Fact check: on the trail of Oskar Skaller's art collection

Von Dr. Monika Tatzkow

"... I am still after the nude girl by Lovis Corinth".

When the Berlin real estate agent, property owner and looted art buyer Dr. jur. Conrad Doebbeke, referring to the Gestapo, addressed the legal counsel of the owner Oskar Skaller with these words in January 1942, Skaller had already emigrated, been expatriated and expropriated.


Their belongings intended to be taken into exile were confiscated by the Gestapo and auctioned off for the benefit of the German Reich. The corresponding order was given by the "office for the confiscation of forfeited assets" of the Berlin-Moabit tax office to the "sworn and publicly appointed auctioneer for Greater Berlin", Bernhard Schlüter. His auction protocol of 16.01.1942 contains, among other things, the Skaller portrait of Max Liebermann, which went to the Berlin furniture dealer Max Rudolph for 1,000 Reichsmark. It survived the war, but its present location is still unknown.

The "Reclining Nude" by Lovis Corinth, which was also confiscated, was not included. Obviously, Conrad Doebbeke was successful in his hunt for the painting. In an individual auction, he was able to purchase it from Bernhard Schlüter for 8,000 Reichsmark. After retaining 10% commission, Schlüter dutifully transferred the proceeds to the Oberfinanzkasse Berlin "in the matter of Oskar Israel Skaller".

Oskar Skaller died a few months after his wife on 21 October 1944 in Johannisburg in the poorest of circumstances.


Oskar Skaller.
Foto: Eberle

The pharmacist, manufacturer, politician and art collector Oskar Skaller, born in 1874 in Ostrowo in present-day Poland, was Jewish. He lived with his wife Lea née Herbst and his two daughters Hannah (b. 1902) and Marianne (b. 1910) in Berlin at Schlüterstraße 45, later the famous Hotel Bogota, ran an open house there where representatives from business, art, politics and society met.

After founding his first pharmacy in Berlin, Oskar Skaller followed a successful path as an entrepreneur, acquired several companies, founded the Skaller AG and was a member of various supervisory boards.

In addition to his business activities, the entrepreneur was also publicly active as a pharmacist of trust for the local health insurance fund, a member of the SPD, a city councillor in Berlin-Charlottenburg and in business organisations such as the Verein Berliner Kaufleute (Berlin Merchants' Association), of which he was a member of the board.

As an art collector, Oskar Skaller excelled in two areas. He owned an extensive collection of ancient Persian ceramics, which he sold for the most part in 1927, for Skaller's real field of collecting was painting. There is evidence of purchases in this field as early as 1910. Besides Old Masters, he owned paintings by French and German Impressionists (van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Courbet, Daumier, Utrillo, de Vlaqminck, Corot, Corinth, Rayski, Liebermann, Leistikow and many others).

The Skaller collection had achieved a certain degree of notoriety. It was described in the magazine "Kunsthandel und Kunstbesitz" in 1927.1 Skaller's loans were seen at exhibitions, e.g. in the Berlin National Gallery (1921 van Gogh, 1931 Maria Slavona), in the Kronprinzenpalais (1923 Corinth "Liegender Akt") and in the Matthiesen Gallery in Berlin (1924 Toulouse-Lautrec). The art critic Adolph Donath dedicated himself to the Skaller collection in his 1929 publication "Der Berliner Kaufmann als Kunstfreund" (The Berlin Merchant as a Friend of Art), informing us that Oskar Skaller was one of those personalities portrayed by Max Liebermann.2

In the crisis years of 1929 to 1932, Skaller, like many collectors, sold some works of art. Perhaps the "Nude" was on view for a while with the Austrian journalist and publisher Felix Stössinger, who lived in Berlin from 1914 to 1934. As Charlotte Behrend-Corinth noted. However, it was not sold. Skaller left Schlüterstrasse 45 and moved to Württembergische Strasse 36. However, since Skaller did not sell his entire collection, he still owned important works of art after the National Socialists came to power.

With the onset of National Socialist rule, anti-Jewish restrictions also affected Oskar Skaller. In 1933 he was temporarily imprisoned in connection with the boycotting and Aryanisation of one of his companies (M. Pech AG), was forced to sell investment holdings, was forced to provide security for the Reich Flight Tax and had to pay the Jewish Property Tax of over RM 45,000.

About four weeks before his emigration, Oskar Skaller's flat furnishings at Württembergische Strasse 36 were offered for auction by the Berlin auction house Rudolf Harms on 13 June 1939 as a "voluntary, non-Aryan liquidation": an elegant dining room, a luxury bedroom, Baroque and Biedermeier furniture, a Bechstein grand piano, books, old Persian faiences and "many paintings", including the Skaller portrait by Max Liebermann and the "Cloud Shadows" by Walter Leistikow. Liebermann's portrait was not initially successful. Leistikow's "Cloud Shadows" reached the Bröhan Museum in Berlin via the purchaser at this forced sale, which is facing a restitution claim from the Skaller heirs and is in the process of a multi-year review.

In July 1939, Oskar Skaller and his wife Lea emigrated to South Africa, where their daughters were already living. The couple made their way there completely penniless.


