Leicester New Walk Museum exhibits German Expressionist art

An exhibition of paintings that were smuggled by a Jewish family out of Nazi Germany has gone on display at a Leicester museum.

The paintings were bought by the New Walk Museum which now houses the largest collection of German Expressionist art in the UK, including work from George Baselitz as well as Kandinsky and Klee.

Image copyright Franz Marc/Enrst Neuschul

The Red Woman by Franz Marc was bought by the museum from the Hess family for £350 in 1944.

Alfred Hess, an art collector from Erfurt, owned more than 4,000 pieces. The majority of his works were donated to the local museum or sold by his family after his death to raise funds.

Image copyright Private collection on loan to Leicester Museums
Image caption Alfred Hess had collected the pieces over many years, but they were saved by his widow Tekla

Shortly before the outbreak of war Alfred's widow, Tekla Hess, smuggled the last remaining paintings out of Germany by hiding them inside furniture.

She sold the artwork to family friend, Trevor Thomas, who was the curator of Leicester Museum and Art Gallery at the time.

Image copyright Max Libermann/New Walk Museum

Simon Lake, the curator of the exhibition, described Tekla's actions as "enterprising and resourceful".

It was forbidden to take artworks out in wartime Germany under the Nazis and they would have faced destruction had the works remained in Germany, he said.

Image copyright Leicester City Council

"Tekla used a hollowed out table leg, hid the paintings behind a chest of drawers and used friends in the post office to send out the paintings," said Mr Lake.

"She was very enterprising and resourceful, and Leicester became a safe haven for these works."

Image copyright Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

Other works were taken out of Germany by Tekla Hess disguised as loans to other museums.

The German Expressionist exhibition is permanent while a display of Georg Baselitz's work runs until January 2015.

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