A.When Emil Bührle, the son of a Pforzheim tax officer, was born in the summer of 1890, Pablo Picasso was nine years old, is considered a child prodigy and has just finished painting the “Picador”, which is now referred to as his first work. Picasso went to Barcelona early and in 1903 painted a bluish picture that showed the Catalan city at night. During the First World War, Picasso lived in Paris and also in Rome. In 1917 he painted an “Italian woman” composed of colored areas. Emil Bührle, who studied philosophy and art history, became an officer in 1914; The war, he later says, turned the dreamer he was into a man who can make quick decisions.
Often these decisions lead to death in a roundabout way. As a member of the Freikorps Roeder, the young Emil Bührle was involved in the bloody suppression of the November Revolution in Germany. In 1924 he became managing director of the Swiss machine tool factory Oerlikon, which, on his advice, bought a company with insolvent patents for a 20-millimeter cannon. Bührle is now a weapons manufacturer; the worse it goes for the world, the better it goes for him. In 1929, the year of the Great Depression, he delivered 120 cannons to the Chinese civil war government, and shortly afterwards weapons for China’s opponent Japan. Oerlikon supplies everyone, England, France, the Spanish republicans, for whom Picasso paints his famous anti-war picture “Guernica” – and Nazi Germany.
The richest man in Switzerland
The war brought a ridiculous amount of money into the coffers, and the home of the Swiss resident was happy too: from 1941 to 1944, Bührle paid 100 million francs in taxes. He is soon the richest man in Switzerland, buys art, is incredibly generous, but the Zurich theater does not want a donation of at least two million francs in 1941; do not take “blood money”. In the same year Picasso painted the still life “Flowers and Lemons”, which seems like a reminder of southern days. He spends the entire occupation period from 1940 to 1944 in his Paris studio on Rue des Grands Augustins.
Bührle’s art dealers are also out and about in Paris. There is a lot going on on the international art market, with many Jews being forced to sell their collections to finance their escape. Bührle goes shopping, Monets, Impressionists, the moment is favorable for him. In Switzerland, underage girls from homes have to do unpaid forced labor in one of his companies. His empire also makes money with a German machine gun factory where concentration camp inmates were forced to work.
In 1944 Pablo Picasso became a member of the Communist Party and remained so until his death – an interesting exhibition at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne is dedicated to this political Picasso, his very different perceptions in East and West (“The Divided Picasso”, until January 30th ).
A dark house full of light art
After the war, Bührle is in trouble. Some works in his collection have been identified as looted art, and the Jewish art dealer Paul Rosenberg is demanding works to be returned.
Picasso, the communist, draws a dove that becomes a worldwide symbol of peace, the identification image of all pacifists. Business at Bührle is going well again, he is now supplying weapons for the Korean War; the Americans had already removed him from the blacklist in 1947 because they needed anti-aircraft missiles from him. Nine of the thirteen works in his collection identified as looted art, which Bührle has to return, are simply bought again: money is not the problem. In 1953 Emil Bührle bought Picasso’s “Flowers and Lemons”, a year later Picasso’s “Italian”, and in 1955 his early work “Barcelona at Night”. When the arms manufacturer died of heart failure the following year, a fifth of his art collection, a good 180 works, was donated to a foundation and exhibited in a private museum from 1960, a dark house full of bright art.