Sunday Times, July 6th, 1981
18 February 1935
Viennese Africa researchers fight over shares
A battle between the African explorer Bernatzik, Count Antoine Seilern, who is also an African explorer, Baron Bachofen and a Swiss holding company over the majority of a "Yugoslavian" lacquer factory came to public attention last Friday in a trial before the Vienna Execution Court.
300,000 shillings share value
The Swiss Komprum-Gesellschaft, a holding company, had brought an action through Dr. Emil von Hoffmansthal against the outstanding African explorer Count Antoine Seilern for the delivery of 700 shares in the Yugoslavian Ludwig Marxs Lackfabrik A.G. in Domzale, won the case, but could not obtain the shares despite repeated executions because Count Seilern declared that his shareholding was bound in a syndicate. When Dr. von Hoffmansthal turned to the execution court, Count Seilern, who had received a million dollar fortune as the heir of his grandmother, who was the owner of the New-York state newspaper, finally delivered the shares, which represented a value of 300,000 shillings as the majority share. Now the lawsuit over the cost claim continued.
Dr. Bernatzik as share owner
The trial last Friday took an extremely eventful course. The first witness was the director of the "Merkur", Artur Nußbaum, who explained that the shares were actually only valued at three shillings each, but that further increases were necessary because of the majority transactions that had taken place in the meantime.
Dr. Iakubitschek, as the representative of Count Seilern, now tried to prove that the shares did not represent the majority shareholding at all and therefore did not represent the value of 300,000 shillings, since another parcel of 618 was disputed. This parcel belonged to a certain engineer Scherb who lives in Brazil. Baron Adolf Bachofen, the owner of the Maffersdorf brewery, was now questioned about this shareholding.
Baron Bachofen made the interesting statement that he had owned 600 shares and that one day Scherb had come to him and asked him to exchange his 600 shares. Scherb had explained that his own 600 shares were tied up in a minority syndicate to which Count Seilern and Doctor Hugo Bernatzik belonged. The famous researcher Dr. Bernatzik had originally belonged to the majority syndicate of the Marx brothers, but had later switched to the camp of the minority syndicate.
Baron Bachofen testifies
Baron Bachofen did in fact sell off his 600 free shares because Scherb declared that he would be able to make a living overseas by selling the 600 shares.
After some time, however, it had turned out that the interim certificate had not been issued correctly. It would never have occurred to Baron Bachofen to conclude the exchange under these circumstances.
The hearing was adjourned for further evidence on the value of the shares. In the meantime, however, the Swiss holding company has acquired more than half of the shares, so that the battle for the Yugoslavian joint-stock company has already been decided in favour of Komprum.
Our thanks to the Nazis
Art, Brian Sewell, Evening Standard, Thursday 31 August, 1989
‘The last war was a filthy business, but without it this country would have remained a cultural backwater much longer'
This is a year of two famous anniversaries to be celebrated with beano and bacchanal - first the French Revolution, and now, far more significant and sinister, the Second World War.
Its ghosts are still with us. With his grim rhetoric, Winston Churchill informs the present Prime Minister's attitude to Europe -''We will fight on the beaches ... " Mitterrand's impatience to win the battle for that Europe is a cacafuego performance that would have us overlook the collapse and treachery of the French when the Germans swamped the Maginot Line.
The Germans still suffer corporate guilt for their treatment of the Jews, the Slavs, the homosexuals and those with Christian consciences or Communist loyalties whose lives they extinguished in their gas chambers and whose bodies guttered into greasy smuts up furnace chimneys.
The Allies dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese and we too have ever since suffered corporate guilt. So stricken are the our consciences that though they lost the war, we let them win the peace, to hold us in commercial and industrial thrall while we strive to forget the Burmah Railway and their prison camps.
One, of the consequences of the French Revolution was that a vast number of paintings and works of art came to England to be handled by our efficient art. market, and many of them stayed here.
One of the consequences of the Nazi quest for Aryan purity was that so significant a number of their art historians fled here, that the frail foundations of art history as an academic discipline in this country were suddenly secure, and for a generation or so the Courtauld and Warburg Institutes were the world's leading centres of such scholarship.
I was fortunate to sit at the feet of some of these historians and 3 September is as good a date as any to recall their memory with piety and gratitude; to one, Johannes Wllde, I owe most for it was he who taught me that art history is not the mere discipline of dates and documents, but an adventure into the spirit and humanity of man.
If I have any insight into Michelangelo and Leonardo, Rubens and Rembrandt, it springs from the sensibilities as well as the scholarship of old Johannes, tall and stooping, his hands atremble, his accent heavy, his command of English quite poetic, his demands of us as students patiently formidable and gently humorous .
