Chapters of the Exhibition

This is the very first exhibition dedicated to the collection of Hamburg lawyer, politician, and patron of the arts Albert Martin Wolffson (1847–1913). The collection had long fallen into obscurity and it was only with the disclosure of an investigation into the »Schwabing Art Trove« that it returned to the public consciousness. Among the recovered works was a drawing by the Berlin artist Adolph Menzel (1815–1905) that must have been sold under duress by Else Helene Cohen (1874–1947), the daughter of Albert Wolffson in 1938. Indeed, the collection comprised 36 superb drawings by Adolph Menzel, more than 70 paintings, watercolours, and pastels, including the important work »The Waterloo Bridge« by French Impressionist Claude Monet (1840– 1926) and Portrait of Albert Wolffson by Max Liebermann (1847–1935), as well as more than 800 drawings and prints, mostly from the second half of the 19th century. Through the acquisition of these works, Albert Wolffson managed to put together an interesting collection – partly in consultation with the first director of the Hamburger Kunsthalle Alfred Lichtwark (1852– 1914). It has since been possible to research Albert Wolffson’s collection in greater detail. Here you can discover more about the history and character of this collection and learn about the history of art collecting in Hamburg.

The Wolffson Family

The Wolffsons were an upper-middle class, Jewish-Christian family that had been based in Hamburg since the 18th century. Most of the men in the family worked as lawyers or politicians in the second half of the 19th century and the early 20th century. The women were generally active in charity and community work, as was common for people of their social status at the time. Many members of the family were interested and involved in art and culture.

Albert Wolffson and the Kunsthalle

Albert Wolffson had a great interest in promoting art in Hamburg: he was a member of the »Kunstverein in Hamburg«, the »Verein von Kunstfreunden von 1870«, and the »Gesellschaft Hamburgischer Kunst«. He was particularly involved in the Hamburger Kunsthalle and for many years supported the work of museum director Alfred Lichtwark (1852–1914), who, in March 1897, brought Wolffson on the Committee for the Collection of Paintings from Hamburg and was able to persuade him to join the Kunsthalle’s Advisory Council in 1898.

Albert Wolffson and His Art Collection

At the turn of the last century, collecting art was part and parcel of life for the aspiring upper bourgeoisie to which Albert Wolffson belonged. He acquired a collection that comprised autographs, books, illustrated works, and sculptures in addition to more than 70 paintings and 800 drawings and prints. Focal points of the collection were the works of Berlin artists Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, Adolph Menzel, and Max Liebermann, while Hamburg artist Hermann Kauffmann was also well represented. Wolffson was very interested in the new printmaking techniques that had emerged in the 19th century and their deliberate application by artists. He collected
numerous works in this area. The Wolffson collection no longer exists. It only remained intact for a few years after Albert Wolffson’s death. During the Weimar Republic, the family had to sell off some of the artworks for financial reasons, but in the Nazi era they were forced to part with many more under duress. Remnants of the collection have survived – some are scattered across the collections of the Hamburger Kunsthalle, too. Note on the information provided about the artworks: Most prints on show here were chosen as comparable examples of the works on paper originally in the Wolffson collection. Although mostly impressions from the same series, the sheets themselves were not formerly owned by Wolffson himself. Unless stated otherwise, all these works on paper are objects from the Kupferstichkabinett at the Hamburger Kunsthalle and have no direct connection to the Wolffson collection.

Claude Monet and Waterloo Bridge

One of the absolute showpieces in Albert Wolffson’s collection was the painting Waterloo Bridge by the French Impressionist Claude Monet (1840– 1926). This painting was shown together with eleven other views of the River Thames, all created from 1901 to 1903, in the first German exhibition of Monet’s Thames pictures was held in Hamburg. They had previously caused quite a sensation in Paris, as each painting in the series depicts the same view of the river but in different light conditions with varying palettes and moods. The Hamburg branch of the Berlin-based Kunstsalon Paul Cassirer exhibited the works in their gallery at Neuer Jungfernstieg, no. 16, in a show that opened on 18 September 1904. Albert Wolffson saw the paintings there, chose one, and purchased it through the gallery’s Berlin office. It was in fact not the first time that Wolffson had been involved in purchasing a Monet. In 1896, he had been involved in the acquisition of Monet’s still life Pears and Grapes, which was donated to the Kunsthalle by the »Verein von Kunstfreunde von 1870« of which he was a member. In 1909, Albert and his wife Helene Wolffson decided to bequeath Waterloo Bridge to the Hamburger Kunsthalle as a “tax-free” endowment when they died. Following Albert Wolffson’s death in 1913, WWI, and the hyperinflation of the Weimar Republic, Helene Wolffson had to abandon the plan in order to support herself, however, and she sold the work to the Kunsthalle in 1924. You can see both original paintings by Monet, Waterloo Bridge and Pears and Grapes, in our new Impressionist exhibition on the first floor of the Lichtwark gallery in room 34.

Adolph Menzel and Albert Wolffson

Albert Wolffson was especially proud of the suite of 36 drawings he owned by the Berlin artist Adolph Menzel (1815–1905). Early works by this significant artist had been purchased by various private collectors in Hamburg as well as the Kunsthalle, but the Wolffson collection’s ensemble was exceptional. This was a well-known and recognized fact in the art world, and the sheets were regularly requested as loans for exhibitions, appearing, for instance, at the largest survey of the artist’s work to date, held immediately after his death in Berlin in 1905. Wolffson had started collecting the drawings by 1896 at the latest, though probably earlier. In addition to the artist’s characteristic portrait studies, his collection also included many architectural views. The history of the Menzel drawings reflects the turbulent history of the Wolffson family, too.

Prints and Drawings

Albert Wolffson’s collection was particularly notable for the breadth of its graphic works representing a variety of artists from Germany, France, England, Netherlands, and other European countries from the mid-19th century to the early 20th century. During this time artists were discovering that printing could be used as more than a reproductive art form. They began to experiment with printmaking as an artistic medium, developing and fine-tuning the techniques. Wolffson followed these developments closely, clearly inspired by his exchange with Alfred Lichtwark. Wolffson’s main interest was to represent the broad spectrum of artistic concepts in this field, acquiring just one or a small number of representative works by many different artists.