“Behind every stone is a memory…if the stones could speak, they would say that there are few cities with such a tempestuous history of love and hate…”
Photo: A paperback book with an illustration of a historic city gate.
Mayer writes this guidebook at the age of 23.

Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen

This is how August Liebmann Mayer describes Toledo. After completing his doctorate in Berlin on the Spanish painter Jusepe de Ribera, in 1908 Mayer goes on a tour of Europe. He spends a number of weeks in Spain.

He is so fascinated by the old imperial city of Toledo that he writes a guidebook on it.

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Eater of Grapes and Melons, c. 1645, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen - Alte Pinakothek Munich
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo: Grape and Melon Eaters, c. 1645.

Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen 🔍 Hover over image to enlarge

H

he slim volume conveys Mayer’s love of Spain and Spanish art.

Perhaps this is what draws him to Munich: the city’s Alte Pinakothek museum has an important collection of Spanish art. In 1909 he finds work there as a researcher, initially on an unpaid basis.

Historical black-and-white photo of August Liebmann Mayer, studio portrait, around 1925. The photo shows him in his late 30s with parted hair, a moustache, and glasses; he is wearing a three-piece suit and bow tie, and has a handkerchief in his pocket.
August Liebmann Mayer, around 1925.

Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen

An eminent career

From his beginnings as an unpaid member of staff, August Liebmann Mayer rises rapidly through the ranks to become an esteemed expert.

In 1913 alone he has four books and twelve essays published in Germany and abroad. He is twice awarded honors in Spain for his services to Spanish art.

Alongside his work for the museum, he establishes a career as an academic and holds a professorship at the University of Munich. Mayer is also a much sought-after expert in the art trade. He enjoys a distinguished reputation worldwide and is considered one of the most important art historians of his time. His writings are still of relevance today and continue to be cited.

Sculptures from August Liebmann Mayer’s collection. The page is from an auction catalogue from the Hugo Helbing gallery.

Mayer’s private art collection

Mayer is himself a collector of art from all eras. He owns a number of oil paintings, including a still life by Renoir; drawings by renowned artists such as Corinth and Lehmbruck; and more than twenty classical and medieval sculptures.

Historical photo from 1905: waiters and servants in front of the café entrance.
Café Stefanie, 1905.

Wikimedia commons, public domain

A keen writer

Mayer does not only publish on art history, but also translates works from Spanish. In addition, he writes novels, although these were never published.

The opening scene of one of these novels is set in Café Stefanie, a favorite haunt of Munich’s bohemian community. Mayer too frequents this café as he is part of the artistic and intellectual scene of Munich’s Schwabing neighborhood.

Oval portrait photo of Aloisia Mayer with her little daughter on her knee, around 1932. Aloisia Mayer is elegantly dressed and her hair is styled immaculately; she has a subtle smile.
Aloisia and Angelika Mayer.

Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen

1930 A happy family

In 1920 August Liebmann Mayer marries Aloisia Däuschinger, who is originally from Czechoslovakia. Their daughter Angelika is born in February 1930.

Yet the year that begins with such joy
is also to mark the end of Mayer’s career.

Newspaper clipping with the headline ‘Streit zwischen Münchener Kunstgelehrten’ (Conflict between Munich Art Scholars) and a photo of Wilhelm Pinder and August Liebmann Mayer.
Newspaper clipping

Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen

His success as an art expert led him to become the target of jealous colleagues in the field, who launched a series of polemical attacks accusing him of illicit enrichment, poor scholarship, and corruption.

From summer 1930 he was subject to a smear campaign spearheaded by individuals including Ernst H. Zimmermann, director of the Germanisches Nationalmuseum (Germanic Museum) in Nuremberg; and the art historians Wilhelm Pinder and Luitpold Dussler.

Zimmermann, for example, reported to the Bavarian Ministry of Culture on “Jews with doctorates who are more dealers than art historians.”

Forced to resign due to emotional strain

Mayer can no longer stand the smear campaign. In January 1931, he asks for his dismissal from the civil service:

“The personal attacks and the suspicions raised against me by various Bavarian officials and art historians have made it clear that for a sizeable group of Bavarian officials I am persona non grata…Even though I could expect a disciplinary procedure to find in my favor, I do not feel capable of withstanding the distress that such a procedure would cause, especially as my nerves have been under enormous strain as the result of months of harassment.”

Porträtfotografie, schwarz-weiß, die Friedrich Dörnhöffer zeigt.
Friedrich Dörnhöffer is director general of the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen (Bavarian State Painting Collections) from 1915 until his retirement in 1933.

Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen

The director of the Pinakothek, Friedrich Dörnhöffer, defends his colleague against the allegations. He encloses Mayer's dismissal request with an accompanying letter in which he rejects the accusations against Mayer and praises his diligence and expertise.

Friedrich Dörnhöffer verteidigt seinen Mitarbeiter (Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Akte 3/2b, Dörnhöffer, Korrespondenz 1916-1933).

August Liebmann Mayer with his three-year-old daughter Angelika in the garden.
August L. Mayer with his daughter Angelika in Tutzing near Munich, 1933.

Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen

Continued hostility

However, Mayer’s resignation is not enough to stop the attacks from his colleagues, which become openly antisemitic.

The Völkischer Beobachter, the Nazi Party’s official newspaper, describes Mayer as a “Jewish art parasite” and “fake expert”. After the Nazis come to power, the Gestapo takes him into “protective custody” (Schutzhaft) in March 1933. He attempts to take his own life.

His former boss Friedrich Dörnhöffer is horrified and makes efforts to get Mayer released. Mayer is freed in July 1933.