Thinking it possible that this saintly man might turn spy or Quisling, we shipped him to Canada across a U-boat haunted sea, there to be interned as an agricultural worker; but after the war we made amends, appointed him Professor, made him Deputy Director of the Courtauld lnstitute, let him loose on the great collections of old master drawings in Windsor Castle and the British Museum, and decorated him with a CBE.
He published very little, and the students who loved his gentle presence and infinitely subtle mind have only his few essays on Venetian painting and Michelangelo to support their fragile recollections.
Few now know of his influence on Antoine Seilern, the Anglo-Austrian aristocrat of whom the authorities were marginally less suspicious during the last war, allowing this rumbustious body and brilliant connoisseur to serve as a soldier in the Pioneer Corps.
Wilde turned him from his taste for big game hunting and the Mercedes SSK into a scholarly judge of paintings with an eye for sensuality who could and did use his weaIth to form the unparalleled collection of masterpieces that he left to the Courtauld Institute in 1978 (MicheIangelo, Brueghel Rubens, Rembrandt)
In the foreword to his catalogue, Seilern wrote: "Lastly, Johannes Wilde ... deeply felt gratitude for many years of unfailing friendship, and for all that he has done for me ... I have relied with the utmost faith - always rewarded - on his guidance ... I have sought his opinion before acquiring nearly every work of art, and have never regretted it. What merit there is in the collection is due to his counsel. So it is with the greatest sincerity that I say, thank you."
Other such names have faded with familiarity and neglect. Who now remembers that a real man with a sparkling mind – Aby Warburg - brought from Germany the great library of intellectual mysteries that forms the other baroque jewel in the crown of London University, the Warburg Institute?
Fritz SaxI, Grete Ring, Otto Demus, RudoIf Wittkower, Leopold Ettlinger and Nikolaus Pevsner all are fast disappearing from the minds of those who now pursue their academic discipline and who never knew the reasons for their being here and not in their native European homes. Of that great generation only Ernst Gombrich remains.
The Iast war was a filthy business, but without it this country would have remained a cultural backwater much longer. The Nazi persecutions in Germany and Central Europe immeasurably enriched our lives, not only in my small field of art history, but in orchestral music, opera, drama, literature and broadcasting.·
To the ghosts of the many exiles who fled here and stayed to leaven the cultural lump that we had become between the wars, let me echo Seilern's simple gratitude to Wilde "Thank you. Thank you all."
• The Courtauld Institute Galleries were to have opened in their new premises in Somerset House later this year, but are now 40 weeks behind on a 71-week schedule of building works; when this is finished, most of Count Seilern's collection will be accessible for the first time.
The Mail on Sunday, March 7, 1999
Hunt for secret Nazi loot in Britain’s top institute of art
Revealed: Why the Courtauld Gallery is examining the racist past of its founders and up to 100 major works of art have come under suspicion
Art world is under Hitler's shadow
By Nick Fielding, Chief Investigative Reporter
THE world-renowned Courtauld Institute of Art is investigating whether dozens of its most famous works came from collections looted by the Nazis.
The disclosure that paintings by Old Masters such as Rubens, Cezanne; Renoir, Seurat and Pissarro could have been sold to the gallery by unscrupulous dealers after being confiscated from Jewish collectors between 1933 and 1945, or simply stolen by the Nazis as they marched across Europe will shock the art world.
Following the National Gallery's revelation last week that it is holding about 120 paintings for which 'full provenances' do not exist, it puts Britain's huge artistic legacy under the international spotlight.
With high profile exhibitions such, as the Monet at the Royal Academy now a central part of the nation's life, questions have been raised over the many rare treasures on show.
The suspect paintings adorn the walls of the Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House in the Strand in London. Their total worth is incalculable, but until now, their background has never been questioned.
A Mail on Sunday investigation has revealed that the Courtauld Gallery's 70-year history began with benefactors who reflected the anti-semitism that was rife among the Establishment as Hitler rose to power.
The driving force behind the formation of the Courtauld is widely thought to be the textile millionaire of that name.
But in fact the real power was Arthur Lee, later Lord Lee of Fareham, a man of humble origins who, through marriage to a wealthy American, became a force in British Liberal politics before dedicating himself to expanding a collection of rare art.
It was Lee who lived at Chequers, now the Prime Minister’s country home. He donated the house to the nation in ,1921. But he was virulently anti-Jewish, as many in society were at that time.
The Courtauld was his baby. He gave part of his enormous collection of Renaissance art and silverware to the gallery while alive, the rest on his death.
