1890–1923: The first years, studies, First World War, family and professional life
31 August 1890: Emil Georg Bührle was born at Pforzheim in the Baden region of Germany, the son of a civil servant. He first discovered his enthusiasm for art and literature at secondary school. He remained an active adherent of the Old Catholic faith held by his parents.
In 1909, Emil Bührle enrolled at the Grand Ducal Albert Ludwig University in Freiburg im Breisgau to study philology, attending lectures and courses on German and English literature. In the 1910-11 winter semester he signed up for lecture series on art history at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich and visited exhibitions and museums in the Bavarian capital. On his return to Freiburg, he regularly attended lectures on Gothic sculpture given by Professor Wilhelm Vöge. In 1913 he made a trip to Berlin that he was to remember for the rest of his life: for it was here, in the National Gallery, that he saw French Impressionist paintings for the first time. The purchase of the pictures had prompted a political dispute which led to the museum’s director being dismissed by the German Kaiser.
When the First World War broke out in August 1914, Emil Bührle was called up by the Third Baden Regiment of Dragoons. Promoted to the rank of lieutenant in July 1916, he took over the command of a machine-gun squad deployed on the battlefields of the German Eastern and Western fronts. In Romania he made the acquaintance of the art historian Arthur Kauffmann.
After the armistice of November 1918 and the collapse of the German Empire, parts of the German army remained mobilised in order to confront revolutionary unrest throughout Germany. Emil Bührle was transferred with his unit to Magdeburg, where he was quartered in the house of the banker Ernst Schalk. He became engaged to Schalk’s daughter Charlotte in October 1919 and joined the Magdeburger Werkzeug- und Maschinenfabrik AG (Magdeburg Tool and Machine Factory), in which his father-in-law was a stakeholder. After his marriage in 1920, Emil Bührle transferred to a subsidiary of the Magdeburg factory in Ilsenburg, Harz, where he familiarised himself with the technical aspects of his new position.