Papers relating to the life and work of Herbert Bier, an Anglo-German art dealer who worked in Britain from 1936 to his death in 1981, including papers concerning purchases and sales of works of art, research on artists and works of art, exporting and importing of goods, sales at auctions, work-related trips, his emigration from Germany, and his role as 'porter' in the cataloguing of the Guelph treasure (or Welfenschatz). Papers include correspondence, diaries, accounts, photographs, postcards, stock records, address books and notebooks.
Herbert Bier, art dealer: papers
Scope and Content
Administrative / Biographical History
Herbert Normann Bier was born on the 17th January 1905 in Frankfurt am Main, the third child to Guido Bier (1871 - 1934) and Charlotte Hackenbroch (1878 - 1967). He attended the local Jewish school, coming from an Orthodox family, before moving to Berlin after the First World War (1914 - 1918) where his father joined the family estate agency firm.
Bier gained a thorough foundation in art history and art dealing through working as an apprentice to his uncle, Z.M. Hackenbroch (1887 - 1937), who owned a leading art and antique dealing firm in Frankfurt. Acting as the firm’s representative he travelled extensively, attending lectures at universities and working at renowned institutions and under art experts, including at the Kaiser Friedrich Museum (later called the Bode Museum) in Berlin between 1922 - 1923 under Professor Dr Kurth (also known as Kurt), and as an assistant to August Liebmann Mayer (1885 - 1944) at the Alte Pinakotek in Munich between 1923 - 24. Bier also worked with the art dealer Hermann Ball in Berlin between 1925 and 1926. In addition, Bier’s uncle had bought a third’s share in the Guelph Treasure (also known as Welfenschatz), and Bier acted as a ‘porter’ on this cataloguing project in Aarau for 3 weeks, where he was responsible for opening the treasure to the public.
Bier resided throughout Europe between 1926 and 1928 including living in Paris, Florence and London, and spent time visiting museums and learning about the art markets. Whilst in Paris he shared an apartment with Hans Stiebel (d.1964) who was in the employment of his uncle, J. Rosenbaum, the owner of another leading art dealing company in Berlin. The first item the pair bought was a coach and, on selling it, they celebrated by each buying a black-pearl tie pin. Bier then returned to Frankfurt where he was made Junior Partner in 1929.
Following the Nuremburg Laws of 1935, Bier was expelled from the 'Reichskammer der bildenden Künste' (literally 'The Chamber of Fine Arts and Culture') meaning that he could no longer work as an art dealer in Germany. In order to continue working, he emigrated to London where he set up a new branch of Z.M. Hackenbroch’s firm, until his uncle’s death in 1937, and also began working as a dealer on his own account. Whilst in London, Bier shared an office in St. James’ Street with the Russian art historian and dealer, Vitale Bloch (1900 - 1975), with whom Bier bought many pieces of art, although they were never partners. They also travelled to America in 1937, with Bier returning again in 1939. On these visits Bier travelled extensively, visiting numerous museums and making contacts (many of whom were former contacts of Z.M. Hackenbroch), and consolidating his knowledge of the American market. Most importantly he identified gaps in the American collections which he later worked hard to fill by matching up works of art for sale on the art markets in Europe and, in particular, Britain.
At the outbreak of the Second World War (1939 - 1945) Bier, despite applying to join the British Armed Forces, was interned as an enemy alien on the Isle of Man. He was later released after stating on his application that he could “boost exports as a picture dealer”, and in March 1942 he joined the Pioneer Corps, a British Army Combatant Corps used for engineering tasks. In 1944, when it became possible, Bier joined the British Army and was involved in the interrogation of Prisoners of War in Belgium and later in London.
Bier met Lieselotte Bock during the war and they were married in 1946. Lieselotte assisted Bier with the business, in particular acting as his secretary, keeping the accounts, and assisting at auctions. Throughout the war Bier tried (with difficulty) to keep running his business and it slowly began to grow due to his thorough knowledge of art and understanding of the movements of the art markets.
Bier’s main clients were a wide range of private individuals and museums around the world and he developed a close relationship with the Cleveland Museum of Art (and then director William M. Milliken), as well as with Mary Woodall (the London representative of the National Gallery of Australia, Melbourne). Other major museum clients included the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Morgan Library & Museum in New York, as well as the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, and the National Gallery in Victoria, Australia. He also had a very close friendship with Sir Francis Watson of The Wallace Collection.
It was common for art dealers to join together in various combinations to purchase a particular work of art for their stock as they had more purchasing power at the auction houses or with private vendors and also were able to participate in more transactions by sharing the costs and their contacts. The partnerships varied from item to item and amongst Bier’s British partners were Margaret Drey, Dr Alfred Scharf, Dr Edmund Schilling and his wife Rosi, Heinrich Eisemann and Neville Orgel.
In the 1960s Bier was approached by an old school friend, Richard Ettinghausen, to help him select and purchase a wide range of artwork in London for a new museum of Islamic art in Jerusalem, to be called the ‘L.A. Mayer Memorial Museum of Islamic Art.’ Bier had been chosen because of his notoriously ‘good eye’ and his trustworthy nature. He immediately immersed himself in the subject, working alongside Professor Otto Kurz who was knowledgeable about manuscripts.
Aside from art Bier enjoyed theatre, music, opera and film, but his other great passion was hiking, and he regularly completed the weekly walks published in Evening Standard by ‘Fieldfare’ and made annual visits to the Alps.
The original order of the collection has been maintained where possible and arranged to reflect the form of the records. An artificial arrangement has been implemented where no original order was discernible, in the case of BIER/R and BIER/PE. For further details see arrangement fields at series and sub-series level.
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Additional material possible