Lee's donations now form a major part of the permanent, much admired, Courtauld Gallery collection . But some works are now under suspicion in a climate which has led the art world to audit its collections for fear they were stolen by Hitler's henchmen.
Another major donor to the Courtauld was Count Antoine Seilern, whose art collection - mainly of Old Masters - was bequeathed to the gallery on his death in 1981. Its value then was conservatively estimated at £50 million.
It was known as the Prince s Gate collection after the London street in which he lived and was never shown publicly during his lifetime. It was generally recognised as one of the greatest bequests of modern tunes and included 128 paintings and 228 drawings by such artists as Leonardo da Vinci, Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Michaelangelo, Rembrandt, Cezanne and Picasso.
Seilern was an Austrian who fled from Vienna to Britain at the beginning of the war. Although not Jewish he had spent much of the Twenties and Thirties in Britain and America and his cosmopolitan background and wealth made him a target for the Nazis.
He joined the army and served as a private in the Pioneer Corps. But he continued to buy and sell art, dealing particularly in Old Masters.
His intimate contacts with art dealers throughout Europe enabled him to purchase paintings that, from 1939 onwards, became available in Switzerland and occupied Holland at extraordinarily low prices. We now know that much of this art had been looted by the Nazis. Whether Seilern was aware of this is a question that still has to be answered.
He inherited his money from his wealthy American grandmother who made a fortune investing in the early years of the American railroad boom.
He was a colourful figure who went big-game hunting in Africa and roared around London on a huge motorbike, often arriving at art lectures, even in his sixties, with his crash helmet dangling from his arm.
A number of his paintings are now thought to be 'problematic', a term used in the art world to define works feared to have been stolen by the Nazis.
He gave 32 paintings by Rubens to the Courtauld Gallery, three of which are now suspect. These include The Bounty Of James 1 Triumphing Over Avarice, a preparatory sketch for his series of four paintings on the ceiling of the Banqueting House in Whitehall.
It is accepted that the three works originally belonged to Franz Koenigs, a Jewish Dutch-German banker who amassed a huge collection between 1918 and 1939. This was seized following Germany's invasion of Holland and Koenigs himself was thrown under a train and killed by Nazis in 1941.
But it is the route the art works took from Holland to Seilern's substantial collection in 1940 that is now the subject of scrutiny.
The Koenigs family is determined to prove that its once fabulous collection was plundered. Koenigs' granddaughter Christine, has already launched legal action in Holland, to recover family paintings which were seized by Hitler and Goering during the War and which are now in a Dutch museum. '
Last week she began proceedings against an anonymous Swiss collector who paid £48.8 million - the highest price ever for a painting - for Van Gogh's Portrait of Dr. Paul Gachet on the grounds that it, too, had belonged to her grandfather.
She claims her grandfather was forced to sell hundreds of paintings and drawings at a fraction of their true value. The family is aware of the Rubens at the Courtauld, Gallery.
Christine Koenigs has visited the gallery to see the painting, and been given full access to its records. At present there is no indication that she intends to launch a legal claim.
At least one other drawing at the gallery, donated by Seilern and believed to have origins in Poland, is under suspicion.
This is The Emperors Charlemagne And Sigismund by the great German medieval master Albrecht Dürer. It is thought to be connected to the controversial Lubomirski drawings which were looted from Lvov in 1941 by the Nazis and personally taken by Hitler.
After being recovered by the Americans from the Alt Aussee salt mine in 1945 they were handed over to the Lubomirski family which had once owned them, instead of the Lubomirski Museum.
Over the years the family sold off the drawings and many were subsequently acquired by museums in Europe and America, including the British Museum, New York's Metropolitan Museum and the National Gallery of Canada.
Yesterday the Courtauld Gallery's director, John Murdoch, told The Mail on Sunday that out of its collection of 520 paintings up to 50 are under investigation to determine their ownership during the war years.
A further 50 drawings by artists including Rubens, Dürer, Tiepolo and Rembrandt also have gaps in their backgrounds.
He added that 23 paintings donated by the textile millionaire Samuel Courtauld, bought between 1929 and 1947 and for which the gallery does not have a full provenance, are also being investigated. They include such famous Impressionist pictures as Pissarro's Lordship Lane Station, Seurat's Pecheur sur Bateau Amarré and Sisley's Seine Landscape.
Mr. Murdoch said the picture audit had been taking place for some time. There's no mystery here. We have already written to the Museums and Galleries Commission telling them which of our artworks have gaps in their histories. Of course, if it turns out that we are holding artworks which prove to have been looted, we will have to come to some kind of arrangement.
