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Calmann, Hans M.

German, 1899 - 1982


Mr. Hans Maximilian Calmann, who died on April 20 at the age of 82, was a bold and successful dealer in Old Master drawings. His passion for discovery, his strong sense of beauty and his flair for the placing of works of art set him in the forefront of his profession.

Known on both sides of the Atlantic for his solo and often spectacular deals, Calmann specialized in the work of Italian artists. During the great post-war revival of interest in his field he found many of the drawings which were to accompany the great collection of antiquities given by Walter Baker to the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York.

In Britian his closest institutional links were with the British Museum, the National Gallery of Scotland and the Ashmolean, to which gallery he presented drawing by Parmigianino, Mola and Cantagallina.

Two of Calmann's more remarkable discoveries were a red chalk drawing by Raphael, found in the basement of a Bond Street dealer, and the last surviving version of an ancient bronze head, discovered at a Paris auction masquerading as a baroque bust. Strozzi's celebrated design for a silver basin, now in the Ashmolean, hung for many years in his own home; so, at various times, did major works by Rubens, and Barocci, both artists with whom Calmann felt a particular affinity.

Calmann's career was marked by a radical switch in mid-stream -- a switch imposed as much by world events as by his own changing tastes. Born in Hamburg in 1899, he occupied his early working life, from 1922 to 1937 as a stockbroker in the family firm. From boyhood, however, he had indulged his penchant for collecting, spending much of his pocket money in the curio shops on the Hamburg waterfront, buying African and South Sea sculptures. His love for the art of Italy and for classical objects came later.

In March, 1937, still a stockbroker by profession, he joined the exodus from Nazi Germany, arriving at Harwich with his wife, four children and an Alexandrine bust of Ptolemy VI. This, and a holding of blocked German Reich marks worth less than £1,000 were his only assets.

Six months later, determined on an entirely new career as an art dealer, Hans Calmann opened a small shop in St. James's. In 1941, after a brief spell of internment on the Isle of Man, he acquired grander premises in Davies Street; he moved to Bruton Place in 1963, where he remained until his retirement 10 years later.

Throughout those three decades he was consulted by an increasing number of distinguished collectors, institutional as well as private, and acquired an international reputation for taste, scholarship and flair.

By habit, Calmann was neither soft spoken nor soft thinking. He lived by his wits and his wit -- English as well as German -- and he loved jokes. His rivals might be left to feel sore, but he always found time to be generous to young collectors. He imparted his knowledge to them with a matchless gusto, determined to ensure that their talents were used to good effect. He enjoyed success for its own sake, as much in the careers of others as in his own.

In 1973, Calmann retired to Pilton in Somerset. The glorious woodland garden which he and his wife created, overlooking Glastonbury Tor, is an apt memorial to a creative spirit and a lover of life and beauty.

He is survived by the three daughters of his first marriage, to Kaethe Brasch, and by his widow, Gerta Hertz, niece of the German physicist. Their only son, John, died in 1980. (Times Obituary, Saturday May 8, 1982)

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