August Gaul’s “Reclining Lion” from the Rudolf Mosse Collection Soon on Display in the James-Simon-Galerie


With Reclining Lion by the sculptor August Gaul, the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin is placing a reminder of the expropriation of the art collection of publisher and art patron Rudolf Mosse (1843–1920) in a central position of the James-Simon-Galerie. The sculpture formed part of the Lachmann-Mosse family’s art collection, which was confiscated by the Nazis. The work was restituted in 2015, and in 2016, was able to be re-acquisitioned for the Nationalgalerie with the help of a grant from the Federal Government’s Commissioner for Culture and the Media, and funds from the Kulturstiftung der Länder. Following extensive restoration work, from 13 July 2019, the sculpture will be on permanent display in the foyer of the James-Simon-Galerie.

The sculptor August Gaul

August Gaul (1869–1921) is an important exponent of German sculpture, and was a seminal figure in the transition to Modernism. Gaul was elected as a member of the Prussian Academy in 1904, was made a professor in 1908, and in 1919 he was appointed to the acquisitions committee of the Nationalgalerie in Berlin. Gaul’s work was included in numerous key private and museum collections. In his oeuvre, Gaul concentrated largely on the genre of animal art, thus abandoning the traditional genres favoured by nineteenth-century sculptural commissions: portraiture and historic monuments.

August Gaul’s Reclining Lion

Rudolf Mosse commissioned August Gaul to make Reclining Lion, which is larger than life-size, around the year 1900. He exhibited it in his palace on Leipziger Platz, where from 1910, he presented his extensive art collection to the public.

The lion, which weighs more than a ton, and whose mane and muscles are rendered in an ornamental fashion, marks a reorientation for Gaul, a turn away from naturalistically lively, symbolically charged representations of animals, to a more relaxed style that eschewed detail and condensed larger surfaces to produce complete sculptural forms. Gaul’s Reclining Lion is an explicitly commissioned work, as the magazine Die Kunst reported, ordered by a “local lover of the arts” (Die Kunst, 1902/03, p.550): the publisher and art collector Rudolf Mosse.

Gaul, who had learned to work with stone in his father’s business, defied the conventions of the time by carrying out the work himself, and deciding against making reproductions, so that the design could be disseminated in other materials.

Confiscation, restitution and re-exhibiting of the Reclining Lion

Up until 1929, the lion was still on exhibit in the entry hall of Mosse’s palace, but by 1935 at least, there is documentation of it in the grounds of the family estate at Leipziger Platz 15.

Gaul’s Reclining Lion was not auctioned off with the majority of the family’s collection, and remained in the entryway of Mosse’s city estate, where it survived the destruction of the war virtually unscathed.

The Mosse Art Research Initiative (MARI)

The work was able to be restituted to the heirs of the Lachmann-Mosse family in 2015, before the Mosse Art Research Initiative (MARI) was even founded, and in 2016, was acquisitioned for the Nationalgalerie with the help of a grant from the Commissioner for the Federal Government for Culture and the Media (BKM) and funding from the Kulturstiftung der Länder. Upon completion of extensive restoration work, the sculpture will be on permanent display from 13 July 2019 in the newly opened James-Simon-Galerie.

Participants in this project include the Kulturstiftung der Länder, the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preussischer Kulturbesitz, the Jewish Museum Berlin Foundation and the Landesarchiv Berlin. Cooperation partners include the Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe, the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum in Cologne, Museum Wiesbaden, the Museum der Stadt Worms and the Mathildenhöhe Darmstadt. The Staatliche Museen zu Berlin is represented in the cooperation by the Zentralarchiv. The Zentralarchiv also carried out the research on the objects from the Mosse Collection that were located in the Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin’s holdings.

This research project is supported by the German Lost Art Foundation in Magdeburg and the Mosse Art Restitution Project.