The trustees hold the collection in the public trust and they have an absolute obligation to maintain it in the public domain for the use, scholarship and enjoyment of the citizens of the world.'
He stressed that the collection had been formed in good faith.
The admission that major galleries are concerned that they may unwittingly harbour stolen paintings follows representations by Culture Minister Chris Smith and Lord Janner of the Holocaust Educational Trust.
Last November it prompted the National Museum Directors’ Conference to draw up a statement on ‘Spoliation of works of art during the Holocaust and World War II period'.
This acknowledged that the wrongful taking of works of art was one of the many horrors of the Holocaust and the Second World War and reaffirmed that museums should not acquire or exhibit any stolen or illegally exported works.
Yesterday Janice Lopatkin, director of the Holocaust Educational Trust, praised the action of the Courtauld and the National galleries. She said: 'What they are doing is incredibly important. They are assessing their' collections responsibly. I hope it encourages others to do the same.'
The Courtauld Gallery is rightly proud of its role at the forefront of British art. In recognising that some of its major works may have a dubious past, it is ensuring that it retains its hard-won reputation.
The Getty Museum, the world's wealthiest gallery, is being accused of putting pressure on a leading British institution to "tear up" the will of its greatest benefactor.
By James Morrison, Arts and Media Correspondent, The Independent, 09 February 2003
The Getty Museum, the world's wealthiest gallery, is being accused of putting pressure on a leading British institution to "tear up" the will of its greatest benefactor.
Eminent art historians claim the Courtauld Institute is accepting "cash for paintings" by allowing the Getty Museum to ship Old Masters to California for up to a year in exchange for a multi- million-pound donation. The proposed deal is in direct contravention of the bequest of Count Antoine Seilern, an Austrian aristocrat who fled the Nazis to settle in England.
The count left the Courtauld some 350 drawings and 32 Old Master paintings when he died in 1978. The bequest, one of the greatest ever made, includes several classically inspired works by Rubens, among them Cain Slaying Abel and The Conversion of Saint Paul. It also comprises further Flemish masterpieces, including three Van Dycks, a drawing by Michelangelo, Manet's Au bal and paintings by Degas, Renoir, Cézanne and Kokoschka.
His will dictates that no panels dating from before 1600 should ever be shown outside the Courtauld, and those from 1600 onwards should only be loaned within London. But the Courtauld is discussing the loan of the Seilern – or Princes Gate – Collection to the Los Angeles-based Getty Museum. To make this possible, the Samuel Courtauld Trust, which manages the institute's collections, has applied to the Charity Commission for leave to alter the bequest.
Britain's leading art experts have condemned the "deal", which comes only months after the Getty gave the Courtauld an estimated £8m.
Sir Dennis Mahon, the distinguished art historian and a trustee of the National Gallery, said last night that the Courtauld was accepting "cash for paintings". He said: "There has to be a connection between the two things." Sir Dennis is one of 20 figures who have written to the commission objecting to any attempt to alter the bequest.
"I knew the count, and he had very strong views about the wisdom of transporting pictures," he said. "To request to change his will in order to get hold of some cash is quite wrong, and I believe that's what has happened."
His view was echoed by Michael Hirst, a former professor of art history at the Courtauld and a personal friend of the late count. Professor Hirst, now retired, who was based at the institute for 36 years, said: "I feel that the changes violate the wishes of Count Seilern only 25 years after his death." "The proposed amendments on loans would be unacceptable to most conservators," he added, "given that many of his paintings and works on paper are well over 400 years old."
The author of another letter sent to the commission, who wishes to remain anonymous, accused the trust of embarking on a "trashing of wills". And last night, relatives of the count warned that any alteration of the terms of the bequest might be met with a demand from the family for the pictures to be returned. Alexander Seilern, a great nephew of the count, said: "I'm totally against this. I also think there is a clause somewhere saying that, if they do something like that, the deal is off."
Sir Adam Butler, the chairman of the Courtauld Trust, denied the request to change the count's will was in any way linked to the Getty's recent donation.
The trust, which was recently granted independence from London University, had already embarked on its application in order to give it greater flexibility to show its collections elsewhere, as a means of raising its profile. "One thing you do achieve by this kind of thing is that the work acts as a kind of ambassador and helps attract people to Britain and to your institution, which in our case charges for entry," he said. "We have to generate income to keep our gallery and to support the work of the institute."
However, of negotiations between the Courtauld and the Getty over the latter's donation, he said: "The Getty said, 'Obviously, we would like to be able to exhibit some of your paintings.'" Included in that was talk of "wonderful" work from Count Seilern's bequest.
