News 2017

Oskar Moll and the collector Heinrich Kirchhoff


Still life with philodendron and small sculptures. 1915
Oil on canvas
110 x 100 cm
Signed bottom left: Oskar Moll 15
Kulturhistorisches Museum, Rostock


Amongst the art collectors and patrons who supported Oskar Moll, Heinrich Kirchhoff (1874-1934), from Essen, played a significant role. Resident in Wiesbaden since 1908, and rendered financially independent by a lucrative inheritance, he did much to promote impressionist and expressionist artists. Kirchhoff seemed to take a great interest in the work of the Berlin Secessionist, who entered his name in the Kirchhoff family's guest-book on 16 April 1916. Within a few years, the enterprising collector had purchased no fewer than eighteen works from Moll: ten oil paintings, seven drawings and one watercolour – mainly still lifes and landscapes, and a few nude motifs.

In early 1917, the Neues Museum in Wiesbaden exhibited an overview of Kirchhoff's substantial private collection, in which Moll was represented with four paintings and seven drawings, including the Still life with philodendron and small sculptures (1915). Kirchhoff evinced an unerring instinct for quality; this compelling picture, with its colour modulation, art-historical devices and beautifully balanced composition, proved the start of a series of distinctive still lifes. The eye is drawn to an arrangement of diverse utensils (potted plant, plaster figures, vessels, books, conch) spread out on a diagonally-placed table with the tablecloth folded back. Keen-eyed botanists see the plant less as a philodendron than as a monstera (Swiss cheese plant), both of which belong to the arum family. Regardless of this, the painting seemed to find the approval of the art critic at the exhibition, who promptly used it to illustrate his good-humoured article (cf. Walter Müller-Wulckow: "Die Sammlung Kirchhoff in Wiesbaden", in: Das Kunstblatt 1, 1917, no. 4, pp 102-109, illus. p 105).

On 26 August 1937, the painting (in the meantime included in the Wiesbaden museum inventory) was confiscated by the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda as "degenerate art". This sent it on an unprecedented Odyssey which ended only in 2009, in Rostock, its present location. Against the background of the reconstruction of Heinrich Kirchhoff's exceptional collection, the Wiesbaden museum is to hold an exhibition entitled Der Garten der Avantgarde. Heinrich Kirchhoff: Ein Sammler von Jawlensky, Klee, Nolde … from 27 October 2017 until 25 March 2018. Works by Oskar Moll will occupy a prominent place.