Index of Historic Collectors and Dealers of Cubism
Lichnowsky (later Peto), Princess Mechtilde, née Countess Mechtilde Christine Marie von Arco-Zinneberg
Schönburg Castle, Niederbayern, Germany, 1879–London, 1958

German novelist, essayist, and poet, Mechtilde Lichnowsky actively participated in Germany’s early twentieth-century cultural and intellectual life. She supported the literary and artistic avant-garde and is recognized as an early collector of Picasso with a focus on the artist’s pre-Cubist period.

Born into an aristocratic Bavarian family, Countess Mechtilde Christine Marie von Arco-Zinneberg was one of three children of Count Maximilian von Arco-Zinneberg and his wife Olga, Baroness von Werther. After her engagement to the British diplomat Sir Ralph Harding Peto did not meet with family approval, in 1904, at age twenty-five, Mechtilde married Prince Karl Max Lichnowsky. Also a diplomat from a family with properties in Silesia, the couple’s main residence became a family castle in Kuchelna (now Chuchelná) in that region. They had three children: Wilhelm, Leonore, and Michael. Lichnowsky’s husband served as the German ambassador in London from 1912 to 1914. With the outbreak of World War I, Prince Lichnowsky became an outspoken critic of Germany’s role in the conflict, for which he was expelled from the Prussian House of Lords in 1918. The same year, the family lost the majority of its Silesian property to the newly established Czechoslovakia.

Lichnowsky credited her early friendship with the Munich neurologist Wilhelm Schenk Freiherr von Stauffenberg for her formative artistic and intellectual development. Through Straffenberg, she befriended the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, philosopher Count Hermann Alexander von Keyserling, and writer and poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal. She also had a close twenty-year friendship with the writer and journalist Karl Krauss. Her own extensive writing career commenced in 1912 with the publication of her first book, a memoir based on a recent trip to Egypt. In addition to her involvement in literary circles, Lichnowsky had a keen interest in the contemporary art scene. She augmented her husband’s family art collection of old masters with examples by emerging artists. By the time the couple moved to London for a diplomatic post, their modern art collection, which they took with them, included Franz Marc, Oskar Kokoschka, and Picasso. Lichnowsky lent two early paintings by Picasso to the artist’s first retrospective organized by Heinrich Thannhauser in his Munich Moderne Galerie in 1913. She owned Blue Boy (1904/1905; Private collection; Daix, and Boudaille, with Rosselet 1967, no. XIII.21), purchased from the dealer Alfred Flechtheim, and the gouache and charcoal drawings Clown and Young Acrobat (1905; Daix, and Boudaille, with Rosselet 1967, no. XII.28). Upon returning to Germany at the outbreak of World War I, Lichnowsky continued her involvement with avant-garde art circles, among them the Arbeitstrat für Kunst (1918–1921), the Berlin-based radical association of architects, artists, and critics spearheaded by the architect Bruno Taut. Lichnowsky placed part of her collection on extended loan at the Kronprinzenpalais (Crown Prince’s Palace) in Berlin, a royal residence converted into a branch of the Nationalgalerie (National Gallery) devoted to modern art following the abdication of Emperor Wilhelm II. In 1919 she acquired another early painting by Picasso, Portrait of Suzanne Bloch (1904; São Paulo Museum of Art) through the German dealer Paul Cassirer, but she sold other works. For example, the American collector Edward M. M. Warburg acquired Picasso’s Blue Boy through Flechtheim in 1926.

After her husband’s death in 1928, Lichnowsky resided in Germany and the south of France, and eventually resumed her relationship with Peto, whom she married in 1937. At this time she became a British citizen and settled in London. On a family visit to Germany that coincided with the outbreak of World War II, Lichnowsky was recognized as an enemy alien. She was placed under house arrest and was unable to return to London until 1946. The remaining Lichnowsky Silesian property was nationalized after World War II by the Czechoslovak government. As a result, a selection of the Lichnowsky family art collection, including works formerly owned by Mechthilde Lichnowsky, for example, Kokoschka’s Portrait of Mechtilde Lichnowsky (1916), are in the collection of Státní zámek, Hradec nad Moravicí (State Chateau, Hradec nad Moravicí) in the Czech Republic.

Contributed by Anna Jozefacka, April 2017
For more information, see:

Daix, Pierre, and Georges Boudaille, with Joan Rosselet. The Blue and Rose Periods. A Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, 1900-1906. Greenwich, Conn.: New York Graphic Society, 1967.

Emonts, Anne Martina. Mechtilde Lichnowsky – Sprachlust und Sprachkritik. Annäherung an ein Kulturphänomen. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2009.

Lichnowsky, Mechtilde. Heute und Vorgestern. Vienna: Bergland, 1958.