The Collection of Groundkeeper
18 September 2011 to 15 January 2012
Heinrich Stegemann, Blumen in blauem Krug, © Privatsammlung in der Hamburger Kunsthalle
An exhibition showing the private collection of one-time Hamburger Kunsthalle employee Wilhelm Werner will offer a first insight into one of the most unusual private collections of modern art from Hamburg in the 20th century. Werner began his employment as an assistant attendant on July 5, 1914 and retired as a groundkeeper in 1952. As head of the general maintenance staff he was always in direct contact with the artists that exhibited in the Hamburger Kunsthalle. He was responsible for both handling and hanging the artworks and very often made frames at the artists' request.
When the National Socialists began their purge of "degenerate" art in the summer of 1937, it was Werner who saved the work of Jewish artist Anita Rée from seizure from among the Kunsthalle's holdings. In a unique and courageous act of moral courage, he hid paintings by Rée – who had committed suicide in 1933 - in his apartment at the Kunsthalle. It is also thanks to Werner and his fellow custodian colleague - both of whom had not been drafted into the Second World War - that the Kunsthalle building survived the Hamburg bombardment with relatively mild damage. The two stood on its roofs throughout the attack and extinguished the firebombs that landed there.
The collection Werner amassed over decades encompasses over 500 artworks, including both paintings and works on paper. His friendships to painters Heinrich Stegemann and Willem Grimm resulted in his having large bodies of work from each, though there are also a number pieces by Hans Martin Ruwoldt, Eduard Hopf and Fritz Flinte. Werner was also able to acquire important individual artworks by other artists, among them Karl Kluth, Franz Breest, Alma del Banco, Emil Maetzel, Dorothea Maetzel-Johannsen, Anita Rée and Fritz Kronenberg,
A unique document of art in Hamburg, the collection has never before been made public and is known only to a handful of specialists in the field. Approximately 130 artworks were selected for presentation at the Hamburger Kunsthalle.
Exhibition curator: Dr. Ulrich Luckhardt