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German hammer highlights

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WORKS by German Expressionist painters were, not surprisingly, among the most expensive works in the Modern art sales held around Germany in November and early December.

Strong results were secured by familiar names such as Emil Nolde, Max Beckmann, Franz Ludwig Kirchner and Lyonel Feininger.

But these predictable results were augmented by strong sums for works by the Berlin Secessionist sculptor Georg Kolbe, a trademark winter sporting scene from the hand of Austrian Alfons Walde and the €1.7m (£1.44m) paid for the restituted drawing by the 19th century artist Schnorr von Carolsfeld (discussed in News, ATG No 2271)

Highest turnover

The German-American Feininger (1871-1956) topped the bill in a series of art sales held by Grisebach (25% buyer’s premium) in Berlin from November 30-December 3 to mark the firm’s 30th trading year.

This was not only the most successful series in its history but, with a premium-inclusive total of €34m (£28.3m), it also generated the highest turnover of any German auction series since 1945.

The lion’s share of this, €21.6m, came from the selected sale of 66 works which included Feininger’s 3ft 3in x 2ft 7in (1m x 80cm) canvas of 1932, Gelbe Gasse (Yellow Lane).

It was one of the artist’s prismatic townscapes, painted in warm colours and presumably inspired by his visits to historic towns in northern Germany in the early 1930s.

Over the decades it passed through the hands of dealers and collectors in New York, Switzerland, Italy and Germany, before reaching the German collector who consigned it.

Grisebach was expecting €1m-1.5m, but the Swiss buyer paid a solid €2.82m (£2.35m) to outpace his numerous competitors.

An American bidder also went to more than triple the estimate to secure Max Beckmann’s (1884-1950) Stilleben mit brennender Kerze (Still Life with Burning Candle) for €2.36m (£1.96m).

The 20 x 14in (50 x 36cm) canvas was painted in Frankfurt in 1921 and is well documented, having been shown at exhibitions in galleries and museums on a regular basis since its creation.

High-calibre works by Nolde (1867-1956) almost always find buyers at German auctions and his 2ft 5in x 2ft 11in (73 x 89cm) Bewegte See II (Turbulent Sea II) from 1914 performed as expected, bringing €980,000 (£816,665), just shy of the lower estimate. This time, a German collector carried off the prize.

Fernando Botero’s celebratory painting Feliz cumpleaños (Happy Birthday), a table laden with a big fat birthday cake, fruit and bottles (previewed in ATG No 2268, p54), brought proceedings to a suitably upbeat conclusion at a mid-estimate €350,000 (£291,665)

Baltic shores

While artists such as Paul Gauguin and Max Pechstein travelled to the South Seas in search of an unspoilt environment and a pure state of humanity, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938) found his idyll nearer to home: on the island of Fehmarn in the Baltic Sea.

In a letter to a friend from 1912 he wrote: “The extremely strong impression of the first time I was there has become deeper, and I painted pictures there of an absolute maturity, as far as I can judge that for myself.”

One of these paintings came up for sale at Lempertz (24% buyer’s premium) in Cologne on December 2. Mädchen in Südwester (Girl in a Sou’wester), a 20 x 22in (51 x 56cm) canvas, is most certainly a portrait of Erna Schilling, a dancer Kirchner had met in Berlin shortly before.

She accompanied the artist to Fehmarn and became his muse and partner until his suicide in 1938. The painting was shown at various museums in the 1950s and ’60s and again in 2011, and most recently belonged to a Berlin collector.

A phone buyer secured the painting for the lower estimate of €1.3m (£1.08m).

Gone girl

The sale of selected Modern and Contemporary works of art at Nagel (33% buyer’s premium) in Stuttgart on November 19 got off to a spectacular start with the first lot.

A 4ft 4in (1.33m) bronze by the German sculptor Georg Kolbe (1877-1947). Junges Mädchen (Young Girl) can be dated to 1907, when the artist, then still relatively unknown, exhibited a slightly larger plaster model of this figure in the Berlin Secession. Although now lost, it is documented in a contemporary photograph.

Two well-known Berlin collectors commissioned copies of Junges Mädchen in different materials. Kolbe executed one figure in limestone for the banker Karl von der Heydt and one in bronze for the wealthy coal merchant, philanthropist and art collector Eduard Arnhold that was cast as a unique piece by the foundry H Noack in Berlin.

It remained in the possession of Arnhold and his wife Johanna until their deaths in 1925 and 1929. It is not clear what happened to the bronze after that.

In 1979 it resurfaced at an auction in Hamburg, where it was acquired by the father of the vendor.

At some time in the intervening years it must have been left outdoors as the figure is covered in verdigris.

The guide of €15,000 proved to be far too cautious. After prolonged bidding, it sold for €110,000 (£91,665) to a German collector.

Early days of winter sport

Top-seller at the Modern art auction at Karl & Faber (25% buyer’s premium) in Munich on December 6-7 was a painting by the Austrian artist Alfons Walde (1891-1958), who was renowned for his sporting and skiing scenes.

In his youth he witnessed the early days of winter sport in the mountains around the medieval town of Kitzbühel, which was to become a major centre of the new pastime. Mountain scenes, with and without skiers became a dominant feature of his extensive oeuvre.

Der Aufstieg (The Ascent), a 2ft 4in x 19in (70 x 48cm) oil on board, was painted c.1929 and went over the top estimate to sell for €610,000 (£508,335) to an Austrian collector.

This set a new auction record for the artist, surpassing the €500,000 paid at Dorotheum in 2011, for another, slightly smaller version of the same subject.

Photo realism

A week or so later on December 19 Ketterer (25% buyer’s premium) Modern and Contemporary sale in Cologne included a painting by Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011). According to the auctioneers, this was the first time that a large-format work by the American artist had ever been offered at a European sale.

The 3ft 6in x 12ft (1.06 x 3.66m) acrylic was signed, dated 1978 and entitled Marchioness. It is one of the artist’s Abstract Expressionist works inspired by Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, among others.

It is not surprising that collectors from the US were keen to acquire the painting, which had been in the same private collection since 1980 and was estimated at €200,000.

They had to contend with competition from Germany, the Netherlands and the UK, but even they were all outpaced by a collector from Luxembourg who paid €500,000 (£416,665).