Page from the auction catalogue showing a reproduction of a painting and medieval book illustrations.
Auction catalogue Helbing Auction House, 1933. In the middle is the painting "Mary with the Child", which is later restituted.

Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen

Left without means

The Nazis confiscate Mayer’s property and auction off his furniture and his valuable art collection. As a Jew, he is excluded from the Reichskulturkammer (Reich Chamber of Culture). His professional and private existence in tatters, in 1935 Mayer flees with his family to Paris. With the help of friends, he is able to take his library of books and a few pieces of art with him.

Elegant street with arcades on one side and a park bordered with railings on the other.
Rue de Rivoli, Paris, 1940.

Bundesarchiv, B 323 Bild-0311-004

Further persecution in France

In Paris the family has an initial respite. Mayer resumes his work as an art expert. He and his family live near the Louvre, in a street parallel to the rue de Rivoli.

German soldiers in Wehrmacht uniform near the Eiffel tower.
German soldiers in Paris, June 1940.

Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-L12796 / Heinz Boesig

Towever, in 1940 the German Wehrmacht invades France.

Because he is from Germany, Mayer is now considered a “hostile foreigner” and for this reason the French authorities send him to an internment camp in the south of France.

Portrait photo of Aloisia Mayer. She is resting her chin in her cupped hands. Her hair is styled immaculately. She is wearing jewelry and a delicate watch.
Aloisia Mayer

Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen

After France signed an armistice with the German Reich in June 1940, Mayer is released.

However, he is unable to return to Paris, which is now under German occupation. Instead, he remains in the as yet unoccupied south of the country.

He hopes that his family would join him. However, his wife Aloisia is seriously ill. She dies in August 1941.

Angelika Mayer is just eleven years old. Friends of the family find a boarding school for her in Nice, the Institut Massènes. Its headmistress endeavors to save Jewish children.

Historische Fotografie, schwarz-weiß. Zahlreiche gerahmte Bilder unterschiedlicher Größe lehnen an der Wand.
Depot for pictures stolen by the ERR.

Bundesarchiv, 323 Bild-0311-031

A large number of wooden crates stored inside a warehouse.
ERR depot Paris.

Bundesarchiv, 323 Bild-0311-029

Raided in Paris

In the meantime, Mayer’s apartment in Paris is being looted by the Reichsleiter Rosenberg Task Force (ERR) (-> Glossary). His few remaining artworks and his library of books are brought to Germany; a number of the artworks go straight to Hermann Göring (-> Glossary), who is building up his own collection.

The art expert in hiding

Despite being subject to persecution, August Liebmann Mayer attempts to keep making a living as an art expert.

He changes his place of residence frequently and works under the pseudonym Henri Antoine.

A long, four-story complex of buildings surrounded by a high fence. A man in a French army uniform stands at the gate to the inner courtyard, where a crowd is gathered.
Entrance of the Drancy internment camp.

Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-B10919

Betrayal and murder

Mayer is ultimately betrayed by a French art dealer. He is arrested by the Gestapo on February 3, 1944. During his internment, members of the ERR (-> Glossary) try to extort information from him about the whereabouts of various artworks.

He is subsequently deported via Drancy transit camp to Auschwitz, where he is murdered upon arrival on March 12, 1944.

The orphaned daughter

At this time, Angelika Mayer is 14 years old. She is now orphaned and stateless. She wis able to survive thanks to the help of friends of her parents.

In 1951 she emigrates to the USA, where she begins to study art history.

From 1954 she endeavores to claim compensation from the West German authorities through a number of procedures.

In 1963 she receives 2,500 German marks for her father’s financial loss and the loss of the art collection and library.

Fotografie eines älteren Herrn in Anzug und Krawatte vor einem großen Bilderrahmen.
Ernst Zimmermann, 1950s.

Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Zentralarchiv

Those behind Mayer’s persecution continue their careers undisturbed

The people who had persecuted Mayer are able to continue their careers undisturbed after the war.

Ernst H. Zimmermann, for example, who was one of the ringleaders of the smear campaign in 1930, becomes a museum director in Berlin and is awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in the 1950s.

Luitpold Dussler is appointed professor at the Technical University in Munich in 1947, despite his former membership of the Nazi Party and his involvement in Mayer’s persecution.

Restitution

Foto: Vier gerahmte Gemälde unterschiedlicher Größe ausgestellt vor einer Holzvertäfelung.
The pictures on the day of their restitution.

Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen

Gemälde einer sitzenden, elegant gekleideten Dame mit Hut, die ernst nach unten blickt.
Wilhelm Thöny: Lady seated on a chair, 1913.

Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen

Auf der Auktion war das Bild fälschlicherweise Besozzo zugeschrieben worden. Gemälde: Maria mit dem Kind auf dem Arm und drei weiteren Heiligen auf Goldgrund.

Pictures returned to Angelika Mayer

In the course of its provenance research, the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen (Bavarian State Painting Collections) come across four paintings from August Liebmann Mayer’s art collection.

In 2010 these paintings were returned to his daughter Angelika Mayer, by then 80 years old, in accordance with the Washington Principles.

Foto: Bronzebüste eines Mannes.
Edwin Scharff: Bronze bust of August Liebmann Mayer, 1917.

Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen

Commemoration of the persecuted colleague

Since 1918 the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen had owned a portrait bust of Mayer.

It was created by the sculptor Edwin Scharff, a friend of the art historian.

In 2015 the bust was taken out of storage and put on display in front of the director general’s office at the Neue Pinakothek in Munich. This was a gesture by the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen to commemorate their colleague who was persecuted and murdered.

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