was employed with the district court in Dresden, then in the Soviet Zone of Occupation, and resumed practice as a lawyer in mid-1946. In 1947, he decided to defend five judges and public prosecutors who had been indicted for crimes against humanity for imposing Nazi-era legislation. The City of Dresden interpreted his actions as support of neofascist ideas and denied him status as a persecuted person of the Nazi regime and any reparations for he and his family’s suffering under the Third Reich. When Glaser died in Dresden, then in the GDR (East Germany), in October 1956, his family was again forced to sell works that they had saved from the war for their livelihood.
Dix’s Elsa the Countess was sold by Conrad Doebbeke’s heirs through Roman Norbert Ketterer at the 33rd auction of the Stuttgarter Kunstkabinett on May 29/30, 1959, in Stuttgart, Germany. The painting was known to be in a private collection in Hamburg, from which it was stolen. Its current whereabouts are unknown.