Hall of Mirrors from the Budge residence and the Budge art collection (dolls’ house)
In January 2011, a Berlin law firm asserted a claim on behalf of the heirs of Emma Budge against the Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten in Hamburg. The hotel’s former owner had acquired a Gobelin tapestry in 1937 at an auction of Emma Budge’s art collection which had been organized by Paul Graupe in Berlin. This tapestry was the subject of the claim.
In this context, the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe in Hamburg also became the focus of media interest because a number of objects with this provenance are located there, including the Hall of Mirrors from the Budge residence. The investigations into the museum’s archives revealed that the facts relating to the artworks from the collection formerly owned by Jewish citizens had not been adequately clarified and documented, even though compensation payments had been made in relation to these works in 2002. The literature on the Budges consistently states that real estate, assets and the art collection were lost as a result of persecution, but it does not provide a conclusive or comprehensible presentation of the facts. For this reason, the MKG decided to play its part in clarifying the situation by conducting its own research.
The Hall of Mirrors was installed in the MKG’s northern courtyard in 1987. It had been threatened with demolition in 1980 when the historic villa—home to the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hamburg since 1959—was planning an extension for which the pavilion and Hall of Mirrors had to make room. In cooperation with Hamburg’s authority for the protection of historic landmarks, the interior decoration was disassembled and stored in the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe until it could be reconstructed.
The villa built in 1884 by Martin Haller for the shipping agent Ivan Gans was bought around 1900 by Henry (1840–1928) and Emma Budge (1852–1937). They commissioned the Hamburg architect to expand it into a palatial residence and the Hall of Mirrors was added in 1909. The Budges were Jews from Germany who had lived in the United States and had held both German and US citizenship since 1882. They chose Hamburg, Emma’s native city, for their retirement and moved there in 1903.
Upon the death of Henry Budge, an order made by his wife took effect which stipulated that the couple’s collection of decorative art objects acquired in Germany was to be bequeathed to the MKG after the death of both husband and wife. Emma Budge expanded this intended donation in 1930 by specifying that the villa was also to be given to the city of Hamburg for charitable use. A few months after the National Socialists came to power in 1933, Emma Budge revoked this will. Faced with the worsening political situation in Germany, she made a number of changes to her will up to October 1935 and appointed her Jewish relatives exclusively as her heirs instead. Responsibility for executing this order was assigned to the Jewish executors appointed by her: Max M. Warburg, Hermann Samson, Ludwig Bernstein and Max Kronheimer.
Following the death of Emma Budge, the villa was offered to the city of Hamburg authorities by a broker and sold to them a short time later at a price far below its market value. The Budge mansion was used as the headquarters of Hamburg's Reich Governor and leader of the local NSDAP district, Karl Kaufmann, who had pushed the property purchase through after the city was initially hesitant. Not only was the purchase price significantly under the assessed value—this sale also contravened the terms of Emma Budge’s will, which excluded the city of Hamburg from benefiting in any way. The files prove that this sale was made under pressure and as a result of the dire situation in which the heirs found themselves due to racist policies.
The Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe acquired a drinking vessel in the shape of a lion and a nautilus shell cup at the auction of Emma Budge’s property in October 1937 in Berlin. The Jewish collector’s works of art were auctioned at the Paul Graupe auction house. The order to carry out this auction was given by the executors. In doing so, they were acting in line with the testator’s wishes. She had left the sale of her entire estate to the discretion of the responsible executors for the benefit of her heirs threatened by persecution. The sale took place without a minimum bid being set and with only an unofficial price estimation, which did not correspond to the standard sums usually paid for similar objects of such high quality. The proceeds from the auction were credited to an estate account but neither the executors nor the heirs were free to use them as they wished. Seen from today’s perspective, the auction of Emma Budge’s collection can be attributed to a desperate situation caused by persecution. The transferable assets were meant to be used for the benefit of the heirs who had already emigrated and to enable the departure of the Budges’ Jewish relatives who still remained in Germany. However, this was expressly prevented by the president of the tax office and the foreign exchange office in Hamburg.
The assets held as securities, which were kept in an account in Zurich, were also seized. The heirs were subjected to various repressive and coercive measures, including confiscation of passports, threat of loss of citizenship and temporary internment in concentration camps. As a result of this pressure, they agreed to split up the estate and transfer a large number of assets to Germany. The revenue from trading the securities and selling the villa were also credited to the estate account. These funds had to be used to meet the heirs’ exorbitant estate tax obligations and pay for discriminatory special taxes, the Reichsfluchtsteuer (emigration tax) and, from 1938 onward, the Judenvermögensabgabe (Jewish property tax). The minimal sums that remained, which some of the heirs received, were transferred to so-called blocked accounts. “Safety measures” in accordance with foreign exchange legislation were imposed on all co-heirs remaining in Germany, and thus the entire assets of the individuals concerned were controlled.
As the circumstances under which Emma Budge’s collection was auctioned are considered to have been linked to persecution, the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe in Hamburg made a voluntary compensation payment in April 2002 to Emma Budge’s only known heirs to date. This related to the two drinking vessels acquired in 1937. By taking this step, the museum ensured that the two silver drinking vessels could remain in its collection.
In the post-war era, restitution proceedings began for the Budge residence. However, these did not result in restitution to its rightful owners, but in a compensation payment that remains controversial to this day and can be considered insufficient in light of the Washington Agreement. Since the Hall of Mirrors belongs to the Budge mansion, the MKG decided to contribute towards clarifying the situation by undertaking its own research. Based on the research conducted, the Hanseatic city of Hamburg came to an agreement with the heirs regarding the payment of a compensation sum for the loss of the property.
The compensation payment includes the Hall of Mirrors and a dolls’ house that the museum acquired from a private Hamburg collection in 1972. It also comes from the Budge collection. It remained unsold at the auction and subsequently ended up on the art market.
(c) Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
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