What happens when an exquisite Aix-en-Provence Baroque mansion and one of the leading Modern Art foundations in the world join forces to present a prestigious collection of late 19th and early 20th century European avant-garde art? A exceptional exhibition at the Hôtel de Caumont-Art Center: Masterpieces from the Guggenheim Foundation – From Manet to Picasso: The Thannhauser Collection.
Who were the Thannhausers?
Heinrich Thannhauser (1859-1935) and his son, Justin K. Thannhauser (1892-1976) were German gallerists and collectors, originally from Munich, where Heinrich opened his first gallery in 1909. More were to follow, opened by Justin in Lucerne, Switzerland (1919), Berlin (1927), and Paris (1937), making the Thannhausers important patrons, friends and promoters of the innovative artists who shaped Western art in the end of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century.
As a result of persecution by the Nazis, Justin and his family, who were Jewish, emigrated from Berlin to Paris in 1937. Then, after the fall of France and the German occupation of Paris, the family settled in New York in December 1940. Justin subsequently established himself as a prominent art dealer in the United States.
After the tragic death of his two sons, Heinz, killed in combat in 1944 while serving with the U.S. Air Force, and Michel, deceased in 1952, followed by his wife Käthe in 1960, Justin decided to bequeath the major works of his prestigious collection to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
Since 1965, these emblematic works have been one of the core elements of the illustrious Modern Art institution. And now, for the first time, the collection is leaving its permanent home, the famous Frank Lloyd Wright building on New York’s 5th Avenue, to travel back to Europe – returning, albeit very temporarily, a number of Provencal masterpieces to the region where they were painted more than a century ago.
Beyond the exceptional ensemble displayed throughout the intimate gallery space of the Hôtel de Caumont, the exhibition traces the history of the Thannhauser Collection and men who created, through archival documents illustrating their relationship with the artists, as well as other collectors and art dealers.
Justin and his Friends
Having assisted his father in the Moderne Galerie since his teens, Justin then continued his education in Berlin, Florence and Paris, where he came to know key Parisian art dealers as well as the thriving artist community. Here he developped his taste for modern art and began demonstrating his support of the new generation of vanguard painters.
As early as 1913, the Munich gallery helds one of the first retrospective of Picasso’s oeuvre in Germany. Justin wrote the catalogue’s preface. This exhibition marked the beginning of a lasting friendship between the two men, as reflected throughout the current show, starting with Le Moulin de la Galette. This is the most important work executed by Picasso during his first stay in Paris, where the nineteen year-old artist had come to visit the 1900 Universal Exhibition. This painting reflects young Picasso’s fascination with the Bohemian atmosphere of Parisian nightlife and the influence of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec.
Subsequent works illustrate the artist’s evolution to his melancholic Blue Period, followed by his Pink Period, and then to the phase when working in conjunction with Georges Braque, he develops the geometric lines, flat areas and deconstruction of forms that characterize cubism. Especially notable is Le Homard et le Chat (Lobster and Cat).
After the death of his first wife, Justin married Hilde Breitwisch in 1965. On this occasion, Picasso presented the couple with the painting. A dedication in red in the upper left corner of the canvas reads: “Pour Justin Thannhauser, votre ami, Picasso.”
This uncharacteristically humorous work depicts a lively eye-to-eye conflict between the feline and the crustaceous: the bristling cat is glaring at the blue lobster, who appears determined to hold its ground on its many spindly legs.
Champions of the Avant-Garde
In the years preceding Word War One, the Thannhausers support of emerging artists extended to those based in Munich as well as abroad. They provided a venue to allow Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) group, a movement founded by Kandinsky, Franz Marc, Jawlensky and others who drew inspiration from sources as diverse as French Fauvism, Art Nouveau, Bavarian popular culture and Russian folklore to develop an art that was free of figurative constrains.
While most conventional critics reacted to their works by calling them “absurdities of incurable madmen,” the Thannhausers demonstrated their open-mindedness by holding their first exhibition of the group’s founders in 1911-1912, followed in 1914 by the first major exhibition in Germany focused on Paul Klee, a Swiss artist also associated with The Blue Rider.
In addition to the works from the Thannhauser Collection, the current exhibition is complemented by other pictures from the Guggenheim Museum, which although they are not part of the Thannhauser bequest, have been part of the history of of gallery or the collection and shed further light on it. Overall this spectacular exhibition offers the visitor a unique illustration of the evolution of European from Impressionism to Cubism.
If you are planning to be in Provence or even within detour distance of the area this summer, make sure to make to include Aix-en-Provence and the Hôtel de Caumont-Art Center to your itinerary. The exhibition can be seen until September 29th, 2019.
Good to Know
- Getting There –By train: there are frequent TVG (high speed train) connections throughout the day from Paris (3 hours) and Lyon (1 hour) as well as Geneva (3 hours) and Brussels (5 hours) to Aix-en-Provence. The TGV station is located 15 kilometers (9.5 miles) southwest of town, with a shuttle running every 15 minutes between the station and the bus terminal in the center of town. By plane: Marseille–Provence airport is 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) southwest of Aix, with numerous flights from Paris, London and other major European cities. It is served by the same shuttle bus as the TVG station.
- Visiting –Caumont Art Center, 3, rue Joseph Cabassol, 13100, Aix-en-Provence, France.Is open daily from May 1 to September 30 from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm, with late opening hours on Friday until 9:30 pm, and from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm for the remainder of the year. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. Tel: +33 (0) 4 42 20 70 01.
- If you miss this landmark exhibition, don’t despair. After Aix-en-Provence, the exposition will be on view at the Royal Palace cultural center in Milan, Italy, from October 2019 to February 2020.