1929: George Grosz
George Grosz (1893-1959), Verwaltungsoffizier (Unsere Zukunft liegt in der Aktenmappe), 1929. Gouache, watercolor and pen and black ink on paper. 23 1/8 x 17 7/8 in. (58.9 x 45.4 cm.) Estimate: $50,000-70,000. This work is offered in the Impressionist and Modern Works on Paper Sale on 13 November at Christie’s New York
Executed between the early 1920s and 1932, the year before Grosz left Germany for the United States, the Berlin street scenes depict a variety of different people on the streets of the busy metropolis. Here, a simple-minded, portly bureaucrat smoking a cigar crosses the street, passing a woman huddling in her coat for warmth. Meanwhile, a blind man, lost and off course, recedes into the distance. In his briefcase, the officer carries documents which are vital to the future of the very people he struts past.
In this deeply cynical scene, Grosz leaves no question as to the officer’s loyalty. These are the very characters who allowed the Nazis to rule Germany, dutiful and loyal to the Third Reich from its earliest days. As Ralph Jentsch has noted about the present work, Nazi power ‘would not have been possible without millions of willing helpers from all classes, like thisVerwaltungsoffizier, only carrying documents from one office to the other.’ In this respect, the blind man in the background can be read as a symbol for the officer, himself blind to the consequences of his actions.
1937: Marc Chagall
Marc Chagall (1887-1985), L'air bleu, 1937. Oil on canvas. 46 x 35 1/8 in. (116.9 x 89.2 cm.) Estimate: $6,000,000-8,000,000. This work is offered in the Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale on 12 November at Christie’s New York
There is a sense of foreboding in this tender scene, in which a man and woman float over a city, or a small town resembling a shtetl in the Jewish Pale of Settlement in western Russia, which Chagall would have imagined from his memories of Vitebsk, where he was born and grew up.
Having observed what had already transpired since 1933 in Nazi Germany, the artist — as a Jew — knew the dangers that lay in store. The beginning of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 signalled the alignment Soviet communism and Nazi fascism; opposing ideologies that would eventually confront one another in a fight to the death. The liberty and life of the individual meant nothing to either — especially if you were a Jew.
In these increasingly perilous times, Chagall and his family discovered they were people without a country
In early 1937 Chagall learned that his favourite art teacher had been murdered, presumably a victim of the NKVD, the Soviet secret police. At the height of Stalin’s show trials and purges during 1936-1938 many of those persecuted by Stalin were Jews. Chagall realised that he could not visit his homeland anytime soon. Indeed, in these increasingly perilous times, he and his family discovered they were people without a country.
Chagall became a French citizen, and in June 1937 he learned his paintings in German public collections had been included among the 730 works the Nazis confiscated to comprise the Entartete Kunst exhibition, the show of ‘degenerate art’, in Munich. However, the defeat of France and the subsequent Vichy regime’s racial policies against Jews convinced Chagall that he and his family must move again. They were stripped of their French citizenship, and finally left the country in May 1941. It was just in time as other refugees were being rounded up and deported to forced labour camps.
1938: Fernand Léger
Fernand Léger (1881-1955), Le Vase Noir, 1938. Oil on canvas. 28 ½ x 36 in. (72.4 x 91.4 cm.) Estimate: $1,000,000-1,500,000. This work is offered in the Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale on 12 November at Christie’s New York
During the first years of World War II, Léger, together with his students and studio assistants, created a series of large decorative murals for public places. This new public mural style, fundamentally flat in form and in space, arose from Léger’s involvement during the mid-1930s with the left-wing Front Populaire, France’s democratic alternative to German Nazism and Italian fascism.
Art must transform itself, he believed, by keeping pace — by means of what he called ‘The New Realism’ — with the accelerating spread of modernity in all fields of endeavour, including movies, radio, large scale photography and advertising. ‘Free the masses of people, give them the possibility of thinking, of seeing, of self-cultivation — that is all we ask; they will then be in a position to enjoy to the utmost the plastic novelties which modern art has to offer,’ Leger had proclaimed in 1937. ‘ The working class has a right to all this.’
The concurrent emphasis that Léger placed on still-life subjects in his smaller easel paintings — such as Le vase noir, shown here — had a significant role in his larger socio-aesthetical agenda. His aim was the development of a novel, but decorative approach to the modern presentation of objects, whether assembled from nature, the commercial sphere, or the latest technology.
1938: Jacques Lipchitz
Jacques Lipchitz (1891-1973), Le viol d'Europe I, Conceived in 1938. Bronze with green and brown patina. Length: 19 ½ in. (49.3 cm.) Estimate: $40,000-60,000. This work is offered in the Impressionist and Modern Art Day Sale on 13 November at Christie’s New York
In his informal 1972 autobiography, My Life in Sculpture, Lipchitz noted that his use of the ‘Rape of Europa’ as a theme initially stemmed from his interest in classical mythology. However, after experiencing the horrors of World War II, the subject took on a more allegorical dimension for the artist.
‘I used the theme of the Rape of Europa later in a quite different context,’ Lipchitz wrote. ‘Europa as a symbol for Europe and the bull as Hitler, with Europe killing Hitler with a dagger. This reverses the concept to one of terror, whereas in the original sculptures of Europa the entire theme is tender and erotic love; the bull is caressing Europa with his tongue.’
