Acquired directly from the artist by Dr. Heinrich Karl Wilhelm Becker (1881-1972) for the Städtisches Kunsthaus Bielefeld in 1931, for 100 kr. (according to a letter from Becker to Edvard Munch, dated 9 April 1931 [Munchmuseet MM K 3688]).
A gift by the Städtisches Kunsthaus Bielefeld to Heinrich Becker, on occasion of his dismissal as director of the Kunsthaus by the Nazi government in 1933 (according to a note attached to the back of the sheet: Als Dank für Ihre jahrelange selbstlose Arbeit/ für das Bielefelder Kunstleben/ überreicht vom/ “Freundeskreis des Bielefelder Kunsthauses”/ der Vorstand: [signed by] D. Emdenberg (?) Walther Delius Otto Lorenz/ September 1933); then by descent to the present owners.
Prints by Edvard Munch from the Collection of Dr Heinrich Becker, Bielefeld
It is rare today to find works of art from the early 20th century which have been in a single collection ever since they were acquired directly from the artist. Yet this is the case with this fine group of prints by Edvard Munch from the collection of Dr Heinrich Becker. A high-school teacher by training and profession, Heinrich Becker had a passion for modern art. Promoting art and artists was a vocation he pursued resolutely and selflessly for all his life.
Born in Braunschweig in 1881, Becker studied languages and history of art in Leipzig and Göttingen and graduated with a dissertation on early French literature in 1905. In 1908 he settled in Bielefeld in Westphalia, Germany, where he taught German, French, English and history of art until his retirement in 1947. In his spare time, he began to organise art exhibitions, at first of local painters but soon also of famous artists such as Emil Nolde and Käthe Kollwitz. These first exhibitions took place in a single room provided by the Municipal Museum of Bielefeld, until in 1927 a building was found and the Städtisches Kunsthaus Bielefeld was established, a civic foundation that Heinrich Becker served as honorary director. Two years later he initiated the formation of a ‘Freundeskreis’, a support group which helped fund the exhibitions through the fees and donations of its members. Local arts clubs of this kind played an invaluable role in supporting the avant-garde in Germany during the first half of the 20th century, and the Kunsthaus Bielefeld exhibited, amongst others, Franz Marc, August Macke and Edvard Munch. Becker befriended many of the artists he worked with, and the archives of the Munchmuseet in Oslo hold a total of 17 letters from Becker to Munch, beginning in 1930, when Becker first proposed to hold an exhibition of the artist's work. The acquisitions of the prints offered here are detailed in this correspondence.
These early years of the Kunsthaus turned out to be a short flourishing: in 1933 the local Nazi administration disapproved of Dr Becker’s exhibition programme and forced him to step down. On the occasion of his dismissal, as a thank-you for many years of dedicated unpaid work, the chairmen of the ‘Freundeskreis’ presented Heinrich Becker with the very impression of Munch’s Girls on the Bridge (lot 33) which Becker had acquired for the Kunsthaus a couple of years earlier. Presumably they also feared that the woodcut might be confiscated and sold off or destroyed as ‘degenerate art’, if it were to remain in the collection. A label attached to the back of the print bears witness to this wise and generous gift.
In May 1945 - the Nazi government had just collapsed and the war barely ended - Heinrich Becker re-applied for the directorship of the Kunsthaus, which he would lead from then on until he finally retired in 1954. In recognition of his enormous contribution to art and culture, he was honoured with the German Order of Merit in 1961. He died in 1972; his collection has since remained in the family for three generations.
Schiefler 488; Woll 628