Painted spanish frame, mid 17th Century,
around Pablo Picasso’s “Dora Mar”, 1936
Spanish frame from the 16th Century,
profile guiled with a black surface,
around Paul Klee’s “City like construction”, 1917
Painted spanish frame, 16th Century,
around Pablo Picasso’s “Portrait of a woman”, 1923
The Heinz Berggruen Collection
In 1996, a rumour was doing the rounds in Berlin: Heinz Berggruen is coming back! Heinz Berggruen! A magic word. Berggruen was one of the most important art collectors of the 20th century. A Jew and a Berliner. He was coming back to Berlin, his native city, and he was taking his collection with him. His return was initiated by the general manager of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Wolf-Dieter Dube and the owner and managing director of the auction house Villa Grisebach, Bernd Schultz. The whole of Berlin was beaming with expectations The Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation offered him the Western Stüler Building, opposite to the Charlottenburg Palace as his personal residence and to house his collection.
Olaf Lemke sat in Eisenacher Straße and waited. It was known that Berggruen framed his paintings in period frames. Would Berggruen come to see him? He did; together with Bodo Buczynski, the chief restorer of the sculpture department in the Bode Museum and a close friend of Olaf Lemke. They drank tea. The publicist Lea Rosh, Lemke’s partner, asked, “So what happened? Did you say anything? About your frames …?” Lemke replied, “He has eyes, he can see.” This went on for two long years. At one of their tea drinking sessions, Berggruen said, “You have a monopoly, Mr. Lemke.” Lemke replied, “If you mean that I was the only one in the BRD to invest hundreds of thousands in frames to revive the culture of framing in Berlin destroyed by the Nazis, then you are right.” Berlin did indeed used to be the centre for framing art, thanks to Wilhelm von Bode, the general manager of Preußischen Museen. Bode was the first art historian to bring historic frames from Italy, France, Spain to Berlin. He oversaw the preparations for the first well-respected frame exhibition held at the Künstlerhaus in Berlin’s Bellevuestraße in 1929. It was initiated by the Rotil Company (Paris) and Pygmalion Company of F.A. Pollak (Berlin).
One day the phone rang: “Hello, my name is Berggruen. I have a sand painting by Picasso. An oil and sand portrait of a woman, 1923. By when can you frame it?”
Lemke said, “Next Tuesday or Thursday?”
Berggruen replied, “Mr Lemke, I am 84 years old and I do not have that much time.” Lemke asked, “Should I come now?” “Yes please!”
Lemke painted a 16th-century Spanish frame grey-black, which fit the painting like a glove. This was the beginning of a wonderful “frame” friendship.
There is one more story remaining:
Lemke was to make proposals for the framing of a painting by Paul Klee “Classical Coast,” 1931. He had two suggestions. There were also art historians from the national gallery present to give their opinion. After a long discussion, a frame was chosen: Italy, mid-17th century, silver plated oxidised, splendid colour. Berggruen said goodbye to the art historians. When he was alone with Lemke, Berggruen said, “When will you bring the framed painting back?” Lemke packed up the painting, drove back to the store, framed the painting and drove back as fast as he could to the Berggruen Museum with the framed picture. It was not insured. What a token of trust!
Olaf Lemke framed a total of 27 paintings for Heinz Berggruen, including works by Picasso, Klee and Matisse.