CHISWICK Auctions are set to sell one of the most important early paintings by the German Expressionist Ludwig Meidner (1884-1966) to have come to market in recent years.
The authenticity of the painting, which slipped through the hands of both Sotheby's and Christie's, has recently been confirmed after months of research led by the West London auctioneers under the guidance of the leading academic in the field.
It is estimated to fetch £800,000-£1.2m on September 28.
The Meidner oil is thought to date from November 1912, the key moment in his artistic development, which marked a radical change in style and occasioned the name-making series of paintings dubbed the Apocalyptic Landscapes that anticipated the horrors of the Great War.
The 2ft 6in x 2ft (75 x 60cm) painting, provisionally titled The Miners, depicts the growing unrest that spread among the coal miners of Eastern Prussia and Poland in the spring and summer of 1912, provoking the Prussian Government to announce that the strikers would be "suppressed with an iron hand".
Several clues have helped confirm the identity of the painting. Both carbon dating and pigment analysis conducted by the London specialists Art Access and Research at a cost of £4000 (not an insignificant outlay for a local auction room) dated the painting to around 1910, which discounted the possibility that it was a recent forgery.
A handwriting expert further agreed the pencil inscription to the stretcher was that of the German artist. However, the vital piece of evidence was an incomplete and defaced self-portrait on the back of the canvas (Meidner was a habitual self-portraitist). Infra-red photography was able to extract a clear image of the under-drawing for this self-portrait, which is very similar to another known Meidner work, Mein Nachgesicht (My Nocturnal Visage) sold by Sotheby's in 2007 for £1.5m.
According to Erik Riedel, senior curator of the Ludwig Meidner Archive at the Jewish Museum in Frankfurt, "the under-drawing for this self-portrait probably dates to around 1908", when Meidner returned from studying at the Julien and Cormon Academies in Paris to set up his studio in Berlin.
For Meidner, who as a child had grown up in the coal mining areas of Silesia, the social struggles of the miners were to be part of his inspiration, and the academic believes the artist has included himself in picture, as the single figure to the left of the composition. The discovery of the picture (which may be that described in an exhibition of 1918), is already recorded on the website of the Ludwig Meidner Archive.
Riedel has suggested that the painting was among 80 works (most of them now accounted for) brought by the artist to England in the shadow of the Second World War.
As a Jew and a 'subversive' artist whose work was displayed in the infamous Entartete Kunst exhibition in 1937, Meidner and his wife Else finally fled Nazi Germany for England in the summer of 1939 with assistance from the artist Augustus John. Meidner was interned as an enemy alien on the Isle of Man and stayed in England, largely unrecognised, working in odd jobs until 1953 when he returned to Germany.
This mining scene, a harbinger of the intensity and creativity of the Apocalyptic Landscapes, had languished for many years in a storage facility before it was bought by a member of the trade.
He consigned it first to Sotheby's (who incurred the wrath of the consignor when they neglected to verify the painting and include it in a forthcoming sale) and then to Christie's (whose German consultant had been equivocal regarding its authenticity and the historical accuracy of the subject matter).
The painting is expected to draw interest from a number of collectors and institutions when it goes under the hammer in West London on September 28.
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By Roland Arkell