The estate of
the photographer Umbo

The work of Otto Maximilian Umbehr (1902 – 1980), nicknamed Umbo, will now be preserved as a complete portfolio. Thanks to the generous assistance of fourteen patrons and sponsors, the estate of this famous photographer of the modernist period has recently been acquired from three different provenances by the Sprengel Museum Hannover, the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation and the Berlinische Galerie.

Umbo, Ohne Titel (Ruth Landshoff mit Katze), 1928, © Phyllis Umbehr/Galerie Kicken Berlin/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2020

Umbo, Ohne Titel (Ruth Landshoff mit Katze), 1928, Leihgabe der Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung, © Phyllis Umbehr/Galerie Kicken Berlin/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2020

The complex purchase deal was pushed forward with tireless commitment by Galerie Kicken, Berlin, together with the artist's daughter, Phyllis Umbehr, and her husband, Manfred Feith-Umbehr, as well as the Kulturstiftung der Länder. Generous assistance was given by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, the Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung, and the LOTTO-Stiftung Berlin, among others.

Umbo's works are a substantial gain for the collections of the three museums. For the Berlinische Galerie, his work from the 1920s and the early 1930s offers a representative picture of a culturally significant period of the Weimar Republic, maybe the most important years of modernism in Berlin. For Hanover, the purchase signifies the reclamation of a piece of the city's art history. It also constitutes an important new cornerstone and a high-profile expansion of the photographic department, especially with regard to the history of photojournalism. The Bauhaus Dessau Foundation receives the part of the Umbo estate that is directly related to photography at the Bauhaus. The Umbo works significantly strengthen the photographic section of the collection.

Selected works
from the estate

All works of the Umbo estate

in our Collection Online

Photographer of modernism

Besides László Moholy-Nagy, Otto Umbehr is the most important photographic artist to have emerged from the Bauhaus and his work still stands for modernist photography today. Influenced by his early association with the back-to-nature Wandervogel movement, Umbehr attended the State Bauhaus in Weimar from 1921 to 1923. In 1926, encouraged by his friend Paul Citroen, he set up a photography studio in Berlin. Umbo's early years as a photographer centred on the bohemian world of actors and artists. The melancholy of the big city became his main theme. In capturing urban landscapes, he trod a very personal path, guided by an aesthetic in which the formal principles of the objectivist "new vision" were combined with the expressive aesthetic of Johannes Itten, his former teacher at the Bauhaus. During the Second World War, Umbo's studio - and with it his archive - was destroyed in a bombing raid on Berlin. After the war, the artist and his family settled in Hanover. In the 1950s, he created photograms, portraits and photo documentaries, many of them for British clients. Umbo subsequently remained involved in art as a teacher of photography and an employee of the Kestner-Gesellschaft, an art society, but his work slipped into oblivion. Then, in 1979, Spectrum photo gallery in Hanover held Umbo's first solo exhibition since the Second World War. The reappraisal of his work during the 1980s, which began shortly before his death in 1980, is thanks to his agent, gallery owner Rudolf Kicken, who had promised him to preserve his life's work and to try to find a place for it in a German museum.

Photograph by Umbo (Otto Maximilian Umbehr), silver gelatin paper, 21,1 x 16,2 cm

Umbo, Ohne Titel (Porträt Paul Citroen), 1926

© Phyllis Umbehr/Galerie Kicken Berlin/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2019

This black-and-white photograph shows the face of the artist Paul Citroen. His ears, hair and chin have been cropped out of the close-up. The pores in his nose and cheeks and the wrinkles on his forehead are clearly visible. His dark eyes look straight at the camera. Little points of light are reflected in his pupils.


Umbo assigned the exclusive agent's rights to his works from before 1945 to Gallery Kicken, which also received Umbo's photographs from Paul Citroen's estate. For several decades, Rudolf Kicken was unstinting in his efforts to secure the preservation of the complete body of work in a way that would make it accessible to the public. He worked on this project in close collaboration with the artist's daughter, Phyllis Umbehr, who owned another part of the estate with her husband, Manfred Feith-Umbehr. They made all these works available for study, which enabled art historian Professor Herbert Molderings to write a seminal monograph on Umbo. In 2000, the collector Thomas Walther acquired a significant part of the artist's estate. He too was interested in making this acquisition available to a German museum in the long term. The purchase of the works by the three museums was the fruit of seven years' preparation. Not only did financing have to be arranged, but also the details of bringing together work from these three different provenances. In addition, Phyllis Umbehr's donation of a large quantity of related archival material now allows the comprehensive scientific appraisal of Umbo's oeuvre.


The acquisition of the estate is celebrated with a comprehensive exhibition. With some 200 works and documents, this is the photographer's first major retrospective in 24 years. "Umbo. Photographer. Works 1926 – 1956" is an exhibition of the Sprengel Museum Hannover, which was created in cooperation with the Berlinische Galerie and the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation. From 21.02.2020 to 25.05.2020 this retrospective, after Hannover, can be seen at the Berlinische Galerie.

The three museums concerned have agreed to carry out scientific documentation and dissemination in close cooperation and to make their parts of the collection mutually available.

Patrons and Sponsors

The Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, the Kulturstiftung der Länder, and the Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung. Further supporter of the Berlinische Galerie: LOTTO-Stiftung Berlin. Further supporters of the Sprengel Museum Hannover: State Capital Hanover, State of Lower Saxony, Fritz Behrens Foundation, Lower Saxony Foundation, Verein der Freunde des Sprengel Museum Hannover e.V. Further supporters of the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation: Saxony-Anhalt Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs, Hermann Reemtsma Foundation, Fritz Thyssen Foundation, Wüstenrot Foundation, Lotto Sachsen-Anhalt.