The Getty's director, Deborah Gribbon, said last night: "This is an issue for the Courtauld Institute, not the Getty. I can say categorically that the Getty's relationship with the Courtauld is in no way contingent on having loans from the Princes Gate Collection."
Dictionary of Art Historians
Seilern, Antoine, Count
Full Name: Seilern, Antoine, Count
Other Names: Antoine Count Seilern und Aspang
Count Antoine Seilern
Count Antoine Edward Seilern und Aspang
Date Born: 17 September 1901
Date Died: 6 July 1978
Place Born: Farnham, Surrey, England, UK
Place Died: London, England, UK
Collector and art historian. Seilern was the son of Count Carl Seilern und Aspang (1866-1940) and Antoinette Woerishoffer (Seilern und Aspang) (1875-1901). His mother, who was American by birth, died shortly after his birth. Seilern was raised by his grandmother in New York and Vienna, enjoying dual citizenship of Austria and England. At the end of World War I, however, he renounced his Austrian citizenship. Seilern graduated from the Realgymnasium in Vienna in 1920 continuing on to the Wiener Handelsakademie (1920-1921 where he likely met another future art historian, Fritz Grossmann) and then, beginning in 1922, at the Technische Hochschule, studying for the engineering certificate, (though 1924). Seiler briefly worked in lumber harvesting companies in Yugoslavia and finance in Vienna. His friend the art collector Count Karl Lanckoronski, encouraged Seilern to collect as well. In 1931 a vast inheritance from his grandmother ensured his life leisure. Between 1930 and 1933 he made a world tour, lingering in Africa for big-game hunting. In 1933, a family friend and art historian Count Karl Wilczek recommended Seilern for private study with Johannes Wilde. Seilern enrolled at Vienna University studying under Karl Maria Swoboda, Julius Schlosser, and Hans Sedlmayr. Seilern’s collecting had blossomed on a grand scale, advised by Ludwig Burchard and Wilde. His Rubens' paintings included "Landscape by Moonlight" (onced owned by Sir Joshua Reynolds), numerous Rubens's drawings and modelli, and Tiepolos. Seilern completed his Ph.D. in 1939 with a dissertation on the Venetian influences on Rubens's ceiling paintings. Seilern’s (sole) British citizenship and the annexation of Austria by the Nazi's the year before, both enabled and forced Seilern to return to England in 1939 together with his considerable art and book collection.
Wilde, who's wife was Jewish, was also in peril. Seilern made arrangements for Wilde's books to be shipped as well. He and Wilde, who had been sponsored by Kenneth Clark (q.v.), reunited in Aberystwyth, Wales. During World War II, Seilern enlisted in the British army and volunteering for the disasterous Russo-Finnish campaign of 1940. He escaped occupied Norway completing the War as a German interpreter. At the height of the War, Seilern made one of his finest acquisitions The Entombment with Donor and the Resurrection by the Master of Flémalle, which he purchased in 1942 as an Adriaen Isenbrandt. After the War, Seilern lived in South Kensington, London, (and a farm near Chesham, Buckinghamshire), building his collection. His drawings included those by [Giovanni] Bellini, Brueghel, Dürer, Hugo van der Goes, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Watteau, Degas, Picasso, and Cézanne, and even Chinese bronzes. His friend and mentor, Wilde, now deputy director of the Courtauld Institute, convinced him to leave the bulk of his paintings to the Courtauld Institute. Other works went to the National Gallery, London, and the British Museum, but like the Courtauld bequest, completely annonymously. These included Bernardo Daddi's Virgin and Child with Saints, 1338, (purchased 1956). Seilern was a very generous benefactor to the museums, notably the National Gallery, London, and the British Museum, but insisted his gifts remain anonymous, referred to simply at the "Prince's Gate Collection." Beginning in 1955 Seilern published a catalogue of his collection. The seven volume work was completed in 1971. He died of heart disease at age 78 and was buried in Frensham churchyard, the place of his birth. However he was later exhumed and re-interred at a family vault at Schönbühel, Austria, west of Vienna. His archives were placed at the Courtauld Institute.
Home Country: Austria/United Kingdom
Sources: Blunt, Anthony F. "Antoine Seilern: Connoisseur in the Grand Tradition." Apollo 109 (January 1979): 10-23; Farr, Dennis "Seilern und Aspang, Count Antoine Edward (1901-1978)." Oxford Dictionary of American Biography; Shaw, James Byam. "Count Antoine Seilern (1901-78)." The Burlington Magazine 120 (November 1978): 760-2; "Count Seilern's Flemish Paintings and Drawings." Burlington Magazine 97 (December 1955): 396-8; Levey, Michael. "Count Seilern's Italian Pictures and Drawings." Burlington Magazine102 (March 1960): 122-3; Braham, Helen. "Introduction." in, The Princes Gate Collection. London: Courtauld Institute Galleries, 1981, pp. vii-xv.
