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    Sale 7562

    Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale

    4 February 2008, London, King Street

  • Lot 85

    Conrad Felixmüller (1897-1977)

    Ruhrrevier I (recto);
    Schöne Frau (II. Londa) (verso)

    Price Realised  

    Conrad Felixmüller (1897-1977)
    Ruhrrevier I (recto);
    Schöne Frau (II. Londa) (verso)
    signed 'Felixmüller' (recto, lower left); signed and dated 'C.Felixmüller 1929' (verso, upper left)
    oil on canvas
    31½ x 25 5/8 in. (80 x 65 cm.)
    Painted in 1920 (recto); Painted in 1929 (verso)


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    'Why the people of this region left such an impression on me is perhaps hard to understand if you haven't seen what I have seen. If I just say that I feel privileged to have seen behind the rough, crushed and gnarled hands and faces of these wonderful working people who welcomed me, it is that simple. Only with these fists and these minds is it possible for the Express train to run... And so now whenever I see a train pull into or out of the station I think of these miners. It was something fundamentally noble, what I saw there. I have never seen so much love and devotion to work as in these people and consequently I have nothing but the highest respect for them' (Conrad Felixmüller 'Meine Reise Inns Ruhrgebiet' included in 'Brief an Heinrich Kirchhoff', 1920 in Arbeit und Alltag, exh. cat., Gallerie Remmert und Barth, Düsseldorf 1986).

    In 1920 Felixmüller won the Sächsischen Staatspreis (The State Prize of Saxony) for his painting of a pregnant woman in a forest. This prize took the form of a grant that enabled the recipient to spend two years painting in Rome. Instead of travelling to the Italian capital however, Felixmüller chose, and was allowed, to spend the money on an extended stay amongst the proletarian working families of the heavy industrial area of the Ruhr - an area known as the Ruhrrevier.

    The resulting paintings of the Ruhrrevier that Felixmüller produced between 1920 and 1921 are widely regarded as the finest of his career. Marking the culmination of the Expressionist tendency in his work these gritty heartfelt works attempt to accentuate and contrast the raw humanity of the workers against the dark mechanised landscape of the Ruhr and the grim working conditions that characterised these people's daily struggle for existence.

    Felixmüller's journey to the Ruhr proved a revelation for the artist and crystallised his belief that despite the repression of modern capitalism, the proletarian remained at heart essentially a force for good. Moreover it encouraged his belief that the foundation of a better society lay amongst the simple values of these hardworking people. Simple truths such as honest labour and devotion to family life became the cornerstones of Felixmüller's ideological program of reform for the corrupt and evil world he saw around him in the modern-day Babylons of Dresden and Berlin. The revelatory nature of Felixmüller's time among the miners of the Ruhr has been preserved by a series of letters that the artist wrote to his patron Heinrich Kirchhoff which eloquently convey the excitement and sense of wonder that this experience of 'life's other side' brought to him.

    'I can barely describe how I felt when I saw the first coal mine' Felixmüller exclaimed in one letter. 'My heart stopped, unable to believe that people with their coal-picks and headlamps actually left behind the wonderful sunshine of the surface-world and descended into the vast depths of these coalmines. And for what purpose? To bring up that black substance: coal, the fuel which everyone burns casually in their homes. It shocked me that the greater public give little or no thought to the men who spend their lives mining it. These are men who in the darkest of workspaces, dangerous workplaces, afford us the means to travel and to heat our homes. I was left with many thoughts in my head. These thoughts were to affect my ability to paint, as I soon found out. For, after cutting my hair I took my note pad and tried to sketch, but sadly, to no avail. I was too shell-shocked from what I had seen...With time, and my thoughts more relaxed, I did let my creative juices flow, and I captured some of my impressions on paper.
    Again, it was not the physical infrastructure which I was drawing, not the machinery or the foundries, but the larger picture. It was the people who worked in those places. I wanted to capture the thoughts and internal expressions/emotions of the miners themselves, to dig deep into their psyches and transfer their thoughts onto my paper' (ibid).

