HANNAH HÖCH (1889-1978)
HANNAH HÖCH (1889-1978)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION, BERLIN
HANNAH HÖCH (1889-1978)


HANNAH HÖCH (1889-1978)
signed with initials and dated 'H.H.37.' (lower right); signed, dated and inscribed 'Hannah Höch 37. Berlin.' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
31 1/2 x 27 1/2 in. (80 x 70 cm.)
Painted in 1937
The artist's estate, and thence by descent.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
E. Maurer, Hannah Höch, Jenseits fester Grenzen Das malerische Werk bis 1945, Berlin, 1995, no. 70, p. 257 (illustrated).
M. Makela & P. Boswell (eds.), The Photomontages of Hannah Höch, exh. cat., Walker Art Center, Minneapolos, 1997, p. 132 (illustrated fig. 1).
Gotha, Museen der Stadt Gotha, Hannah Höch, August - November 1993, no. 114, p. 190 (illustrated p. 83). Apolda, Kunsthaus Apolda Avantgarde, Hannah Höch. Flora Vitalis, July - September 2017, no. 60, pp. 80 & 143 (illustrated p. 81).
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. This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.
Further details
Dr. Ralf Burmeister has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

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Lot Essay

Upon first glance, Hannah Höch’s self-portrait in Duft is deceptively joyous, as she depicts herself against an abundance of colour and flowers bursting with life as they bloom. In fact, the work was painted at a exceptionally dark moment in the artist’s personal life, against the political turmoil of the 1930s, a decade which proved to be an extremely destabilising and precarious period for many artists living in Germany, including Höch. ‘I often wonder how I managed to survive that dreadful reign of terror’ she would later reflect (quoted in E. Roditi, Dialogues: Conversations with European Artists at Mid-Century, San Francisco, 1990, p. 74). As the democratic experiment that was Weimar Germany came to a screeching halt with the appointment of Adolf Hitler to Chancellor in 1933, the cultural landscape around her shifted dramatically. The appetite for radical experimentation and the progressive attitudes that had imbued Weimar Germany with its zeitgeist were now quashed by the Nazi Regime. An avant-garde female artist who had played an active role in the Dada movement, Höch was aware of her new status as a ‘degenerate’ artist, and the potentially dangerous consequences to which this could lead. Sensing this danger, friends and fellow creatives such as László Moholy-Nagy, Kurt and Helma Schwitters, and Piet Mondrian, began to emigrate away from Germany. As they fled, one by one, she found herself increasingly alone in an ever more hostile political environment.

This sense of isolation was only exacerbated when she moved to the remote suburb of Heiligensee where she knew no-one. She continued to create paintings and photomontages in this period, but went to great lengths to conceal this activity, out of necessitation for her personal safety: ‘Under the Nazi dictatorship, I was much too conspicuous and well-known to be safe in Friedenau, where I had lived for many years. I knew I was constantly being watched and denounced there by zealous or spiteful neighbours, so I decided… to look around for a place in a part of Berlin where nobody would know me by sight or be at all aware of my lurid past as a Dadaist, or… Cultural Bolshevist’ (quoted in E. Roditi, More Dialogues on Art, Santa Barbara, 1984, p. 96).

In addition to these external pressures, her personal life during this period was equally tumultuous. There were health problems, as she became seriously ill with Grave’s disease, requiring surgery in July 1935. There was also her volatile relationship with Kurt Matthies, a businessman who would later become a professional piano player. Although deeply in love with him, their relationship had many problems which often resulted in intense fights and arguments. All of these were detailed in her day books from 1937, the year in which Duft (in English ‘Fragrance’) was painted, as was her great emotional pain. Duft serves almost as a meditation on this moment of their relationship. A female figure - in fact, a self-portrait of Höch, recognisable from her iconic bobbed haircut and thinly arched eyebrows, is depicted surrounded by brightly coloured flowers. Her crossed arms hold an array of them to her nude body, and she brings what appears to be a bright blue cornflower - a symbol of fidelity - close to her face, closing her eyes as she inhales its scent. This sense of romance and joy invoked by the bright colours of her surroundings, however, is undercut by the dark aura surrounding her, and the subtle expression which betrays a sense of despair. The flowers in the composition were likely based on sketches and studies executed during the six-month trip she had taken with Matthies that year, adding a personal and emotional dimension to these floral motifs. Duft is a psychologically revealing work, depicting her deep yearning for an idealised version of love and her belief in its possibility.

Jarringly, the Duft of 1937 had a near identical predecessor: a watercolour from 1916, also titled Duft, made in the year of one of the darkest moments in her physically and emotionally abusive relationship with Raoul Haussmann. Hausmann, a fellow Dada artist, was already married when his relationship with Höch began in 1915. This was a point of great tension throughout their relationship, as he refused to divorce his wife. He hypocritically berated Höch for her desire for him to marry her, and mocked her for her ‘obsession’ with the bourgeois institution of marriage. Yet, he himself was fixated on his personal desire for Höch to become pregnant with his child, insinuating to her that this was this only way she could attain full potential both in their relationship, and as a woman. Their fights often culminated in violence, and towards the end of their relationship, Hausmann openly shared the fantasies he harboured about killing Höch. 1916, the year of the first Duft, was the year that she first became pregnant from Hausmann. Although Höch wanted children, she refused to go through with the pregnancy unless they were married. Hausmann did not change his position, and so she terminated the pregnancy. The watercolour medium enhances the ethereal feel of this first version of Duft, which depicts her fantasy of an idealised love. There is a sense of escapism to the work, allowing in her art an idealised refuge to serve which could serve as a defence mechanism from the stark reality of their romance.

Painted some twenty years later, now with Matthies, the oil painting of Duft similarly contains elements of fantasy and romanticism. However, there is also a new awareness present in this version. In 1916, her self-portrait is joyful and enamoured as she takes in the fragrance of the flower; in 1937, there is a sense of disquiet and wistfulness to her expression. Compared to her younger self in 1916, who appears completely swept up by emotion, there is a subtle reticence to this later self-depiction. The now more experienced Höch had experienced this moment before, and although deeply in love, no longer allows herself to totally lose herself in idealisation. There is also a sense of foreboding to the work, as though she could foresee the path their relationship was on. Although they married one year later in 1928, Matthies would go on to run away with another woman in 1942, before their eventual divorce. She removed virtually any trace of him, going as far as to black out his surname in works she had signed ‘Höch-Matthies’. In this heartbreak, however, there was also liberation of selfhood. Writing about it in her 1958 Lebensüberblick (A Glance over my Life), she chronicled the events with a sense of release: ‘In 1942 [Matthies] disappeared from my life. A divorce followed in 1944, and I was allowed to use my maiden name again.’ (Hannah Höch, quoted in M. Lavin, Cut with the Kitchen Knife, The Weimar Photomontages of Hannah Höch, New Haven & London, 1993, p. 215).

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