Friday 25 October 2013

Leutwitz Apollo (5): Mr Walter Tells His Tale

In Michael Benett's discursive account of the discovery and acquisition of the Leutwitz Apollo, now in Cleveland Museum of Art, very little attention is paid to the first known owners, supposedly the grandfather and great uncle of German lawyer Ernst-Ulrich Walter. What have Cleveland Museum of Art found out about them in their due diligence enquiry? Why do we not even have their names, let alone a few words about them? (There is a great aunt too, mentioned in passing, though she apparently too owned the statue for half a century before her death in the 1980s). Is there anything in their biographies that would explain how they came by such an extraordinary object? You would think that was the first question one would want to ask in establishing its meaning. How did it get to Saxony? That is a question which it seems Mr Bennett is not at all concerned to even pose, even though it would shed so much light on that 'transmission of the antique' in Europe which he is so eager to discuss in the first part of his book. Odd that.

The contemporary owner of the estate Ernst-Ulrich Walter is relatively colourless in the whole account, which is surprising, because not only is he a key player and eyewitness, but Bennett actually travelled right across Europe to meet him. We learn nothing of his story, what he did in the War, where he ended up in 1949, in East or West Germany, what he did there, nothing about his extensive travels and collecting activity. Not a single anecdote adding colour to the scant facts presented. Perhaps Mr Bennett is just not very good with describing people. Mr Walter appears for the first time in the book on page 14, then disappears from the narrative until page 62. There he is mentioned as seen (apparently) through the eyes of a guest from Berlin, the Romanian scholar Lucis Marinescu, which Bennett presents as having learnt of at the end of May 2003:
Marinescu had heard about a gentleman living in Leutwitz , Mr Ernst-Ulrich Walter, who had assembled an eclectic collection  of artifacts and curios and set up a kind of a private museum on his recently reclaimed estate. She made a trip to see the collection, and viewed the Apollo in pieces. Walter told her then that the bronze figure was an eighteenth or nineteenth century garden sculpture.
Not a mention, despite Bennett having talked with Marinescu by phone, of how she "heard" of the eclectic collection and what made her want to travel 170 km out of Berlin to see it. There is no record of any subsequent correspondence between Marinescu and Walter. Mr Walter then crops up in the narrative on page 65:
Working through the dealer, we also reached out to the previous owner, Ernst-Ulrich Walter, asking him to write a statement describing how, when, and under what circumstances he recovered the work on the Leutwitz estate. Mr Walter kindly complied with the request, in a signed letter dated July 3, 2003, and addressed to Katherine Lee Reid, he recounted how he discovered the statue [CMA curatorial files]. [...] the bronze sculpture, Walter wrote, was found in a ruined condition. He believed it an eighteenth-century work of the type found on similar estates and in castles, parks and mansions in East Germany. He would have liked to have had it restored, but then reasoned that the cost of this work was "disproportionate to the statue's age", and he considered other more pressing repairs [to the house and property] of higher priority. He therefore sold the work in its ruined condition to a dealer "in the 1990s" stating that he had "no outstanding claims or rights" to the statue". 
Pretty decent for a bloke who'd discovered he'd sold a five-million dollar statue for a pittance. It is not stated whether Mr Walter sent the letter to Mrs Reid directly, or whether it was forwarded by the dealer. There is a bit about Mr Walter in Lucia Marinescu's letter to the CMA of September 4th 2003 (page 66 of the book). Then (page 67) mention of three telephone calls to Mr Walter 5th, 6th and 7th of November 2003 made "in consultation with legal counsel". Here Bennett presents the added details learnt as a result of these three conversations.
Walter again confirmed the substance of what he had related in his letter dated July 3 2003. In addition, he repeated that  the statue belonged to his 150-year-old family estate which he reacquired soon after German reunificationin 1990-91. He added that he had recovered the statue in a damaged condition in 1993-94. When asked about the last time he had seen the work before rediscovery, he resp[onded that he must have been about fifteen years old. At that time he remembered seeing bronze statues of classical type on the estate, in addition to vases and other classical antiquities. The estate, he said, had belonged to his grandmother's brother. He repeated what he had written previously, in his letter: that he had sold the bronze sculpture to an antiques dealer in the 1990s and no longer had any claim to the work.
On pages 70-72 Bennett describes "A Trip to Leutwitz, Germany" on December 22nd at two in the afternoon, so there would have been just a few hours of daylight left. Walter, his daughter and "a family friend" were present. Here Bennett gives the story as recounted by Walter and translated for him by Holger Klein. At some stage in the proceedings they adjourned to the garden to see the site of the 1930s wooden pavilion in which the statue is said to have stood in 1934 and 1935 "at the bottom of a terraced garden beyond a large fountain. Only the foundations of the fountain remained". Probably by this time it was now dark which would explain why there is no photograph of this garden in the book.  It should be noted that at no time of the narrative presented by Bennett is there anything about Walter mentioning Marinescu's visit.

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