    Indeed, such was the force of the impressions of the Ruhrrevier on Felixmüller that it was only a year later on his return to Dresden that he was fully able to absorb what he had witnessed and became convulsed with a deep inner need to give visual form to his memories of his time among the miners. 'It has become a focal point of my life's work' he remarked at this time, 'to depict my every impression of my time in the region. In fact, I am so full of impressions from my journeys/travels that when I sit down to sketch, it leads me to creating a woodcut, and then a watercolour, and then even a further oil on canvas. There is so much inside of me that I must let it out, in every medium I can.' It was, he wrote, 'my inner being, my inner soul that is creating the art.' (ibid).

    For Felixmüller the life of the miners in the Ruhr brought into focus the central issues of his age. The miners' evident exploitation by an uncaring capitalist world, highlighted the harsh injustice of the age and outlined the need for class struggle. The remarkable humanity and the kindnesses Felixmüller had received from the miners, in spite of this evident injustice, confirmed for him the rightness of his cause and his devotion to the KPD (the German Communist party) which, after the murder of its leaders, during the Sparticist uprising one year before, was in a state of relative division and confusion. 'The sight of the sad and dilapidated worker's houses standing lonely in the smoky landscape opposite the enormous and unnatural corrosive pits will forever remain as an unforgettable memory in my heart' Felixmüller wrote to Kirchhofer. 'Often we would encounter people wandering in the area, miners with a day off or between shifts, and sometimes even the wives of these miners, with their children in tow. Perhaps it was only me who felt this, but I thought I could see in their faces these people's difficult struggle for their own personal existence, a basic struggle of a whole society fighting for survival against the power of Nature, a day to day struggle that they carved out piece by piece with their coal picks. It was a tragedy, for these people were beautiful human beings, strong and willing, and yet full of humility.' In a reference to these miners' opposition to the Kapp Putsch of March 1920 when in response to a call for a general strike with which to defeat the ultra-right wing Wolfgang Kapp, the workers so-called 'Rote Ruhrarme' (Red Ruhr Army) rose up to become, temporarily, the ruling power in the area, Felixmüller added, 'How it wounds my heart to think of how thousands of these people were imprisoned, wounded or shot like wild animals last month simply because they unselfishly fought for their rights and for the coming society!' (ibid).

    With its imposing skyline of pit-head frames and chimneys outlined against a dark and oppressive sky and its proletarian worn-out mother cradling a baby in the foreground, Ruhrrevier I is one of the first and most moving of the great series of works that Felixmüller produced in response to his time in the Ruhr. The direct and stark contrast between such a bleak and horrifying modern landscape of industrial machinery with a lone mother and child is a deliberate one. In the immediate aftermath of the armistice and the Revolution of 1918, idealised images of mothers and children abounded in much Expressionist art as a symbol of optimism for the future and the 'new dawn' that they hoped the new Republic would bring. After the murder of the Communist leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht by right-wing forces in 1919, these hopes faded.

    For Felixmüller the subject of the united and happy family unit remained however, a potent symbol of the socialist ideal and was one that he propagated time and again in his own art. His emotive and expressive depiction in this deliberately dark and powerful painting of a lone mother and her clearly bleak struggle for the future of child amidst the unforgiving industrial climate of the Ruhr, marks a new departure for him. A clear move away from the utopian idealism with which he and many Expressionist painters had first greeted the establishment of the Republic, this painting in its raw, straightforward and honest engagement with the harsh realities of contemporary life in Germany is also a cry of protest. A bold, simple and provocating image Ruhrrevier is also one of the first examples of the then emerging socio-critical or Verist tendency in German art that would come to dominate the art of the 1920s.

    Special Notice

    No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.


    Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner in 1972.


    Pre-Lot Text

    THE PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE GERMAN COLLECTOR


    Literature

    So stehen wir uns im Wege, Dortmund, 1987 (recto illustrated in colour).
    S. Poley, Rollenbilder im Nationalsozialismus - Umgang mit dem Erbe, 1991, p. 107 (illustrated in colour).
    H. Spielmann, Conrad Felixmüller, Monographie und Werkverzeichnis der Gemälde, Cologne, 1996, nos. 216 (recto) & 442 (verso)(recto illustrated p. 234 and in colour pl. 33, p. 89; verso illustrated p. 266).


