Top German collector disappoints museums by selling loans

Hans Grothe has sold 700 works to Wella hair-care billionaires for E50 million



Hans Grothe, the German construction magnate, has sold his collection of over 700 works of post-1960s German art to the Wella haircare billionaires Sylvia and Ulrich Ströher for an estimated E50 million.

The bulk of Mr Grothe’s collection is currently on loan to two municipal German museums in Duisberg and Bonn, where it is expected to remain for the foreseeable future.

The figure of E50 million, reported in the German press, represents half of the collection’s estimated value. A recent tax appraisal of the works put their market value at between E120 to E200 million. There has been speculation that Mr Grothe had financial problems and needed to raise money fast. He was unavailable for comment.

Mr Grothe (75) started collecting in 1973, and has since acquired works by the best German artists, amassing top quality pieces by just 22 artists and photographers including Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter, Thomas Demand, Andreas Gursky and Thomas Ruff. He has been criticised for lending works to German museums, which helps raise their market value, and then selling them at profit when the market peaks.

In the 1990s, Mr Grothe assembled a huge photography collection at discount prices by suggesting that he intended to build a monumental museum to house them; he then auctioned his best pieces at the height of the German-photo boom to the dismay of many artists and dealers involved. He sold Andreas Gursky’s photograph, Paris, Montparnasse, at Christie’s New York in November 2001 for $600,000, a new auction record for a work by a living photographer.

In 1999, a grant of DM35 million ($19 million) from the local authority in Duisburg, was used to open the Grothe Museum to display some of his collection. The works were on loan, but a contract obliged Mr Grothe to hand over 130 of them to the city within the next 30 years. This obligation now passes to the Ströhers and the museum is to be renamed the MKM Museum Küppersmühle für Moderne Kunst.

The bulk of Mr Grothe’s collection is on loan to the Kunstmuseum Bonn. Christoph Schreier, deputy director of the museum, said that no details of the transfer of ownership could be released, but his intention is to keep the collection in Bonn until 2025.

The Ströhers, both in their 50s, made E3 billion in 2003 by selling their share in the hair-care corporation Wella. They already owned 800 works of German modern art which they keep in their home in Darmstadt. These are predominantly abstract pictures of the 50s and 60s, by German artists such as Hoehme, Goetz and Münter. Their combined total holdings now exceed 1,500 paintings and sculptures, making theirs one of the biggest private collections in the world.