The collection of artworks mainly of the 19th century from German speaking countries, which Oskar Reinhart brought together in Winterthur since 1927, was made available to the public in the form of a foundation in a museum furnished according to his ideas in 1951. Throughout the entire duration of World War Two, Oskar Reinhart deliberately avoided any acquisitions of artworks outside of Switzerland. However, he purchased several works in the years between the Nazi takeover in 1933 and the outbreak of the war in 1939, some of these in Germany. This imposes a heightened awareness on the Oskar Reinhart Foundation regarding the handling of artworks acquired in these years.
Already in the 1970ies, the Oskar Reinhart Foundation verified the provenances of all the paint-ings and sculptures in its collection and published the findings between 1977 and 1984 in three catalogues devoted to the collection: Franz Zelger on Swiss painters of the 18th and 19th centu-ries (Oskar Reinhart Foundation, Catalogue of the collection, vol. 1, Zurich 1977); Peter Vignau-Wilberg on German and Austrian painters of the 19th century (Oskar Reinhart Foundation, Cat-alogue of the collection, vol. 2, Zurich 1979); Franz Zelger and Matthias Wohlgemuth on Swiss painters and sculptors since Ferdinand Hodler (Oskar Reinhart Foundation, Catalogue of the collection, vol. 3, Zurich 1984).
The research conducted at the time drew on the purchase ledgers and documents found in Oskar Reinhart’s estate. During the course of this research, it became clear that Reinhart had purchased almost half of the investigated artworks through his friend and trusted dealer Dr. Fritz Nathan (1895–1972), among them Caspar David Friedrich’s painting “Kreidefelsen auf Rügen,” one of the main works of the collection, which Reinhart had already purchased from the collection of Julius Freund (1869–1941) in 1930, namely before the takeover by the Nazis, for the price of 50,000 reichsmarks.
A representative selection of the collection was subject of an international exhibition tour during the years 1993–1995 with the title “From Caspar David Friedrich to Ferdinand Hodler – Master-pieces from the Museum Oskar Reinhart Foundation Winterthur“: Berlin, Alte Nationalgalerie (14.5.–12.9.1993), Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (30.9.1993–2.1.1994), New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (10.2.–24.4.1994), London, The National Gallery (15.6.–4.9.1994), Geneva, Musée d’art et d’histoire (30.9.1994–12.2.1995).
Not without reason, Oskar Reinhart is regarded as exemplary with respect to the provenances of his purchases among Swiss collectors at the time, because he deliberately avoided transactions of an uncertain nature in any case and furthermore completely ceased to purchase works abroad after the outbreak of the war in 1939 until the end of the war in 1945.
Reinhart always paid fair market prices and he never would have knowingly exploited a prior owner victim to persecution for his own benefit. For Reinhart, the provenance of an artwork was a very important indication of quality for his collection destined for the general public, and a reduction of his own posthumous fame by morally questionable purchases of artworks would have contradicted his intentions.
So far, the provenances of the about 6’000 drawings and prints in the collection of the Oskar Reinhart Foundation, Winterthur, have not been able to be investigated systematically due to their large number. In 2011, the Swiss Ministry of Culture, which is responsible for the Oskar Reinhart Collection “Am Römerholz” and the archives kept there, established a position to order all the let-ters and catalogue them in a database.
Based on this, a re-examination of the Oskar Reinhart collections was initiated, paying particular attention to the acquisitions from the time of National Socialism. As a result, for instance, evidence was provided that Fritz Nathan helped Oskar Reinhart purchase Adolph Menzel’s drawing “Krigar am Klavier” in 1934 from the Berlin painter Max Liebermann (1847-1935) in a conventional art transaction.
Goal of the provenance research conducted by the Oskar Reinhart Foundation is to gain a better understanding of its collection’s history and the historical circumstances under which it was cre-ated. In this context it is necessary to regard the circumstances under which each purchase oc-curred in a differentiated way. The Oskar Reinhart Foundation will continue this work with the re-quired diligence within its abilities.