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Breughel-Breughel exhibition marred as family battles over gallery established with funds of Nazi Alfried Krupp

The Krupps go to war again

The exhibition “Breughel-Brueghel” at Essen’s Villa Hügel offers a unique opportunity to compare the work of the two sons of “Peasant” Bruegel, Pieter Breughel the Younger and Jan Brueghel the Elder. No fewer than 140 paintings and thirty drawings have been borrowed, a considerable achievement for an institution without its own pictures to lend in exchange. Curated by Dr Klaus Ertz, the magnificent exhibition is accompanied by a scholarly 530-page catalogue.

Most international visitors to “Breughel-Brueghel” are probably unaware that the Essen exhibition is funded by a charity set up by a convicted Nazi war criminal.

Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, the last family member to run the Krupp company, was prosecuted at Nuremberg and sentenced to twelve years’ imprisonment for using 70,000 concentration camp inmates as slave labour at Auschwitz and elsewhere. He was released early, in 1951.

The Villa Hügel, set on the edge of a forest outside Essen, had been built as the Krupp family home in 1873. Since 1953 it has been used as a cultural centre, with major exhibitions normally held every two years. Recent shows have included “London 1800-1840” (1992), “Paris: Belle Epoque” (1994), “China” (1995), and plans are now being made for an exhibition of the art of Korea in 1999. The exhibitions are organised by the Ruhr Arts Trust, which is funded by the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach Foundation (some money is also raised from admission charges and catalogue sales). Last year the Ruhr Arts Trust received DM1.5 million (£540,000; $860,000) from the Krupp Foundation.

The Krupp Foundation was set up in 1967 after the death of Alfried Krupp, and his son Arndt’s decision to renounce his inheritance in return for an annual allowance. The initiative can be seen as going some way towards atoning for Alfried Krupp’s Nazi past. The Foundation received all the shares in the Krupp company, which had developed as an arms manufacturer and become one of Germany’s heavy industrial giants.

Although the Foundation’s stake was reduced when a minority interest was later transferred to the Iranian government, it still owns a 51% interest in the company and uses its share of the profits for charitable ventures.

Since 1968 the Krupp Foundation has disbursed a total of DM465 million. Last year, it distributed DM47 million for charitable projects, of which DM4 million went to the cultural sphere. Still at the helm of the Foundation is Professor Berthold Beitz, appointed Alfried Krupp’s trusted chief executive in 1953. He is eighty-four, and when he eventually retires the Foundation’s last link with the Krupp dynasty will be broken and responsibility will go to outsiders appointed to oversee the charitable work.

Fifty members of Alfried Krupp’s family are now mounting a legal battle to try to seize control of the Foundation. They insist that what is at stake is simply tradition. “We’ll have no financial benefit if we succeed”, says Diana Maria Friz, Alfried Krupp’s niece and spokesperson of the Krupp Family Council. She wants members of the Krupp family to oversee the charitable wealth, not outsiders. But whatever the changes at the top, art lovers will be hoping that the Villa Hügel continues to mount some of Germany’s finest exhibitions.

After closing at Essen on 16 November, “Breughel-Brueghel” moves to the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna (9 December-14 April 1998) and the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp (2 May-26 July).

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'The Krupps go to war again'