Paintings by Stanislaw Kubicki rarely make it to auction, so the appearance of the 4ft 11in x 4ft 2in (1.51 x 1.26m) panel Aufsetzender Storch II (Landing Stork II) at Lehr (22% buyer’s premium) in Berlin on April 30 caused something of a stir. Of German-Polish origins, Kubicki is considered to be the most accomplished representative of Polish Expressionism.
He was equally at home in the artistic circles of Berlin and in 1931 he presented 36 pictures of people, animals, plants and towns in his characteristic deconstructed style at an exhibition in the German capital. The painting of the stork, which he executed at the behest of his wife and fellow painter Margarete Kubicka can be seen in this context.
Soon afterwards the couple fled to Poland, where Kubicki later joined the Polish resistance. He was captured by the Gestapo and died at their hands in 1942. His German wife managed to survive; she lived and worked in Berlin until 1984. The painting in Berlin came from her legacy and was expected to bring €80,000.
An Austrian museum had hoped to make a purchase, but at €130,000 (£109,245) it was outbid by a Polish collector. Kubicki’s Self Portrait, an oil on cardboard from 1911 from the same source, changed hands for €36,000 (£30,250).
While the €50,000 hammer price for the rare bracket clock by the celebrated London clockmaker Joseph Knibb made the headlines (ATG No 2543), the highest price of the May 7-8 sale at Schloss Ahlden (25% buyer’s premium) was achieved for one of the few known paintings by Walter Spies.
Born in Moscow in 1895, he spent much of his working life in Berlin. By his own account, he never painted more than three or four paintings a year because he was too busy doing other things.
Many of these involved the film director Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, the maker of the classic horror film Nosferatu, who became Spies’ partner in 1920. The colour scheme of his paintings was greatly influenced by the lighting of Murnau’s films. The 1ft 11in x 19in (58 x 47cm) oil on paper Transformationakt (Transformation Act) on offer was painted soon after 1920 and is one of the artist’s earliest works.
It depicts a somewhat bizarre set of musicians in the orchestra pit and a dancer on stage as Carmen. At the same time, she is seen preparing for her performance behind a paravent. The figure was probably inspired by Pola Negri’s role as the femme fatale in Ernst Lubitsch’s film of the same name.
In the late 1920s Spies travelled to Bali where he stayed for the rest of his life. However, even in the island paradise in 1938 he was arrested for ‘unmoral behaviour’ and spent eight months in prison.
He was later interned as a hostile alien and in 1942 was deported, along with 400 others, on a freighter bound for Bombay. The ship was sunk by a Japanese plane and all on board perished.
The painting in the sale, which had been owned by various descendants of Murnau, was sold to a German collector for a lower-estimate €300,000 (£252,100).
£1 = €1.19