From 1925 to 1945, people who contributed to the history of collecting and the art market in West and East Prussia played an important role in the history of the Regional Museum in Kwidzyn. It is thanks to them that the collections of this institution were enriched with valuable monuments.
One of such figures was the Gdańsk resident Friedrich Artur Basner (1869-1936), a grain merchant who collected outstanding works of art and artistic craftsmanship from bygone eras since 1900, including many valuable furniture and dishes of local Pomeranian production from the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1910 he built a villa in Sopot, designed by Adolf Bilefeldt, inspired by the architecture of the Grand Master’s Palace in Malbork. From 1925, in its interiors, this collection was made available to tourists. At that time, it was considered the largest in Prussia, but financial problems caused by the global economic crisis of 1929-1933 forced Basner to sell it. Most of them were auctioned off in 1929 in the Berlin antique shop of Rudolph Lepke, but as you can see at that time, the Kwidzyn collection was also enriched with several items from it.
In the late autumn of 1929, Waldemar Heym bought four eighteenth-century plates (Inv. HMM 1811-1814) from a collector for the amount of 235 German marks (Inv. HMM 1811-1814), including three local production from the so-called Pomeranian faience and two copper forms for baking gingerbread with a lion decoration (Inv. HMM 1799) and a turtle (Inv. HMM 1800) for 6 marks.
In the art market and in the collector’s world, another important figure in the interwar period in Prussia was an antiquarian of Jewish origin, William Bennigson (? ‒1942) from Królewiec. In the years 1924-1929 he was a member of the Königsberg Art Society. He ran an antique art bookshop and – as a connoisseur of modern German painting – a gallery (German: Kunsthandlung für alte und neue Kunst), which were first located at 14 Orselna Street, and in the 1930s at ul. Zamkowa 5 in Królewiec. During World War II, he was forced to sell paintings of what the Nazis called “foreign-degenerated art” of which he had many for almost nothing, to the art historian Hildebrand Gurlitt (1895-1956), the largest supplier to the Nazi gallery in Linz. Bennigson, believing that Gurlitt was able to help the Jewish countrymen get out of Nazi Germany, also mediated as a witness in the sale of paintings from the Loewenthal family collection with whom he was related, which, according to a preserved letter from Fritz Loewentahal, could have happened at the end of 1939 or at the turn of 1940/1941 just before Bennigson’s deportation to a concentration camp. He was murdered in 1942.
Heym made his first purchases from Bennigson in 1929. He then bought five monuments (inv. HMM 1766-1770) for the amount of 83 German marks. It was a rococo brass cafeteria with three embroidered Warmian bonnets from the mid-19th century and a small, antique tinder-box. In 1932 the Kwidzyn Museum was enriched with four 18th-century decorative plates (inv. HMM 2033-2036), including three from the famous faience production center in Delft. The entire purchase value was 115 marks. The last purchase from Bennigson was made by Heym in 1934. At that time, he bought a valuable plate of Pomeranian faience with the date 1687 and the silhouette of a horse (inv. HMM 2236) for 50 marks, which was sold to an antique shop from a bailiff auction of the estate in Królewiec. The purchase was completed with decorative women’s combs in the number of 8 pieces, each with 2 brands (inv. HMM 2237-2244).
In the early years of operation of the Regional Museum in Kwidzyn, Max Marcus, an antiquarian from Malbork, provided Heym with the greatest number of items. He came from a Jewish family that probably traded in old goods for a generation. Max specialized in the sale of artistically more valuable products and founded his antiquities shop at Duży Duchowność 16 (Ger. Große Geistlichkeit) in Malbork, which was situated near the castle. In the years 1925–1929, the Kwidzyn Museum purchased from him over a hundred relics of artistic craftsmanship from various eras and regions of Europe. The first purchase took place on April 11th 1925. Heym then acquired nine items, incl. English earthenware plates from the 18th and 19th centuries (Inv. HMM 9-12), an oak chest from the beginning of the 19th century (inv. HMM 8), fittings (inv. HMM 46), a powder case and two quite valuable tin plates with the convent features from Elbląg and Gdańsk. In turn, at the beginning of May of the same year, Marcus supplied 31 pieces of stove tiles from the first half of the 19th century. Eighteenth century for the amount of 450 marks, but also an oak stool on the base of which were engraved: a star, the monogram “SB” and the date “1769”. Until the beginning of July 1925, he sold eighteenth-century porcelain vessels, folk clay and Empire-style vessels, brass candlesticks, elements of a clock face decorated with a panoply motif. In the following years, there were much less offers from Marcus. The last item purchased from him in 1929 for 30 marks is a silhouette cutout composed in an oval and depicting a standing man, two women, two seated children and two standing children (inv. HMM 1679). Not all the exhibits purchased from him turned out to be originals. It happened that Heym, after buying an antique chainmail shirt in 1927, later wrote in the margin that it was a fake (inv. HMM 1307). Apart from tiles, one of the most valuable purchases from this merchant was a ruby glass set purchased in 1927 for the museum collections (inv. HMM 1306a-f). Most of the monuments listed here, which used to be added to the Regional Museum in Kwidzyn, have been lost and their place of storage after 1945 is unknown.
(compiled by Dr. B. Pospieszna)
Lit. Beginning of the end of the notes from 1939-1950 Dr. Hildegard Fritzler nee Basner, transl. M. Salsza, Sopot 2011, p. 12, ill. 3; W. Schuster, Die “Sammlung Gurlitt” der Neuen Galerie der Stadt Linz, Linz 1999, pp. 51-52.
Friedrich Artur Basner; https://www.gedanopedia.pl/gdansk/?title=BASNER_FRIEDRICH_ARTUR_GUSTAV (dostęp 25.03.2020).