Bibliography: Paintings and Drawings of Continental Schools Other than Flemish and Italian at 56 Princes Gate London, SW7. London: Shenval Press, 1961; Flemish Paintings & Drawings at 56 Princes Gate, London SW 7. London: Shenval Press, 1955; Italian Paintings and Drawings at 56 Princes Gate, London SW 7. London: Shenval Press, 1959; Recent Acquisitions at 56 Princes Gate, London SW7. London: Shenval Press, 1971.
Estate: Early Chinese Ceramics, Archaic Bronzes, Paintings and Works of Art: the Property of the Estate of the Late Count Antoine Seilern, sold by Order of Beneficiaries. London: Christie's, 1982.
Flemish Paintings & Drawings at 56 Princes Gate, London SW 7. London: Shenval Press, 1955; Italian Paintings and Drawings at 56 Princes Gate, London SW 7. London: Shenval Press, 1959; Paintings and Drawings of Continental Schools Other than Flemish and Italian at 56 Princes Gate London, SW7. London: Shenval Press, 1961; Recent Acquisitions at 56 Princes Gate, London SW7. London: Shenval Press, 1971.estate: Early Chinese Ceramics, Archaic Bronzes, Paintings and Works of Art: the Property of the Estate of the Late Count Antoine Seilern, sold by Order of Beneficiaries. London: Christie's, 1982.
Ludwig Münz another Austrian art historian fleeing Hitler. Wilde, who's wife was Jewish, was also in peril. Seilern made arrangements for Wilde's books to be shipped as Wilde struggled to leave himself. He and Wilde, who had been sponsored by Kenneth Clark, reunited in Aberystwyth, Wales. During World War II, Seilern enlisted in the British army volunteering for the disasterous Russo-Finnish campaign of 1940. He escaped occupied Norway completing the War as a German interpreter. At the height of the War, Seilern made one of his finest acquisitions, "The Entombment with Donor and the Resurrection" by the Master of Flémalle, which he purchased in 1942 as a work attributed to Adriaen Isenbrandt. After the War, Seilern lived in South Kensington, London, (and a farm near Chesham, Buckinghamshire), building his collection. His drawings included those by [Giovanni] Bellini, Brueghel, Dürer, Hugo van der Goes, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Watteau, Degas, Picasso, and Cézanne, and even Chinese bronzes. His friend and mentor, Wilde, now deputy director of the Courtauld Institute, convinced him to leave the bulk of his paintings to the Courtauld Institute. Other works went to the National Gallery, London, and the British Museum, and, like the Courtauld bequest, completely annonymously. These included Bernardo Daddi's "Virgin and Child with Saints," 1338, (purchased 1956). Seilern's anonymous gifts are referred to simply in those museums as coming from the "Prince's Gate Collection." Beginning in 1955 Seilern published a catalogue of his collection with the assistance of Grossmann. The seven-volume work was completed in 1971. He died of heart disease at age 56 and was buried in Frensham churchyard, the place of his birth. He was later exhumed and re-interred at the family vault at Aspang, Austria, south of Vienna. His archives were placed at the Courtauld Institute. "Count Seilern's Flemish Paintings and Drawings." Burlington Magazine 97 (December 1955): 396-8; Levey, Michael. "Count Seilern's Italian Pictures and Drawings." Burlington Magazine102 (March 1960): 122-3; Braham, Helen. "Introduction." in, The Princes Gate Collection. London: Courtauld Institute Galleries, 1981, pp. vii-xv; Farr, Dennis "Seilern und Aspang, Count Antoine Edward (1901-1978)." Oxford Dictionary of American Biography; Shaw, James Byam. "Count Antoine Seilern (1901-78)." The Burlington Magazine 120 (November 1978): 760-2; Blunt, Anthony F. "Antoine Seilern: Connoisseur in the Grand Tradition." Apollo 109 (January 1979): 10-23.
Count Antoine Seilern (1901-78)
“And this, or something like it was his way.”
