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

Selbstbildnis mit meiner Frau Londa und meinem Sohn Titus

Details
Conrad Felixmüller (1897-1977) Selbstbildnis mit meiner Frau Londa und meinem Sohn Titus
signed and dated 'Felixmüller 1923' (lower right)
gouache, watercolour and pencil on paper
25¼ x 19¾in. (64 x 50.2cm.)
Executed in Dresden in 1923
Provenance
Hermann Kühn, Dresden, by whom acquired directly from the Artist. Acquired from the above by the present owner.
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Lot Essay

Selbstbildnis mit meiner Frau Londa und meinen Sohn Titus ("Self-portrait with my wife Londa and my son Titus") is one of Felixmüller's finest expressionist watercolours. Executed in 1923 it depicts the artist with his wife and second son Titus embracing one another to form a pillar of family unity standing firm at the heart of a colourful whirling vortex of urban imagery.

Portraits of his family figure large in Felixmüller's oeuvre and alongside his celebrated portraits of proletarian hardship in the mining district of the Ruhrgebiet, they constitute the most important theme in the artist's work. Representing a counterbalance to the powerful and yet depressing scenes of hardship and depravation in the Ruhr pictures, Felixmüller's portraits of his family and the idyll of his home life were intended by the artist as a positive alternative that proclaimed the value and harmony of his progressive proletarian lifestyle.

Born the son of an industrial blacksmith, Felixmüller married the aristocrat baroness Londa, Freiin von Berg in 1918 enjoying a long and happy mariage. A fierce opponent of the war and a committed socialist, Felixmüller had joined the German Communist party in 1918 and remained a member until 1926. As he was later to write in an autobiographical essay entitled "Der Prolet (Pönnecke)" published in Die Aktion Nr. 23/24 December 1920, how the birth of his fist son Luca in 1918 at the same time as the German revolution had a profound effect on him and how he came to associate these two momentous events in his life as somehow expressing a deep meaning. "He felt the spiritual situation of the time," he wrote "the catastrophical end of the war and at the same time the development of the fruit. Revolution!: it was in him like the unborn life in his wife's body. Indeed, child and revolution had come into being at the same time...the momentous event of the birth of a human being and the simultaneous beginning of the great revolution lifted him up and carried him away wiping out the last trace of the bourgeois from within him; He was once again a simple man and a proletarian."

Proud of the simple idyll of his home life Felixmüller sought to propagandise the image of his family as a positive political message and as a counterbalance to his paintings of the sufferings of the proletarian worker which represent a sharp critique of the political oppression of the working class. Through concentrating on the simple values and virtues of the family Felixmüller sought "the emancipation of our class." Felixmüller even tried to wean his colleague Otto Dix away from what he considered the artist's unhealthy obsession with ugly subject matter by attempting to awaken in him a sense of the wonder of the family. "To encourage Dix and to dissuade him from his repulsive pornography, I commissioned him to paint my family," Felixmüller recalled. However, he was later horrified to see that in this painting, now in the Morton D. May collection in St Louis, Dix had turned his beloved wife Londa into" a shaggy stub nosed shrew" and "my lovely one to two year old son into mincemeat." (cited in Conrad Felixmüller: Die Dresdener Jahre Aquarelle und Zeichniungen 1912-33 Sabine Fehlemann and Jutta Penndorf, Köln, 1997, p. 38.)


In Selbstbildnis mit meiner Frau Londa und meinen Sohn Titus it is the unity of the family and its mutual affection that is expressed in deliberate contrast to a seemingly oppressive and unstable urban background. Felixmüller generates a sense of vertigo and disorientation through the use of multiple perspective which, in the area around the open window and artist's head in particular foreshadows his last great expressionist masterpiece, Der Tod des Dichters Walter Rheiner (The Death of the poet Walter Rheiner") of 1925. At the centre of this dramatic juxtaposition of angular perspective stands Felixmüller with his legs astride sheltering his wife with his young son clinging to his leg. All three figures, but Londa especially, are depicted with large mystically dreaming eyes that serve to unite the family further and express a sense of a shared vision and a common love. Exquisitely rendered with an intensity that uses the full spectrum of colour, this vibrant work is a bold personal statement that portrays the artist and his family as a model of progressive proletarian life existing with love and dignity in the midst of a chaotic and unstable world.

The first owner of the present watercolour was Hermann Kühn a teacher working in the Dresden area who became a close friend of Felixmüller in the early 1920s. Felixmüller painted this portrait in the same year as the present watercolour as well as two portraits of Kühn's wife and daughter (CR no. 306 and 308). Kühn was a keen collector of Felixmüller's work and a fine group of his Felixmüller prints from the 1920s were sold at Christie's London in June 2000. Amongst these was an impression of the artist's celebrated Kohlenbergarbeiter etching of 1921 which Felixmüller dedicated to Kühn as a Christmas present in 1923.
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