    Exhibited

    Frankfurt-am-Main, Kunstsalon Ludwig Schames, Felixmüller, 1921, no. 4.
    Heilbronn, Kunstverein Heilbronn, Neue Malerei, 1921.
    Bielefeld, Oberrealschule, Felixmüller und Bockstiegel, 1924, no. 36.
    Barmen, Kunstverein in der Ruhmeshalle, 1924.
    Berlin, Galerie Fritz Gurlitt, Conrad Felixmüller - Sonderausstellung, 1929, n.n. (verso exhibited); this exhibition later travelled to Dresden, Stettin, Prague and Munich.
    Chemnitz, Kunsthütte Chemnitz, Conrad Felixmüller (verso exhibited).
    Biberach, Städtische Sammlungen Biberach, Braith-Mali-Museum, Conrad Felixmüller, 1968, no. 2.
    Rome, Hermes Studio d'Arte, Conrad Felixmüller, 1971, n.n. (illustrated).
    Berlin, Ehemalige Nationalgalerie, Conrad Felixmüller, Malerei von 1913-1973, 1973, no. 7 (illustrated in colour).
    Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Albertinum, Conrad Felixmüller - Gemälde - Aquarelle - Zeichnungen - Druckgraphik, 1975-1976, no. 11 (illustrated in colour pl. 3); this exhibition travelled to Rostock, Kunsthalle and Berlin, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (ost), Nationalgalerie, Kupferstichkabinett, Sammlung der Zeichnungen.
    Munich, Galleria del Levante, Dresdner Sezession 1919-1923, 1977-1978, n.n. (illustrated); this exhibition travelled to Kaiserslautern, Pfalzgalerie, Berlin, Neue Berliner Kunsthalle and Höchst, Jahrhunderthalle.
    Berlin, Akademie der Künste, Kunst des XX. Jahrhunderts aus Berliner Privatbesitz, 1978, no. 21 (illustrated).
    Dortmund, Museum am Ostwall, Conrad Felixmüller 1897-1977, 1978-1979, no. 1 (illustrated in colour p. 31); this exhibition travelled to Wiesbaden, Nassauischer Kunstverein and Saarbrücken, Saarland Museum.
    Münster, Westfälisches Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, Industriebilder aus Westfalen 1800-1960, 1979, no. 98.
    Recklinghausen, Städtische Kunsthalle, Conrad Felixmüller, 1982-1983, no. 18 (illustrated p. 45); this exhibition travelled to Gladbeck, Museum der Stadt.
    Hamburg, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Eva und die Zukunft, 1986, no. 154 (illustrated p. 237).
    Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, German Expressionism 1915-1925 - The Second Generation, 1988-1989, no. 51 (illustrated in colour p. 20); this exhibition travelled to Fort Worth, Modern Art Museum, Düsseldorf, Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf im Ehrenhof and Halle, Staatliche Galerie Moritzburg.
    Schleswig, Schleswig-Holsteinisches Landesmuseum Schloss Gottorf, Conrad Felixmüller, Gemälde - Aquarelle - Zeichnungen - Druckgraphik - Skulpturen, 1990-1991, no. 17 (illustrated in colour p. 85); this exhibition travelled to Düsseldorf, Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf im Ehrenhof, Braunschweig, Kunstverein and Halle, Staatliche Galerie Moritzburg.
    Bonn, Landesvertretung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Expressionismus in Westfalen, 1990-1991, no. 106 (illustrated in colour pl. 208); this exhibition travelled to Brussels, Verbindungsbüro Nordrhein-Westfalen and Lüdenscheid, Städtische Galerie.
    Leicester, Leicestershire Museums, Between Politics and Studio - Conrad Felixmüller, 1994, no. 18 (illustrated in colour pl. 9).
    Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Conrad Felixmüller: His Dresden Years, 1995, no. 15.
    Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Gemäldegalerie Neue Meister, Conrad Felixmüller: Die Dresdner Jahre 1910-1934, July - September 1997, no. 27 (illustrated p. 85); this exhibition later travelled to Hanover, Sprengel Museum, September - November 1997.
    Dresden, Städtisches Galerie, Conrad Felixmüller, Peter August Böckstiegel - Arbeitswelten, December 2006 - February 2007 (illustrated p. 15); this exhibition later travelled to Bielefeld, Kunsthalle, February - May 2007.