Antoine Seilern, who died at 56 Princes gate on sixth July, was one of the most discriminating, and one of the best informed, of the great collectors of the present century. The collection of paintings and drawings by the Old Masters that he gathered chiefly in Britain, and has bequeathed to this country, will be enjoyed by many for the first time, when it is eventually shown in public here; and many will be astonished that works of such great quality we are not already more widely known; but the growing army of art historians will have been aware for some time of what was in store for them, from an acquaintance with the catalogue that he completed so carefully with his own hand, from his researchers, so modesty written, so splendidly illustrated, and so admirably produced, between 1954 and 1971. But the catalogue and the collection will be appraised in the Burlington Magazine by another pen, in due time; my present purpose is to attempt some account of the collector himself.
He was born on 17th September 1901 at Frensham Place, near Farnham in Surrey, the third son of an Austrian noblemen, Count Carl Seilern, and his wife, Antoinette Woerishoffer of New York. His mother died five days after his birth, and it was from his American mother that Count Antoine inherited his share of a large fortune, which enabled him to devote much of his life to the collection of works of art, and to the studies, academic in the best sense, that he considered the necessary corollary of enlightened collecting. His debt to his grandmother is affectionately recorded in the dedication of the printed catalogue. But he had connexions in England too. His aunt, his father's sister Ida, was married to Philip Hennessy, whose sister Nora was the wife of the late Lord Methuen ; and when that distinguished Academician (‘Cousin Paul’ as Seilern called him) exhibited paintings or drawings at Colnaghi’s on two or three occasions, Seilern always bought one for the sake of the connexion. He had very little interest in contemporary British art, and I think these purchases were usually given away to other members of the family.
His father, Count Carl, had taken British nationality in 1898 or 1899, about the time of his marriage; And all three sons, having been born in England, had British nationality by right; But they were all christened in the Austrian embassy in London, and so acquired Austrian nationality as well, which they kept until the end of the First World War. After their mother's death and some years in England, the boys were sent to their grandmother in New York; They returned to their father, now married again, in Vienna in 1910; And there, two years later, their grandmother Mrs Woerishoffer, joined them. She took charge of them again until 1916, when the United States came into the war and she had to return to New York. All the boys now remained in Austria and continued their education there.
As a very young man in the 1920s, in Vienna and elsewhere, Count Antoine shared his elder brother's interest in horse racing and shooting; he hunted game in Africa and the Yukon, obtained an air pilots certificate in Berlin, and was much in society. It might have been hard to guess his future. But his father and stepmother (to whom he always remained devoted) encouraged him to study the history of art at Vienna University, and he was enrolled there from 1933 to 1937. His professors were Schlosser and Sedlmayr; and the young Johannes Wilde - on the recommendation of a family friend, Count Carl Wilczek - gave Seilern private tuition which was the beginning of all his more serious interests and a lifelong friendship. Wilczek himself was an art historian; and I also remember in Vienna in 1930 another friend of the Seilern family, the old count Karl Lanckoronski, who's example may have had some influence in turning all Antoine Seilern’s thoughts towards collecting on his own account - a gigantic man of great charm, most hospitable in showing to a young stranger the fine collection of paintings and sculpture that he himself had gathered in the Lanckoronski Palais.
Seilern’s subsidiary subject at the University - surprising, perhaps, but vouched for by his old friend, Jan van Gelder - was Kinderpsychologie, taught by a lady who was a pupil of Freud. The subject of his dissertation in art history was Die venezianischen Voraussetzungen der Deckenmalerei des Peter Paul Rubens. His progress in the subsidiary subject is not recorded; but the work of Rubens, of course, remained his passion for the rest of his life. He had not quite finished his doctorate when the Nazis arrived in Vienna in 1938; and the political events that followed meant a great upheaval in his life, still more in the lives of his friends. Ludwig Burchard and Sebastian Isepp , with their families, Baron Martin Koblitz , and, finally, Johannes Wilde and his wife, all came to this country before him ; It was only in the summer of 1939, just before the Second World war began, that he himself arrived, having at last, to his great satisfaction, achieved his University degree. His passport was British, and when the war broke out, though he was 38 years old, he enlisted in the ranks of the British army. He served for a time abroad, before the German invasion of Holland, in the Royal Artillery, and on some attachment to the intelligent Intelligence Corps, in which he was afterwards commissioned. But he had managed to bring his own paintings, drawings, and furniture (and the Wilde’s furniture) from Vienna; and well before the end of the war, so far as his military duties allowed, he was settled in England.
