Estate of Leni Riefenstahl donated to Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (SPK)


Heiress donates comprehensive collection of original photographs, film material, manuscripts, letters, records, and documents – Kunstbibliothek and Staatsbibliothek to work through estate – cooperation with Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek being pursued – Parzinger: “The estate requires a special responsibility on the part of the SPK.”

Through a generous donation, the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz has acquired the entire estate of Leni Riefenstahl (1902–2003), one of the most prominent yet also controversial artists in the history of German film and photography. As a dancer, actress, filmmaker (producer, director, scriptwriter, editor), and photographer, Riefenstahl enjoyed considerable success throughout her life. In her films and photographs, she displayed innovation, creativity, and a keen eye, for which she was admired and esteemed; in the post-war period, however, she was sharply criticized for having employed her artistic talents in the service of National Socialist propaganda. The legacy comprises extensive photography and film collections, manuscripts, letters, daily schedules, files, and documents as well as books and press clippings.

Inspection and handling

After the death of Riefenstahl’s husband, Horst Kettner, in December 2016, her former secretary, Gisela Jahn, became the sole heir to the artist’s estate. Jahn chose to donate the entirety of Riefenstahl’s estate to the SPK. The archive holdings date back to the 1920s and appear to be virtually complete, especially when it comes to the post-war era. With the transfer of the objects from Riefenstahl’s residence in Pöcking am Starnberger See (Bavaria) and the signing of the donation agreement, an intensive inspection phase is planned for the coming months. An interdisciplinary research and archive team, to be financed by yet-to-be-acquired third-party funding, shall be assembled for the registration and indexing of the artist’s estate. A cooperation with the Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek is being pursued to handle the film works.

“With the acquisition of Leni Riefenstahl’s estate, the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz has taken on not only a body of work with a groundbreaking aesthetic, but also a special responsibility to critically examine this controversial figure of contemporary history,” explains SPK President Hermann Parzinger. “Riefenstahl’s role in National Socialism will be of central importance in the handling of her estate.”

Jahn requested that the estate be housed in Berlin, Riefenstahl’s birthplace. With its museums, libraries, archives, and research institutes, the SPK offers excellent conditions for preserving this complex and multifaceted collection.

Photographic inventory to be maintained by Kunstbibliothek and housed in Museum für Fotografie

The photographs from Riefenstahl’s estate will be in the care of the Kunstbibliothek’s Photography Collection and preserved in the Museum für Fotografie at Bahnhof Zoo. Here, the work of Helmut Newton – a close friend of Riefenstahl in her later years – has been on view since 2004. The friendship between Riefenstahl and Newton is documented through Riefenstahl’s books and letters in the permanent exhibition “Private Property”; Newton’s letters can also be found in Riefenstahl’s archive. In recent years, the Museum für Fotografie has become a lively venue for the critical examination of both historical and present-day photographic works, with over 30 exhibitions having explored the role of photography in art, science, history, and the press. With the addition of the press photo archive of Willy Römer and the estates of other important photographers, the 150-year-old collection has expanded considerably since 2004.

Written materials to be maintained by Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin

The written materials from the Leni Riefenstahl archive – which include correspondence, diaries, and manuscripts – will be in the care of the Manuscripts Department of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, which conserves and provides access to the estates of over 1000 diverse personalities from five centuries’ worth of intellectual, cultural, and scientific life.

Rights of use

The commercial rights were transferred by Jahn to Holger Roost-Macías’s company La Tresor Kreativhandel GmbH; the rights of use for individual digital images will be handled by the bpk-Bildagentur of the SPK.