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Conrad Felixmüller (1897-1977)
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Conrad Felixmüller (1897-1977)

Mein Bruder- Bergingenieur

Details
Conrad Felixmüller (1897-1977)
Mein Bruder- Bergingenieur
signed ‘Felixmüller’ (upper left); signed, dated and inscribed 'Felixmüller 1922. No 281.' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
35 3/8 x 29 1/2 in. (90 x 75 cm.)
Painted in 1922
Provenance
Private collection, Germany, by whom acquired directly from the artist, in 1975.
Literature
H. Spielmann, ed., Conrad Felixmüller, Monographie und Werkverzeichnis der Gemälde, Cologne, 1996, no. 281, p. 242 (illustrated).
Exhibited
Stuttgart, Kunsthaus L. Schaller, Conrad Felixmüller- Sonderausstellung, 1925, no. 4.
Biberach, Braith-Mali-Museum, Conrad Felixmüller, May 1968, no. 5.
Rome, Hermes Studio d’Arte, Conrad Felixmüller, acquarelli, incisioni, xilografia, litografia, dal 1918 al 1970, 1971, n.n., n.p..
Berlin, Ehemalige Nationalgalerie, Conrad Felixmüller. Malerei von 1913-1973, October - November 1973, no. 9.
Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Conrad Felixmüller, Gemälde, Aquarelle, Zeichnungen, Druckgrafik, 1975, no. 18, p. 85; this exhibition later travelled to Rostock, Kunsthalle, 1975 - 1976; and Berlin, Nationalgalerie, 1976.
Berlin, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Wem gehört die Welt- Kunst und Gesellschaft in der Weimarer Republik, August - October 1977, no. 9 (illustrated pl. IX); this exhibition later travelled to Hanover, Kunstverein, 1978.
Dortmund, Museum am Ostwall, Felixmüller, October - December 1978, no. 2, p. 15; this exhibition later travelled to Wiesbaden, Nassauischer Kunstverein, February - April 1979; and Saarbrücken, Saarland Museum, April - May 1979.
Los Angeles, County Museum of Art, German Expressionism, 1915-1925: The Second Generation, October - December 1988; this exhibition later travelled to Fort Worth, Art Museum, February - April 1989; Dusseldorf, Kunstmuseum, May - July 1989; and Moritzburg, Kunstmuseum, August - September 1989.
Leicester, Leicestershire Museum and Art Gallery, Conrad Felixmüller, 1897-1977: Between Politics and Studio, September - October 1994, no. 24, pp. 20 & 47-48 (illustrated fig. 13, p. 21).
Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Conrad Felixmüller: His Dresden Years, January - March 1995, no. 21, p. 30.
Dresden, Stadtische Galerie, Conrad Felixmuller - Peter August Bockstiegel: Arbeitswelten, September 2006 - January 2007, p. 188 (illustrated p. 111); this exhibition later travelled to Bielefeld, Kunsthalle, February - May 2007.
Chemnitz, Museum Gunzenhauser, Conrad Felixmüller: Zwischen Kunst und Politik, November 2012 - April 2013, no. 131, p. 262 (illustrated p. 57); this exhibition later travelled to Bietigheim-Bissingen, April - July 2013.
Hamburg, Ernst Barlach Haus, Conrad Felixmüller: Glückseligkeit und Kampfesmut, October 2013 - February 2014.
Holzwickede, Haus Opherdicke, Conrad Felixmüller, Kunst ist eine historische Angelegenheit, September 2016 - February 2017, pp. 36 & 91 (illustrated).
Special Notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Keith Gill
Keith Gill

Lot Essay

‘Just as Van Gogh ripped the aesthetic mask from every landscape and revealed a Nature - of tree, flower, water, sky moon and earth - that had vanished from the bourgeios world, so this Müller has unmasked the contemporary human face and in his pictures the proletarian whom the bourgeoisie long smothered in a conspiracy of silence appears for the first time’ (Carl Sternhiem, 1923 quoted in exh. cat., German Expressionism: The Second Generation, Los Angeles, 1988, p. 60).

