The Collection of Maximilian von Goldschmidt-Rothschild

28 January – 4 June 2023

The collection of Maximilian von Goldschmidt-Rothschild by the Museum Angewandte Kunst was the first exhibition dedicated to the private collector and patron, and his former art collection. Its history mirrors the life of its owner who was persecuted as a Jew under National Socialism. Hence the exhibition focused on the sale of the collection to the city of Frankfurt am Main due to Nazi persecution in 1938, the subsequent transfer of the artisanal pieces in the collection to the Museum für Kunsthandwerk (today Museum Angewandte Kunst), and the return of a large part of the collection to its rightful heirs after the Second World War.

View of a private room of Maximilian von Goldschmidt-Rothschild in the Rothschild Palace with parts of his collection, a few days after the Nazi persecution-related sale of the art collection to the City of Frankfurt. November, 1938 © Museum Angewandte Kunst

Maximilian von Goldschmidt-Rothschild was the only person of Jewish origin to be ennobled as a Prussian baron by Emperor Wilhelm II. He was able to combine professional success, education and philanthropic commitment. As a passionate art collector, he was in contact with museum directors and art dealers all over Europe. In the early 20th century, his private accumulation of over 1500 objects was regarded as one of the most important collections in Germany.

In 1938, National Socialist persecution forced him to sell not only the collection, but also his residence, the Rothschild Palais, to the city of Frankfurt. The palais, and with it, the artisanal part of the collection became the Museum für Kunsthandwerk II. The Städel Museum received the collection’s paintings, and the Liebieghaus took over the sculptures. This purchase by the city of Frankfurt was probably the most sensational case of art and property acquisition in Frankfurt during the Nazi Era.

Initially the city of Frankfurt and the museum directors, who had remained in charge even after National Socialism, vehemently resisted the heirs’ request for the restitution of the collection after 1945. In early 1949, the museums finally returned a large part of the art objects over the course of a settlement between the heirs and the city of Frankfurt. In 1950, numerous objects were sold at two big auctions in New York and were subsequently scattered across museums and private collections all over the world by American art dealers. To this day, the origin of the former Maximilian von Goldschmidt-Rothschild Collection lends a special provenance value to these objects.

The collection of Maximilian von Goldschmidt-Rothschild was the museum’s most elaborate exhibition both in terms of development and realisation. The collection and its story are mirrored in the history of the Museum Angewandte Kunst. The latest results from the provenience research conducted at the museum provide the basis for a critical inspection of the institution’s own history. On that score, the exhibition presented and scrutinised objects that are part of the museum’s inventory until today.

Select international loans from renowned museums and private collections enhanced the presentation: rare Medieval relics, valuable pieces of early modern craftwork (receptacles, silver chalices, utensils, sculptures, majolica, enamelled glass, porcelain, miniatures, and snuffboxes), but also exquisite paintings by old masters as well as Louis XV furniture. The contextualisation of the art objects and the history of the collection in the tension field between “gap” and “reconstruction” was the aesthetic starting point. For Frankfurt am Main, this historically (and culturally) charged exhibition had great (art) historical relevance. It was also the first endeavour to establish the contemporary global connections between the exhibits to their provenance.

Hippocamp as drinking vessel, silver gilt around 1590-1600 © Los Angeles County Museum of Art

To underscore the process of laying the foundation for a path of remembrance into the future, a multimedia app (iOS / Android) was developed. Visitors could use virtual and auditive elements as well as augmented reality to reconstruct parts of the history of Maximilian von Goldschmidt-Rothschild’s collection and to project additional information into the museum of today.

The comprehensive exhibition catalog of over 700 pages has been published in both German and English. It was published by Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther und Franz König and is available at the museum box office for 43.20 EUR (ISBN: 978-3-7533-0418-2). It was designed by Bureau Sandra Doeller.

Curators: Dr. Katharina Weiler, Prof. Matthias Wagner K

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