The Collectors

Dr. August Liebmann Mayer

Photo of Dr. August Liebmann Mayer

August Liebmann Mayer was born on October 27, 1885 in Darmstadt, Germany to merchant Jonas Mayer and Bertha Mayer geb. Liebmann . Mayer graduated from the Neues Gymnasium in Darmstadt in 1904 and went on to attend university in Munich and Berlin studying archeology and Germanistik (German studies).  In 1907, Mayer received his Ph.D. and a year later his dissertation on Jusepe Ribera was published as a book. After his studies, Mayer spent time traveling, primarily in Spain, and upon his return to German took an unpaid position at the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, which eventually lead to a position as a curator in 1914. During the First World War, Dr. Mayer served in the military as part of an infantry unit. When the war ended Mayer returned to his career in the art world.

In 1920, Dr. August Liebmann Mayer commenced his position as Chief Curator at the Bavarian State Paintings Collection (Alte Pinakothek) and as Associate Professor at the University of Munich.  Dr. Mayer excelled in his career during the next decade, becoming the foremost specialist of Spanish art whose expertise was sought worldwide by museums as well as the art trade.

It was in the early 1930s that Mayer saw his professional life in Germany bulldozed by the Nazis’ rhetoric to a premature end. Luitpold Dussler (1895 – 1976), an adjunct professor of art history at the Technische Hochschule in Munich was also a Nazi sympathizer and anti-Semite, proudly denounced Mayer (among others working in Bavarian academics) to the authorities. Another of Mayer’s accusers was Wilhelm Pinder (1878 – 1947), a fellow art historian and professor in Munich, who was praised by the Nazi party for his nationalism and focus on German art. Though Mayer continued to receive support from the Bavarian Minister of Culture and others, he succumbed to the antagonism and resigned from his positions at the museum and university.

On February 28, 1933, Hitler issued a presidential decree that essentially suspended civil rights such as freedom from unlawful arrest, search and seizure and the protection of private property. This decree provided the legal means for the Gestapo to take individuals into “protective custody” (Schutzhaft).A month after this decree was issued, on March 24, 1933, Dr. Mayer was taken into “protective custody,” and the SA searched and seized items from his Munich home at Martiusstrasse 8/1. During his detention, which lasted several months, Mayer was repeatedly harassed and tortured by his Nazi oppressors to such an extent that he attempted suicide on June 15, 1933.  It was only after this third attempt to take his own life that Dr. Mayer was eventually released in July 1933.At the end of April 1933, several weeks after his incarceration, a spurious charge of tax evasion was raised against Dr. Mayer. Notwithstanding any actual evidence of wrongdoing on Dr. Mayer’s part, the Bavarian Tax Authority determined that he owed an exorbitant amount in taxes and fined him 115,000 RM. Unable to earn funds to pay the tax burden imposed on him, Mayer’s home in Tutzing was confiscated and he was forced to sell personal property, including works of art. Several of Mayer’s works were offered at Hugo Helbing’s so-called “Alte und Moderne Gemälde – Plastik Buchminiauren –Altes Kunstgewerbe” auction of November 1933. The total yield from the Helbing sale was only 4,465 RM.

At the end of 1935, Mayer moved his family to France and upon their arrival in Paris they stayed at the Osborne Hotel. In September 1937, the family moved to an apartment located at Paris 9 rue du Mont Thabor (1er arrondissement). Though financially ruined, in France he was once again able to pursue his career and share his expertise with the art world. However, this period was simply an oasis of calm before the storm. When the Nazis invaded France, Mayer was once again a target of Nazi discrimination and depredation.

In 1939, knowing war imminent, the Mayer family fled first to Bordeaux and later to Arcachon (Gironde). While in Arcachon, Dr. Mayer was arrested and detained at Camp de Libourne. In December 1939, after a lot of pressure from friends, Dr. Mayer was released and the family returned to Paris.   After northern France was occupied by the Nazis, German nationals were ordered into internment camps and Dr. Mayer was once again detained, this time in a camp near Toulouse, he was later released. On August 1, 1941, shortly before Dr. Mayer’s family was to join him in Nice, his wife died.  A family friend brought his daughter to him in Nice. 

Meanwhile, Dr. Mayer’s Parisian home at rue Mont Thabor was looted by the infamous Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) and his art collection was taken to the Jeu de Paume before being transferred to Germany. Among the works taken by the ERR  were a  drawing by Guys, a bronze bust by Renard, a 17th Century German table, and a painting by Giacomo Bassano.

In February 1944 while hiding in the south of France, Mayer was betrayed by Bruno Lohse and turned in to the authorities. He was arrested in Nice. Mayer was taken to Drancy where he was interned on February 13, 1944 and given registration number 14814. On March 7, 1944 Dr. Mayer was deported to Auschwitz on transport nr. 69 and he perished there five days later on March 12, 1944.

Recovered Works from the Mayer Collection