Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Three Boys in Blue (1915)
oil on canvas, 33.70 x 26.18 in. (85.60 x 66.50 cm)
Three Boys in Blue (1915) by Ernest Ludwig Kirchner was owned by Dr. Max Fischer (1893–1954) of Frankfurt, Germany. Born in 1893 to Ludwig and Rosy, his family had a successful trading business and were members of the city’s wealthy Jewish community. When Ludwig retired, he and Rosy began collecting art. Max and his brother Dr. Ernst Fischer ultimately inherited their parents’ collection.
Ludwig and Rosy first began collecting in 1905 with an interest in German Impressionism and the Secessionist movement. As they amassed their collection, the couple began refining their holdings by selling works that no longer fit their collecting style for those that they desired. In 1916 their interests shifted to German Expressionism, with concentration on the works by artists of Die Brücke, of which Kirchner was a member.
The Fischer’s did not collect art for financial benefit or investment, but rather because they believed that supporting the arts was their civic duty. They took pleasure in their collecting, but also saw it as their commitment to social progress and the longevity of a vibrant artistic practice in Germany, hence their desire to ultimately donate their collection to a public museum so that others could benefit from the works as much as they had. Upon Ludwig’s death in 1922, the Fischer collection numbered some five hundred works, including paintings, sculpture, drawings, and prints.
Ludwig’s death coincided with the period of post-WWI hyperinflation in Germany, and to support the family financially, Rosy decided to start her own gallery out of her home. The Galerie Fischer für Neuzeitliche Kunst operated for two years, and by all accounts was not very successful. However, in 1924, Rosy sold twenty-four paintings to the Städtische Museum für Kunst und Kunstgewerbe in Halle (today, the Kunstmuseum Moritzburg Halle (Saale)) guaranteeing the family financial stability for years. Sadly, Rosy died only two years later, and the collection was split amicably between her two sons. Max and Ernst understood the importance of the collection to their parents and were deeply committed to keeping it in the family as part of their parents’ legacy.
The early 1930s brought the rise of the Nazi party and the increasing discrimination and persecution of Germany’s Jewish population. Ernst was dismissed from his post at the University of Frankfurt am Main, where he lectured, and by 1934 had immigrated to the United States with his family and his half of his parents’ collection. Max, who was a journalist and correspondent at the time, was also targeted: his newspaper contract was not being extended, his lectures were cancelled, and he had been excluded from multiple professional organizations. According to his later application for restitution, his income accordingly dropped from RM 20,000 in 1932 to RM 5,500 in 1933, the year the Nazis came to power.
His living arrangements in Berlin were also in a state of flux during this period. By October 1934, he had moved from his apartment on Waldemarstraße and was living at Roscherstraße 17 in Berlin-Charlottenburg with a Charlotte Wanzke. He lived here until October 20, 1935, when he departed Berlin for Hamburg to board a ship to the United States. He arrived in New York on the November 1 and had only brought with him twenty-four dollars and a couple of suitcases. Having fled to the United States on a tourist visa, Dr. Fischer sought permanent residence the following year and officially immigrated into the United States from Canada in October 1936. That same month, a Reich flight tax of RM 9,733 plus surcharges was imposed on Dr. Fischer. His financial account was blocked and he was deprived of real estate assets. His remaining possessions, including the majority of his half of the art collection, as he was only able to remove a fraction of his works from Germany, were left in the care of Ms. Wanzke in Berlin. She was involved in the management of Dr. Fischer’s financial matters while he was in the United States, and it is thought that his art followed her when she changed apartments in 1937. By 1941, Dr. Fischer’s German citizenship had been revoked and his assets officially became the property of the Third Reich.
What happened to his half of the Fischer art collection that remained in Germany is a mystery. Confiscation, loss, or a sale by Ms. Wanzke or someone else are all equal possibilities. The pieces of art sold in 1924 to the Halle Museum were confiscated by the Nazi party and included in the infamous Entartete Kunst exhibition of 1937. These pieces are thought to have been either sold or destroyed.
Dr. Max Fischer lodged a restitution claim in 1952, but died two years later, without closure. His brother Dr. Ernst Fischer took over the proceedings as the sole heir, without success. Ernst’s half of the collection was in his home for seventy years in Richmond, Virginia, before being donated by his widow Anne to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) in 2009. In 2016, another Kirchner work, Sand Hills, was discovered to have been owned by Max Fischer, and was restituted by the Museum of Modern Art in New York to the current heirs. It is now a part of the Ludwig and Rosy Fischer Collection at the VMFA.