László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
SRho 1
signed titled and dated 'L. MOHOLY=NAGY SRho 1 (1936)' (on the reverse of the rhodoïd); signed, inscribed, titled, dated and marked with a diagram 'L. Moholy=Nagy Rhodoid (schwarz) SRho 1 (1936)' (on the reverse of the panel)
oil and incising on rhodoïd mounted by the artist on painted panel
Rhodoïd: 31 x 25 ¼ in. (78.9 x 64.1 cm.)
Panel: 36 x 34 in. (91.4 x 86.4 cm.)
Executed in 1936
Felix Witzinger, Switzerland (acquired from the artist, 1936).
Private collection, Switzerland (by descent from the above); sale, Christie's, London, 8 February 2005, lot 371.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
London, Tate Modern; Kuntshalle Bielefeld and New York, Whitney Museum of Art, Albers and Moholy-Nagy: From the Bauhaus to the New World, March 2006-January 2007, p. 135, no. 98 (illustrated in color, p. 134).
Berlin, Galerie Berinson, Bauhaus, May-August 2008.
Frankfurt, Schirn Kunsthalle, László Moholy-Nagy: Retrospective, October 2009-February 2010, p. 183 (illustrated in color, p. 146).
Madrid, Círculo de Bellas Artes PHE10; Berlin, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and Ludwig Múzeum Budapest, László Moholy-Nagy: The Art of Light, June 2010-September 2011, p. 255 (illustrated in color, p. 185).

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Lot Essay

Hattula Moholy-Nagy has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

Please note this work has been requested for the forthcoming Moholy-Nagy retrospective in 2016-2017 jointly organized by The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Art Institute of Chicago.

As a young artillery officer in the First World War, convalescing from a battle wound and sepsis, Moholy-Nagy wrote in a poem, “Come over me, proud Light, fierce Light, burn deep” (quoted in S. Moholy-Nagy, Moholy-Nagy: Experiment in Totality, Cambridge, Mass., 1969, p. 11). A passion for light, as a powerful sensation, an aesthetic ideal, and in a most profoundly philosophical sense as well, became the all-consuming quest in Moholy’s life and art. He sought to create, not merely with colors, but with light itself.
The result of Moholy’s early research and experimentation was The Light Prop, which he later called his Light-Space Modulator, an electrically-driven construction of mechanical elements capable of generating kinetic light displays, which he first demonstrated in 1930. “I felt like a sorcerer’s apprentice,” the artist wrote. “The mobile was so startling in its coordinated motions and space articulations of light and shadow sequences that I almost believed in magic. I learned much...for my later painting, photography and motion pictures” (Abstract of an Artist, New York, 1947, p. 80).
Germany had become Moholy’s second home after he left his native Hungary to escape the turmoil there following the abortive Soviet-style revolution at the end of the war. Born to Jewish parents, and surely soon to be proscribed by the Nazis as a “degenerate” artist, Moholy left Germany in 1934 for Amsterdam. He moved to London in May 1935, where he worked on commercial projects for Imperial Airways, London Transport, and the film director Alexander Korda.
“Late in 1935 Moholy brought home a large sheet of Rhodoid, a plastic of vitreous transparency [newly invented and produced by the British firm May & Baker Ltd]. On it he painted his first ‘light modulator’,” Sibyl, the artist’s second wife, recounted. Employing the abstract elements he had painted on a canvas the year before, “he mounted the transparent sheet on a white plywood background, then compared the two-dimensional effect of the canvas and the three-dimensional effect of the light modulator” (op. cit., 1969, pp. 129-130). Light passed through the raised, partly etched and painted plastic sheet to create shadows that shifted–depending the position of the light source and the viewer’s vantage point–on the white wooden mount behind it. As in the stained-glass windows of Gothic cathedrals, but with the benefit of modern technology, color and light had become one–the artist was painting with light.
Moholy created the present rhodoid painting the following year, not, in this instance, on a transparent sheet, but on one dyed a deep nocturnal black, on which he thickly painted in oils the large white lunar orb and the floating capsular elements in the primary colors red, yellow and blue, seeking to induce optimum contrast in the sensation of every aspect of the composition–as color, space, form, line and surface texture. The “spray” of incised lines suggests that the great white body is spinning in motion. Moholy connected all of these formal elements as if in some grandly synergetic, cosmic order; the encompassing blackness of the supporting panel intensifies these dramatic effects.
“You might find it strange that I keep ‘painting pictures’ although so much of my belief is tied up with a future of painting with light, and bringing the whole range of technical equipment into the artist’s workshop,” Moholy wrote to František Kalivoda in 1936. “I started out by rediscovering the visual fundamentals of space, color, texture, form and plasticity–open to every human being. I have always to go back to these recharge my willingness to go beyond. To keep one from tearing one’s nerves in all directions there must be the calm of tangible achievement–the one problem solved. For me it is abstract painting” (quoted in J. H. Caton, The Utopian Vision of Moholy-Nagy, Ann Arbor, 1984, p. 55).

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