Galerie Hermann Abels’ and Galerie Aenne Abels’ activities as art dealers in the context of acquisitions for the museums in the Rhineland and the Ruhr region between 1933 and 1968

A joint research project by Kunstmuseum Gelsenkirchen and Museum Folkwang, Essen

The Cologne galleries of siblings Hermann Abels (1892–1956, Kunstsalon Hermann Abels and Gemäldegalerie Abels) and Aenne Abels (1900–1975, Galerie Aenne Abels) strongly influenced the art market in the region right until the end of the 1960s: They sold art, among others, in the Rhineland, in the Ruhr region, and in Westphalia, namely to museums collecting 19th century art, Impressionism and Classical Modernism. From the early 20th century onwards, the Abels family were very successful German art dealers and were in fact able to continue doing business during the Third Reich. After Hermann Abels was called up for military service, Aenne Abels was appointed managing director of the gallery. Like her brother, she was also involved in the “Special Order Linz”. Hermann and Aenne Abels consistently went about their business as dealers during the Second World War and also after 1945. Acquisitions of this provenance need to be assessed to see if they include works confiscated in the course of Nazi persecution of prior owners.

Given the fact that Kunstmuseum Gelsenkirchen and Museum Folkwang in Essen between 1933 and 1968 acquired several works through the Abels art dealers, in 2017 both institutions joined forces to conduct a joint research project to establish through deep research whether any of their holding that originated with the Abels included Nazi-looted art works.

The project received funding from the German Lost Art Foundation and commenced on 1 July 2017, ending on 30 June 2018. The focus was on both researching specific items and on the business structures and trading network of the galleries run by the Abels.

The investigations started by reviewing a group of 37 works from the collections at Kunstmuseum Gelsenkirchen and Museum Folkwang, with the number being increased in the course of the project year to 43. Moreover, as part of context-based research works whose provenance was one of the Abels’ galleries and which were owned by Ruhrkunstmuseen and other museums were also examined. This research into specific artworks was key as the business ledgers of the Abels’ galleries no longer exist and therefore the research on the items and in the archives of the individual art institutes was necessary in order to try and reconstruct the paths the objects took and the galleries’ trading networks. This proved to be the right and effective method and provided important results. It emerged, however, that the Abels’ galleries only rarely gave information on the previous provenance of the works they sold, which made research harder.

To this day, not all the provenances of the art works in question have been definitively determined. As regards the collection at Museum Folkwang there is in five cases need for further research and in other four cases an urgent need for further research / discovery (see the table below). Museum Folkwang will carry this out of its own volition for the items in question from its collection and present the results findings as these are established. The information will be updated on the website and be made available in the long term for further provenance research.

Project Management
Museum Folkwang
Isabel Hufschmidt
Curator for research, scientific cooperation and provenance research
Tel. +49 201 8845 119

Kunstmuseum Gelsenkirchen
Leane Schäfer
Tel. +49 209 169 4377

Project collaborator
Dr. Katja Terlau, provenance research, Cologne

In cooperation with

A project supported by



Oskar Kokoschka
Dresden, Augustusbrücke mit Rückenfigur, 1923
Fondation Oskar Kokoschka / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017