New Gallery For Leicester’s German Expressionist Collection

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Sailing Boat off Fehmarn (1914) Photo: Leicester City Council

The German expressionist collection of the New Walk Museum & Art Gallery in Leicester, England, has been redisplayed in a new space, The Art Newspaper reports. The city’s mayor is due to preside over the opening today.

The collection, which includes works by renowned artists such as Paul Klee, Max Beckmann, Lyonel Feininger, Ernst Kirchner, Max Liebermann, Franz Marc, and Wassily Kandinsky, was founded during World War II when Trevor Thomas, the director at the time, befriended a family of Jewish German refugees.

Thomas met Tekla Hess in 1941. She was the widow of Alfred Hess, who was the owner of one of the most important collections in Germany. After the Nazis came to power Tekla and her son Hans fled to England, managing to smuggle a few canvases with them. The family eventually settled in Leicester. As a German citizen (and thus “enemy alien”) the only employment available to Hans was on a nearby farm, until Thomas eventually negotiated his release to become his assistant at the museum.

In 1944, Thomas, assisted by Hans and Tekla, organized a wartime exhibition of German expressionist art gathering 62 pieces in Leicester. The museum negotiated the purchase of three artworks from the exhibition, and a fourth was donated by Tekla Hess, forming the start of the collection.

The new gallery was funded by the Arts Council England and Leicester City Council, in memory of Trevor Thomas.

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