Professor van Gelder, who may be his oldest surviving friend, has given some account of these events in a letter to Sir Anthony Blunt, who has kindly allowed me to make use of it. Van Gelder himself, on the very eve of the German invasion of Holland in May 1940, contrived to buy for Seilern (from the Koenigs Collection) three Rubens oil sketches, which he then deposited as Swedish property in an Amsterdam bank, and handed over to him when the war ended. Seilern already owned important paintings and drawings; at the Oppenheimer sale in 1936, for instance, he had bought one of the most beautiful of Dürer’s early drawings, the Wise Virgin of 1493; but the greater part of his collection was acquired after he had settled in England. Even in the middle of the war - in the summer of 1942, when he happened to be on leave in London - he secured (with Burchard's help) one of his greatest treasures, the small triptych by the master of Flémalle, sold at Christies as an Isenbrandt.
After the war, he occasionally competed in other important sales dash at Sotheby's in 1957, for instance, getting the lion's share of the fine series of landscape drawings by Fra Bartolommeo that appeared from an unknown source, in an album collected by the Florentine, Francesco Gabburri. But in general he liked to buy privately, or as things were offered to him in London. He never bought in a hurry and never from a photograph; he considered the attribution, the condition, the relative importance. He mastered the relevant literature, and he had good judgment; but he seldom bought a Rubens without Burchard's advice, or any other painting or drawing without Wilde’s. To both these ….
* Besides Sir Anthony Blunt and Professor Jan van Gelder to whom I have made acknowledgements, I am greatly indebted for help in writing this to Count Charles Seilern, Count Frederick Seilern and Mrs Allan Brabam.
The Times, 12th July 1978
Count Antoine Seilern
Collector of Old Masters
Sir Anthony Blunt writes:
Count Antoine Seilern, who died in a London nursing home on July 6, was probably the greatest European collector of old Masters in the post-war period.
He was born in England of Austrian parents and studied the history of art at Vienna University under the late Johannes Wilde, who became his close friend and his mentor in the formation of his collection.
He lived in Vienna till the Anschluss of 1938, when he moved to England, a country for which he had a profound affection and which he had frequently visited. On the outbreak of war, he volunteered for military service, but owing to his dual nationality - British and Austrian - he was only accepted for the Pioneer Corps in which he served as a private.
The war naturally interrupted his collecting activities, but not entirely, since he was for much of the time stationed not far from London. In fact, it was during the war - actually in 1942 - but he made one of his most important purchases, a triptych by the master of Flémalle, one of the most important Flemish Primitives in this country.
After the war, guided by Wilde, he returned to collecting with passion, and his London house soon came to contain a collection which was unique in containing a series of exceptionally fine paintings brought together round a central theme on a carefully thought out at historical plan. The centre of his interest was Rubens, by whom he eventually owned 33 paintings and 22 drawings, covering all periods and all types of painting, except the very large religious or historical canvases which would have been too big for the house. He extended his range to works by artists who Rubens admired and studied, including in most cases drawings as well as paintings. Among the Flemings were Matsys, Pieter Bruegel the elder and Rubens own pupil Jordaens; The northern Italians included Bellini, Mantegna, Titian, Palma Vecchio, Tintoretto and Parmigianino. Room was represented by drawings by Michelangelo, Florence by Leonardo. In addition, the collection included a magnificent 14th century altarpiece by Bernardo Daddi, a large group of drawings by Rembrandt and works by Degas and Cézanne. The works of art were a superb illuminated manuscript from the studio of the Limbourg brothers, a 6th century BC geometric Hydra and a number of Chinese bronzes. Seilern also commissioned a series of large decorative paintings from Kokoschka, who was a personal friend. He had an unfailing sense of quality and his collection included not only the major paintings mentioned above but exceptional works by relatively minor artists, such as Menzel and Rudolph von Alt.
As a man he was very retiring and avoided the limelight as far as possible. He would always show his collection to anyone whom he believed to be genuinely interested, and he regularly allowed groups of students from the Courtauld Institute and elsewhere to visit his house. He had, however, one violent prejudice: No dealers were allowed to visit the house (the only exception was one who was a close personal friend, through whom he made many of his acquisitions). His generosity, particularly to refugees from central Europe, was enormous, but in this as in all else he carefully avoided any publicity. Only those who benefited by it can appreciate its extent and the delicacy with which it was carried out.
He was also generous to museums and institutions, but it is hard to estimate the extent of his gifts because they were always made with the minimum of publicity, and usually anonymously period two of the most important can however be mentioned. In 1945 he presented to the National Gallery the fine full-length portrait of the first Earl of Denbigh by Van Dyck, and about the same time he bought the magnificent collection of drawings formed in the early 19th century by Sir Thomas Phillips, which had passed by descent to Thomas Fenwick, took out a small number of drawings by Rubens to add to his own collection and gave the remainder to the British Museum. This gift was in part an expression of his admiration and affection for the late A. E. Popham who was at that time keeper of the Print Room.