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Germany between the two world wars was a time of stunning creativity. Although it saw the rise of Nazism, the Weimar Era also included the flourishing of Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) and Dada in visual art, avant-garde theater by the likes of Bertolt Brecht, German Expressionist films, critical writing by a still-renowned group of intellectuals including Theodor Adorno, a huge cabaret scene, and the art and design school the Bauhaus.
Graphic design, in particular, came into its own during this time, as posters for the myriad cultural events sprung up everywhere. Among the people who recognized their value was Hans Sachs, a Jewish dentist who started collecting posters as early as the late 19 century. Sachs was a huge enthusiast, forming a poster-collecting society, publishing a magazine called Das Plakat (The Poster), and amassing nearly 12,500 posters. He continued until 1938, when the Nazis seized his collection and sent him to a concentration camp.
Although Sachs survived, he never knew the fate of his collection, nor did he see any of the posters again. Years later, his son discovered that some 4,000 of them were being held at the Deutsches Historisches Museum (German Historical Museum) and sued to get them back. After a drawn-out legal battle (which Holocaust restitution cases always seem to be), Peter Sachs won his case.
Now, Sachs is putting the collection up for sale — another familiar rite of passage in Holocaust restitution cases, and sadly one that often means the art disappears from public view. No organization or institution has stepped up to buy the Sachs poster collection yet; it remains to be seen if one will. There are two weeks until the first auction, at Guernsey’s on January 18–20. The house estimates the value of the collection at $20 million.
Whatever happens to the collection, it’s clear from looking through it that Sachs had a great eye and was keenly aware of living in an important historical moment. The posters are amazing examples of early 20th-century design, mostly German but also with French, English, Italian, Austrian, and other examples. Here are just a few of them for your viewing pleasure, with the names of the artists who made them (when known):
Guernsey’s first sale of the Hans Sachs poster collection will take at Bohemian National Hall (321 East 73rd Street, Upper East Side, Manhattan) January 18–20. There will be a preview at the same location on January 16 and 17, 10 am–8 pm.
(h/t my mother!)