Emil Georg Bührle
1890-1956, entrepreneur and art collector
Dmitri Kessel, Emil Bührle in his collection, 1954
© gettyimages


31 August 1890

Emil Georg Bührle is born in Pforzheim as the son of a civil servant from Baden. He attends secondary school, where he first discovers his enthusiasm for art and literature.

1909-1914: Studies

Emil Bührle enrols 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 transfers to the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich. There he also enrols for two lecture series on art history and visits exhibitions and museums in the Bavarian capital. In 1911 Emil Bührle continues his studies in Freiburg, now regularly attending lectures on gothic sculpture given by Professor Wilhelm Vöge. In 1913, Emil Bührle visits the National Gallery in Berlin, where he sees the pictures by French Impressionists acquired by Hugo von Tschudi for the museum despite the vehement opposition of the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II. In Emil Bührle's memory, this encounter was later to crystallise as the decisive moment at which his lifelong fascination with the works of these painters began.

1914-1918: First World War

The First World War breaks out at the beginning of August 1914, and Emil Bührle is called up by the Third Baden Regiment of Dragoons. In July 1916 he is promoted to the rank of lieutenant and takes over the command of a machine-gun train deployed in the war zones of the German Eastern and Western fronts. Bührle makes the acquaintance of the art historian Arthur Kauffmann in Romania.

1919-1923: Starts a family and enters professional life

After the armistice of November 1918 and the collapse of the German Empire, parts of the German army remain mobilised in order to confront revolutionary unrest throughout Germany. Emil Bührle is transferred with his unit to Magdeburg, where he is quartered in the house of the banker Ernst Schalk. He becomes engaged to Schalk's daughter Charlotte in October 1919 and joins the Magdeburger Werkzeug- und Maschinenfabrik AG (Magdeburg Tool and Machine Factory), in which his father-in-law is a stakeholder. After his marriage in 1920, Emil Bührle transfers to a subsidiary of the Magdeburg factory in Stolberg am Harz, where he familiarises himself with the technical aspects of his new position.