Bernhard Schlüter, who as the owner of an auction house had benefited from the exploitation of Jewish assets during the Nazi era, continued his career unmolested after the war and was scandalously used as an expert in reparation proceedings of Jewish victims, whereby he regularly based his valuation on the proceeds from the Nazi era - after deducting his commission at the time. In 1961 Schlüter was even sworn in again as an auctioneer in Berlin.3

Conrad Doebbeke, a member of the NSDAP since 1931, had purchased works of art on a large scale during the Nazi era, predominantly from Jewish ownership. Elsa Doebbeke stated after the war in 1955 that Jews entered her and her husband's house in order to sell paintings.4 In total, the collection comprised hundreds of works of art at the end of the war. From 1944 onwards, Doebbeke successively moved them to West Germany and placed them with banks and in museums. A few works of art were confiscated by the Allies, but then all of them were released in view of Doebbeke's vague statements.


From 1948/49 onwards, Doebbeke began to sell his treasure trove of paintings in silver, offering a considerable number in particular to the Lower Saxony State Museum in Hanover. And the city of Hanover bought for more than 300,000 DM without taking any interest in the origin of the works of art. Even when Doebbeke urgently advised the then museum director Ferdinand Stuttmann to avoid a "special exhibition" of the new acquisitions, not to mention Doebbeke's name and to "wait until the deadlines of the restitution law have expired "5 , they did not listen. Stuttmann himself had bought from Jewish collections for his museum and was very familiar with the practice of concealment.6 The Landesmuseum continued to support Elsa Doebbeke in sales after her husband's death and held the remaining collection in trust.7

At the end of the 1950s, the Doebbeke heirs (the widow Elsa and the son Tomy) made another attempt to sell and delivered 185 works of art to the Cologne auction house Lempertz in October 1958, where they were just as uninterested in the provenance as in Hanover. What did not find a buyer there turned up at Ketterer in Stuttgart at the end of May 1959.

The restitution applications and correspondence of Jewish victims and their heirs for works of art owned by Doebbeke fill volumes. It is a matter of concern that the Landesmuseum Hannover, taking advantage of Doebbeke's missing statements and the non-existent evidence of the Jewish families, refuses various restitution applications. 8

Conrad Doebbeke was particularly "after [works] by Lovis Corinth". With about forty paintings, Corinth's works form the largest group in his collection, and for some of them the Jewish previous ownership is clearly proven.9 This also applies to the "Reclining Nude" from the Oskar Skaller collection confiscated by the Gestapo, which Doebbeke had owned since 1942. This painting was not included in the auctions at Lempertz in 1958 and at Ketterer in 1959. It was in the Lower Saxony State Museum in Hanover as a deposit of the Conrad Doebbeke estate until 1960. On 12 February 1960 it was collected from there by Elsa Doebbeke.10 It is not yet known whether Elsa Doebbeke or her son Tomy subsequently sold Corinth's "Reclining Nude". It was offered for auction as no. 1354 on 16.09.1977 at the Munich art auction house Adolf Weinmüller Neumeister KG and sold.

Now this painting has resurfaced and it is gratifying that finally, on the basis of the Washington Principles and the Joint Declaration and with the support of the auction house Neumeister, Munich, an amicable settlement has been found between the owner and the Skaller heirs.

1 Fritz Nemitz: Die Sammlung Oskar Skaller. In: Kunsthandel und Kunstbesitz, H 2/1927 S. 51ff.

2 Adolph Donath: Der Berliner Kaufmann als Kunstfreund, in: Max Osborn: Berlins Aufstieg zur Weltstadt, Berlin 1929; Matthias Eberle: Liebermann. Werkverzeichnis der Gemälde und Ölstudien. Band II 1900 — 1935, München 1996, Nr. 1924/11.

3 Bernd Reifenberg: „Ich verwehre mich auf das Energischste“, Universität Marburg 2007 - ; Caroline Flick: Helene Haases „Hagemeister“, Berlin 2018, S. 36, 38.

4 Michael Dorrmann: Ein Corinth aus der Sammlung Glaser. Das Gemälde „Römische Campagna“, in: Raub und Restitution. Kulturgut aus jüdischem Besitz von 1933 bis heute, Göttingen 2008, S. 58.

5 Niedersächsisches Hauptstaatsarchiv Hannover, Nds. 457 Acc. 2006/013, Nr. 60.

6 Cornelia Regin: Erwerbungen der Stadt Hannover. Die Sammlung Doebbeke als Beispiel einer problematischen Provenienz. Ergebnisse einer Aktenrecherche, in: Hannoversche Geschichtsblätter, 2006.

7 Stefan Koldehoff: Die Bilder sind unter uns. Das Geschäft mit der Raubkunst, Frankfurt am Main 2009, S. 137 ff. („Bis dahin wollen wir die Sachen lieber in den Kisten lassen“. Conrad Doebbeke, Lovis Corinth und das Niedersächsische Landesmuseum)

8 So z. B. in den Fällen: Sammlung Margarethe Hamburger, Berlin „Ottchen mit Mutter“ 1905; Sammlung Max Levy, Berlin „Bunte Wicken und Rosen, Erbsenblüten“ 1913; Sammlung Max Ginsberg, Berlin „Die Kegelbahn“ 1913; Alfred Lachmanski, Königsberg „Landschaft bei Horst“ 1903.

9 Siehe Fußnote 8 sowie weitere jüdische Sammlungen wie z. B. Ismar Littman und Leo Smoschewer, beide Breslau; Leo Nachtlicht, Berlin. 10 Niedersächsisches Hauptstaatsarchiv Hannover, Nds. 457 Acc. 2006/013, Nr. 61

Von Katja Kraft