Three paintings from a banker’s villa in Charlottenburg that had been thought to be lost were re-discovered by the Mendelssohn-Gesellschaft and, upon its initiative, were restored with the aid of public funds, donations, and grants from a family foundation. The works had been created by the history painter Rudolf Henneberg in 1872 for the billiard room of the villa of banker Robert Warschauer. This was located on Berliner Strasse (today: Ernst Reuter-Platz) and had been designed in 1869 by the architects Martin Gropius and Heino Schmieden.
Two of the paintings depict patriotic scenes from the Middle Ages: the homecoming of wounded cavalrymen and a bridal procession going out to greet them. The images echo the prevailing mood after Germany’s recent victory over France and – at any rate according to family lore – the physiognomies of the characters portrayed are actually those of various members and relatives of the Warschauer family. The third work decorating the billiard room is smaller and shows a group of music-making cherubs – a type of décor more typical of a music salon.
The Warschauers were a family of merchants originally from the city of Königsberg on the Pregel River. The Oppenheims also hailed from there and were friends and relatives of the Warchauers. In the latter half of the 19th century, both families established ties to various branches of the Mendelssohns in Berlin though commerce and marriage. Members of these three families appear in the canvas murals created by the artist Henneberg, who is perhaps best known for the oversized allegorical painting Die Jagd nach dem Glück (Hot in Pursuit of Fortune) on display in Berlin’s Alte Nationalgalerie. Thus, the faces in the bridal procession are those of the daughters of the Warschauers and Oppenheims, while the warriors resemble the various Oppenheims, Mendelssohn Bartholdys, and their respective brothers-in-law who had served in the war against France. It is said that the older man on crutches at the edge of the frame is supposed to depict the ancestral patriarch Moses Mendelssohn; the woman standing next to him sports a golden cross around her neck.
After the Warschauer Villa was hit by bombs during World War II, the three canvases were temporarily stored away in private cellars where they survived, but not without suffering significant damage, due in part to the war. After being gifted with these paintings, bearing witness to Jewish-German assimilation, by descendants of the Warschauer family, the Mendelssohn-Gesellschaft began looking for ways to halt their deterioration and to make them accessible to the public. Henneberg’s scenarios, with all their clashing ideological content, allowed the descendants of the most famous “Jew of Berlin” to indulge in an idealized phantasy of how their own integration and genealogy harmonized with a Christian-Germanic vision of society. Take the backdrop of the bridal procession, for example: a mighty Teutonic castle from which the flag of the German Empire can be seen waving.
From late 2012 to April 2013, Henneberg’s “Allegorical Bridal Procession” was on display as part of the Centrum Judaicum’s exhibition "Moses Mendelssohn - Freunde, Feinde, Familie" (Moses Mendelssohn – Friends, Enemies, Family”) on Oranienburger Strasse. In December of 2014, all three canvases became part of the exhibition Westen! (West!) at the Villa Oppenheim in Charlottenburg, on permanent loan from the Mendelssohn-Gesellschaft.