Kirchner work ends up at Virginia museum

06th May 2016

​The work of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner has certainly been in the spotlight recently, with New York's Museum of Modern Art deciding to give his 1917-18 canvas “Sand Hills in Grünau” to the heirs of its original Jewish owner.

But its stay has not lasted long, with those heirs now deciding to donate the piece to another museum in Richmond, Virginia.

Pieces by the Bavarian-born bohemian are widely credited as helping to ease European art towards abstraction by painting Berlin street scenes, many of which have sold at auction for as much as $38 million apiece.

This particular work, and many others, features Kirchner's unique style of jagged brush strokes combined with a vivid colour palette deemed degenerate by the Nazis, causing it to be seized during what one of the most oppressive and difficult periods in Germany's modern history.

Last Autumn saw the Museum of Modern Art purchase “Sand Hills,” which depicts a path zigzagging up golden hills to a black watchtower set against the backdrop of a raspberry sky.

Museum officials did not really think much about the identity of the painting's former owners until the creation of a public database of works in its possession that were known to have changed hands before World War II.

Upon completion, the institution realised the identity of the Kirchner piece, taking the time to return it to its rightful heir.  

To see it now become so highly regarded represents a remarkable turnaround for the work, and indeed Kirchner as an artist.

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has already confirmed that the painting had been offered as a gift by the heirs of Berlin writer Max Fischer, who left his controversial collection of art behind when he fled Germany for the US in the latter part of 1935.

Mr Fischer's parents, Ludwig and Rosy Fischer, were among the artist’s closest friends and had initially bought this particular work before the instability brought by World War II.

Because Mr Fischer did not have any children, the work fell into the hands of his brother Ernst, who also fled to the US with his wife, Anne, before the outbreak of the war.

Ernst then settled in Richmond, Virginia, where he was working as a physiologist, before passing away in the early 1980s.

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) was then handed 200 works from the families inherited collection through Ernst's wife, who left the collection to the museum after her death at the age of 106 in 2009.  

The "Sand Hills in Grünau” has now taken its place in the museum's extensive portfolio, in a move that is sure to excite critics and viewers alike.

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