Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938)

Blumentopf und Zuckerdose; Blumen

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938)
Blumentopf und Zuckerdose; Blumen
signed 'E L Kirchner' (lower left)
oil on canvas
27 7/8 x 23 7/8 in. (70.8 x 60.5 cm.)
Painted in 1918-1919
Barbara Harrison Wescott, Rosemont, New Jersey (acquired from the artist, by 1934).
Justin K. Thannhauser, New York (acquired from the above, by 1957).
John D. Rockefeller III, New York (by 1964).
E.V. Thaw & Co., Inc., New York.
Serge Sabarsky Gallery, New York (acquired from the above, September 1977).
Saul P. Steinberg, New York (acquired from the above, May 1979); sale, Christie's, New York, 18 May 1981, lot 31.
Private collection, Europe (acquired at the above sale); sale, Christie's, New York, 8 November 2006, lot 55.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Archives, Photo Album III, no. 323 (dated 1917).
D.E. Gordon, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Cambridge, 1968, p. 346, no. 549 (illustrated; catalogued as signed and inscribed on the reverse).
H. Delf, Kirchner, Schmidt-Rotluff, Nolde, Nay..., Breife an den Sammler und Mäzen Carl Hagemann, 1906-1940, Ostfildern-Ruit, 2004, pp. 434-436, letter no. 564 and pp. 437-438, letter no. 567.
H. Delf and R. Scotti, "Briefe von Ernst Ludwig Kirchner und Erna Schilling an Dr. Frédéric Bauer, Juni 1923 bis März 1939" in Frédéric Bauer und Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Davos, 2004, letter nos. 106 and 108.
K. Schick, "Ruhelose Ordnung, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner und das Stilleben" in Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Die Stilleben, Davos, 2006, p. 88 (illustrated in color, p. 20).
H. Delf, ed., "Die absolute Wahrheit, so wie ich sie fühle" in Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Der gesamte Briefwechsel, Zürich, 2010, p. 1791, letter no. 2987; p. 1794, letter no. 2990 and p. 1795, letter no. 2993.
G. Lowry, intro., The David and Peggy Rockefeller Collection: Supplement, New York, 2015, vol. V, pp. 46-48, no. 10 (illustrated in color, p. 46).
Kunsthalle Bern, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, March-April 1933, no. 33.
Davos, Kirchner Museum, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Die Stilleben, December 2006-April 2007, p. 88 (illustrated in color, p. 20).
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Lot Essay

Although Ernst Ludwig Kirchner did not see combat during the First World War, he became a casualty nonetheless—the years 1914-1918 turned into a desperate, life-or-death crisis in his life, and changed the direction of his art. To avoid conscription into the frontline German infantry, the artist enlisted during the spring of 1915 as an “involuntary volunteer,” and was assigned to an artillery regiment. Within weeks during his training, however, the hardships of military life caused him to suffer a nervous breakdown. He received an exemption from service, but spent the next three years in and out of German and Swiss sanatoria, struggling with extreme depression, addicted to sleeping pills and morphine, while fighting a craving for alcohol, which would have likely killed him. For a time during 1917 paralysis of his limbs kept him bedridden.
By mid-1918 Kirchner’s health was sufficiently restored that he could once again live on his own. He spent the summer in Davos, on the Stafelalp, and that fall found an all-weather cabin in the small hamlet In den Lärchen, near Frauenkirch. In this isolated, mountain retreat, among the simple lives and the kindness of the local villagers—far from the cosmopolitan attractions and distractions that had driven his pre-war expressionist art—Kirchner found renewal in the mystery and power of nature. “The impression of reality is so rich here that it consumes all my strength” (quoted in D.E. Gordon, op. cit., 1968, p. 114). During 1918-1919 the artist concentrated on the Alpine landscape, villagers at their work, and even painted cows and goats. As if to bring nature indoors, he created a half-dozen still-lifes with flowers (Gordon, nos. 549-553 and 563), a subject that so often among profoundly conflicted artists provided a welcome palliative from inner demons and worldly concerns. “The great mystery which lies behind all events and objects of the environment,” he wrote, “sometimes becomes schematically visible or sensible when we talk with a person, stand in a landscape, or when flowers and objects suddenly speak to us” (quote in, ibid., p. 110).
Kirchner typically painted flowers close-up, from above, as if the table were tilted toward the viewer. Here the flowers erupt upwards and outwards, exploding in starbursts of color pyrotechnics. The overall composition appears to lean toward the right side; the cut glass sugar cellar hovers on the verge of sliding down and off the table, further exaggerating the viewer’s sensation of an unstable, vertiginous space. The perimeter of the table itself is lost in the profusion of blossoms, leaves, and stalks. The right-angled points in the corners of the canvas relate more to mountain peaks than any aspect of the room in which the artist was working. From the elevation at which Kirchner was living, he was virtually in the center of vast horizontal and vertical spatial dimensions, from which he, one second, might glance down a hillside into a mountain valley, and the next gaze up and away at tall, distant mountain peaks.
This period proved to be Kircher’s most productive, both in quantity and scale, since 1914. “These years see the creation of subjects,” Donald Gordon wrote, “which are among the most compelling of the entire lifetime work” (ibid., p. 114). “But cold it was, even my windows were frozen though I had a fire all night,” Kirchner wrote on 20 January 1919. “How eternally happy I am for all that to be here, and to receive only the last splashes of the waves of outside life through the mail” (quoted in ibid., p. 116).

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