Lipchitz fled Paris in May of 1940, escaping just prior to Hitler’s invasion. In 1941, with the assistance of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, he emigrated to the United States.
1941: Henry Moore
Henry Moore (1898-1986), Woman in an Underground Shelter Feeding a Child, 1941. Watercolor, coloured wax crayons, white chalk, pen and India ink and pencil on paper. 11 7/8 x 9 ¼ in. (30 x 23.6 cm.) Estimate: $300,000-500,000. This work is offered in the Impressionist and Modern Works on Paper Sale on 13 November at Christie’s New York
Executed in 1941, Woman in an Underground Shelter Feeding a Child is from Moore’s celebrated series of Shelter Drawings. The artist was inspired to create these works after seeing Londoners seeking refuge from the bombs of the Blitz in the stations and tunnels of the Tube network.
The Shelter Drawings, several of which were acquired at the time for the nation and also by the Tate Gallery, are unique explorations of the human spirit in a situation of adversity. In the work shown above, Moore uses his appreciation of sculpture to grant the forms of these huddled figures with a moving monumentality.
1942: Joan Miró
Joan Miro (1893-1983), Femme oiseau étoile, 26 May 1942. Pastel, charcoal and pencil on sandpaper. 28 ½ x 11 in. (72.3 x 28 cm.) Estimate: $400,000-600,000. This work is offered in the Impressionist and Modern Works on Paper Sale on 13 November at Christie’s New York
The German invasion of France in May 1940 caught Miró, his wife Pilar and daughter Dolores in the English Channel port of Varengeville, where since the beginning of the year the artist had been working on the Constellations series. As nearby towns were bombed and advancing German armoured columns cut off the retreating Allied forces at Dunkirk, Miró and his family departed for Paris.
Miró and his family joined the hordes of refugees who clogged the roads, fearful of being strafed and bombed from the sky
They then fled south, joining the hordes of refugees who clogged the roads, fearful of being strafed and bombed from the sky. As a plan to obtain passage to America came to nothing, Miró and his family made their way to Perpignan, near the Spanish border. Pilar’s parents made their home in Palma on the Spanish island of Mallorca so Miró decided that this relatively isolated place would be the safest destination for them, and he took his family there in July 1940. On 4 September he painted the first Constellation done on Spanish soil
In late 1941, Miró commenced a new group of works on paper. He did not paint in oil on canvas, and would not do so with any regularity until 1944. Miró found that working on paper best suited his nomadic and ‘furtive’ existence, and besides, canvas was hard to come by and expensive to purchase.
The French art critic Jacques Dupin has described this burst of renewed activity: ‘In 1942 [the Constellations] were followed by a large number of watercolors, gouaches and drawings, characterised by freedom of invention and a marvellous effortlessness. In this evolution of his art, which was to end in the creation of his definitive style, renewed contact with Spain after five years of absence.. was doubtless crucial.’
1945: Max Beckmann
Max Beckmann (1884-1950), Spiegel, 1945. Pen and India ink, brush and grey wash and pencil on paper. 19 ¾ x 10 ¼ in. (50.2 x 26 cm.) Estimate: $50,000-70,000. This work is offered in the Impressionist and Modern Works on Paper Sale on 13 November at Christie’s New York
‘Were you not sometimes with me in the deep caverns of the champagne glasses...?’ asked Beckmann, who depicts himself with a glass of champagne in his 1919 self-portrait Selbstbildnis mit Sektglas.
In 1933, the Nazi government described Beckmann as a ‘cultural Bolshevik’, and dismissed him from his teaching post at the Art School of Frankfurt. When more than 500 works of his works had been confiscated, several of which were shown in the infamous Degenerate Art exhibition in Munich, the artist fled Germany with his wife. For 10 anxiety ridden years he was exiled in Amsterdam, before again deciding to focus on lighter motifs — a glass of champagne, a raucous soiree — that were designed to overcome the oppression he had experienced during the war.
1948: Salvador Dali
Salvador Dali (1904-1989), Vision de l'Age atomique, 1948. Watercolor and pen and India ink on paper. 13 x 20 ½ in. (33 x 52 cm.) Estimate: $200,000-300,000. This work is offered in the Impressionist and Modern Works on Paper Sale on 13 November at Christie’s New York
The explosion of the atom bomb at Hiroshima in August 1945 had a profound effect on Salvador Dalí. ‘Since then,’ he wrote, ‘the atom has been central to my thinking. Many of the scenes I have painted in this period express the immense fear that took hold of me when I heard of the explosion of the bomb.’ From this point onwards Dalí would devote himself to ‘his threefold synthesis of classicism, the spiritual and concern with the nuclear.’
In this watercolor, Dalí depicts a teeming post-nuclear landscape. He concerns himself here with the breaking up of particles as well as of entire objects. Whereas previously Dalí's subjects ‘melted’ in order to give pictorial illustration to unconscious, psychological motives, in his atomic pictures they instead disintegrate. ‘I decided,’ he wrote, ‘to turn my attention to the pictorial solution of quantum theory, and invented quantum realism in order to master gravity. I visually dematerialized matter; then I spiritualized it in order to be able to create energy.’
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