Paul Klee (1879–1940)
Landscape with Blue and Red Trees (1920)
oil, pen, chalk primer, and gauze on cardboard,
16.14 x 12.60 in. (41 x 32 cm)
Paul Klee’s Landscape with Blue and Red Trees (1920) was in the collection of Jewish Dresden lawyer Dr. Fritz Salo Glaser (1876-1956) prior to being sold under duress due to Nazi persecution.
Glaser was born in Zittau, Germany, in 1876, 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, Glaser 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, he 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 1 billion RM reparations payment on Germany’s Jews.
An April 1938 ordinance had required Jews with assets of 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 the painting Landscape with Blue and Red Trees by Klee, along with paintings by 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, he strung together work in construction, cleaning, and with the railway. He 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 Glaser and his family continued after the fall of the Third Reich in 1945. Glaser was employed with the district court 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 neo-fascist ideas and denied him status as a persecuted person of the Nazi regime and any reparations for he and his family’s suffering during the Third Reich. When Glaser died in October 1956, his family was again forced to sell works that they had saved from the war for their livelihood.
After Glaser’s ownership, Klee’s Landscape with Blue and Red Trees passed through German-US dealer Israel Ber Neumann before entering collections in Massachusetts and Los Angeles. It then returned to Europe, passing through art dealers and galleries in Paris, Basel, and Zurich, before entering another American collection. It is currently believed to be in a private collection in Switzerland.