Mein Bruder– Bergingenieur (My Brother– The Mining Engineer) is one of the great Expressionist portraits of proletarian workers that Conrad Felixmüller made in the early 1920s. Probably the leading exponent of the later form of Expressionist painting that emerged in Germany during and after the First World War, Felixmüller is best known for the extraordinarily powerful Expressionist portraits he made of proletarian workers in the heavily industrialised Ruhr district where he spent several months in 1920 and 1921.

Painted in 1922, Mein Bruder– Bergingenieur is one of the last of this series of paintings inspired by Felixmüller’s transforming experience in the Ruhrrevier. The title of the painting refers not only to the brotherly feeling Felixmüller felt towards all those he had worked with and came to admire in the mining towns of the Ruhr but also to Felixmüller’s own brother Helmut who reportedly served as the model for this distinctly noble, proud and forward-looking man of the people. The portrait in this way serves as an icon of all that Felixmüller had found so inspiring during his time among the workers of the Ruhrrevier.

Felixmüller’s journey to the Ruhr was one that not only proved a revelation for the artist but also crystallised in him a fervent belief that the much-needed foundation of a better society lay ultimately amongst the simple values of the hardworking people he had encountered there. As a consequence, simple truths such as honest labour and devotion to family life became the cornerstones of Felixmüller’s ideological program of reform for the increasingly corrupt and evil world he saw around him in the modern-day Babylons of 1920s Dresden and Berlin. ‘I can barely describe how I felt when I saw the first coal mine,’ Felixmüller wrote. ‘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…[but] 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…Down there, I felt again [the power of] Schiller’s words “All men become (are!) Brothers” – and I understood even more firmly how sacred work is’ (Conrad Felixmüller, Letter to Heinrich Kirchhoff, 27 July 1920, in exh. cat., Conrad Felixmüller Werke und Dokumente, Nuremberg, 1982, p. 90).

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 had by now become the ‘focal point of my life’s work’ he said, ‘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... my inner being, my inner soul is creating the art’ (Conrad Felixmüller, ‘Meine Reise Inns Ruhrgebiet’ included in ‘Brief an Heinrich Kirchhoff, 1920’, in exh. cat., Arbeit und Alltag, Düsseldorf, 1986).

Mein Bruder– Bergingenieur is a case in point, for this work too is an oil painting of a subject that Felixmüller also executed in another medium: one of the artist’s greatest woodcut prints, Der Bergingenier, also of 1922. This woodcut print is a work wherein the central heroic form of the proletarian mine-engineer of the title has stylistically been merged with that of a mining landscape in such a way as to emphasise the symbiotic relationship between the man and his working environment. Conrad Felixmüller was to say of this work: ‘My intention in portraying this mining engineer, was to create an image of the conscious human being, who has built an industry out of his own head and can see it in front of his eyes and the tangle of constructive forms all around him – the forms that have shaped his features into a hard expression in such a way that his individual face becomes a type, namely that of the modern man of our technological age. To show all this was my intention and to do it exclusively through the illustrative forms of a colliery, a mining tower and the lines from the industrialised landscape, which are also the organic lines of the face, rising from the neck to the profile and finally, in the curve of his cloth cap, continue again into the steam and the smoke-clouds pouring from the cooling tower and into the throng of miners in the coalyard. It was not the technical complex that intrigued me in this woodcut but the dominating personality of MAN, who does not helplessly succumb to these tremendous efforts above and beneath the earth, but who masters them’ (Conrad Felixmüller, quoted in G. H. Herzog, ed., Conrad Felixmüller, Legenden 1912-1976, Tübingen, 1977, p. 68).

In contrast to the elaborate woodcut with its Expressionistic integration of figure and background, Mein Bruder– Bergingenieur presents the noble figure of the young idealistic proletarian in a far simpler, more objective and realistic manner. One perhaps reflective of the then emerging Verist tendency in modern German art towards a starker, more honest, sober and objective form of representation. All the key qualities that Felixmüller sought to express in his woodcut are here manifested through the simple optimism of Felixmüller’s portrayal of the young engineer. Set against a rich purple background, this solitary figure’s noble stance, proud bearing and simple worker’s clothes all combine to create a near heroic image of youthful optimism and simple, human integrity.
‘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’, op cit.).

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