Family Card - Person Sheet
Family Card - Person Sheet
NameReinhardt (Reinhold) Hans CASSIRER
Birth12 Mar 1908, Berlin705
DeathOct 2001, Johannesburg
OccupationSouthebys CEO in South Africa
FatherDr Hugo CASSIRER (1869-1920)
ChildrenVicki (~1951-1974)
 Roger (~1951-~1972)
Birth20 Nov 1923, Springs, South Africa807,808
Death13 Jul 2014, South Africa
MotherHannah (Nan) MYERS (1897-1973)
Marriage12 Jan 1954809
ChildrenHugo (1955-)
Notes for Reinhardt (Reinhold) Hans CASSIRER
For Nadine Gordimer and Reinhold’s meeting and her introduction to his Berlin click on

Sunday Times Obituary: Eccentric art dealer in a class of his own705

Reinhold Cassirer, who has died in Johannesburg at the age of 93, was married to Nadine Gordimer for almost 50 years. Far from being overshadowed by the famous Nobel laureate for literature, his own contribution to the arts in South Africa was profound.

He established Sotheby's in South Africa in 1969 and ran it for 11 years before starting his own gallery, Cassirer's Fine Art, in Rosebank, Johannesburg. He identified, nurtured and exhibited some of South Africa's best artists long before they became famous. Major talents like William Kentridge, David Koloane, Sam Hlengethwa, Deborah Bell and Karel Nel were introduced to the world in his gallery.

When Kentridge lost all belief in himself as an artist and stopped painting, Cassirer - who was every bit as obtuse as he was enthusiastic - wouldn't hear of it. He cajoled and bullied the demoralised artist into picking up his brushes again.

Cassirer largely avoided being drawn into the fierce rivalry between dealers. When he retired he took Kentridge to lunch with Linda Goodman, founder of another famous Johannesburg gallery, and rather formally handed him over. This unusual gesture was as typical of the eccentric art dealer as was his parting admonishment to Kentridge to mind his table manners.

When exile Gerard Sekoto was down and out in Paris, Cassirer visited him there and decided to reintroduce him to the country of his birth. He mounted Sekoto's first one-man exhibition in South Africa, found buyers for his work and did more than anyone else to re-establish his name in SA.

Cassirer came from one of Germany's most intellectually, culturally and commercially distinguished families. He was born in Berlin on March 12 1908. His father, Hugo, who died when Reinhold was 12, was a leading industrialist who built up a successful cable manufacturing business and used his wealth to acquire a major art collection.

Reinhold's early life was steeped in the privilege that characterised the German elite of that era. He took a horse and cab to school, and hunting parties were de rigueur. He attended Heidelberg University and became a doctor of philosophy. He studied in Switzerland with his close friend Golo Mann, son of the writer Thomas Mann, and at the London School of Economics.

His life was turned upside down when Hitler came to power in 1933. Two years later the family business was confiscated by the Nazis, and later became part of Siemens. There was never any financial compensation, although there is today a Hugo Cassirer Street in Berlin.

Reinhold managed to save much of his father's art collection from the Nazis. He and a friend loaded the works onto a train and went to Holland. When confronted, they said the friend was an artist and they were going to exhibit his paintings in Amsterdam.

His uncle Bruno Cassirer is recognised as one of the most important art publishers of the 20th century. Another uncle, Ernst Cassirer, was a famous philosopher.

When the cable manufacturing business was confiscated, a company agent in South Africa happened to be visiting and suggested the family emigrate there.

While his uncle Bruno went to London and joined the publishing house Faber & Faber, and his brother Stefan went to Denmark, Reinhold came to Johannesburg, followed a couple of years later by his mother, Charlotte.

He joined the SA Army when World War 2 began, and was sent to Cairo, where he was seconded to British Intelligence with the rank of captain. He led a team that monitored all speeches and broadcasts from Germany.

His father's business had supplied electrical equipment to mines around the world and, after the war, Cassirer used some of these connections to establish a mine engineering company.

Art was always closest to his heart, however.

Refugees from Europe had brought a lot of valuable works with them to South Africa. Cassirer knew many of both the paintings and their owners. His family name had been highly respected in the art world of pre-war Germany, and he had an extensive knowledge of art. He was ideally placed to make the most of the opportunities that arose when they decided to sell.

When the then chairman of Sotheby's in London, Peter Wilson, visited South Africa in 1969, Cassirer persuaded him to open a branch of the auction house in South Africa, and let him run it.

Cassirer brought a novel integrity and aesthetic standard to the art business locally. He abhorred some of the practices he observed. Passing something off as a Rembrandt, for example, without authentication, was something he would never have dreamed of doing. No more did he keep quiet about a work which he knew had been heavily restored.

It was not altogether surprising that, by the time he retired from Sotheby's in 1980, he'd put most of the once leading auctioneers in town out of business.

The respect he commanded overseas helped him open up the SA art market to the world. In the mid-1970s he persuaded Sotheby's to hold sales of Impressionist artists in South Africa for two or three years, and it is thanks to him that many South Africans are the proud owners of paintings that would certainly be beyond their means to buy today.

As a dealer Cassirer was unusually frank about the quality of work presented to him, often to the point of being found abrasive. But there was no arrogance about him, and artists soon learned to respect his honesty.

In 1954 Cassirer became Gordimer's second husband, and she his third wife. He is survived by three children.

Chris Barron

Sunday Times

Location: Sunday 28 Oct 2001 > Insight
Last Modified 30 Sep 2015Created 21 Mar 2024 by Jim Falk