Mordecai Ardon (1896-1992)
Property from a Private Collection, Palm Beach
Mordecai Ardon (1896-1992)

In Memory of Stefan

Mordecai Ardon (1896-1992)
In Memory of Stefan
signed 'Ardon' (upper right); signed again, titled and dated 'Ardon In Memory of Stefan 1972' (on the stretcher)
oil and pen and black ink on canvas
45 ¼ x 50 ¾ in. (115 x 129 cm.)
Executed in 1972
Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., London.
Acquired from the above by the present owner, January 1981.
M. Vishny, Mordecai Ardon, New York, 1974, p. 234, no. 288 (illustrated, pl. 207).
London, Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., Mordecai Ardon, April-May 1973, p. 18, no. 32 (illustrated, p. 50).
The Tel Aviv Museum, Ardon, A Retrospective, May-October 1985, no. 99 (illustrated in color on the cover and illustrated again in color).
The Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Mordecai Ardon, The Colors of Time, Time, Space and Metaphysics, February-June 2003, no. 41.

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Vanessa Fusco
Vanessa Fusco

Lot Essay

In Memory of Stefan is a touching commemoration from one friend to another. Ardon and Stefan Wolpe met as students during the early twenties at the Bauhaus where they formed a strong friendship. The present painting is a fine example among a series of spiritually charged works with which Ardon has come to be associated. It features a complex system of symbolic imagery borrowed from the Kabbalah. The most apparent is the reference to Jacob's ladder, representing the connection between the spiritual and physical world. Ardon depicts the ladder at an angle as to imply the afterlife; a vertical ascension betokening Wolpe’s departure from the physical world. The two red spheres painted above it suggest the spheres of Heaven, the realm to which the artist’s beloved friend now belonged.
Painted the year of Wolpe’s passing, Ardon pays tribute to his friend through specific stylistic choices. The picture’s background is predominantly painted in a multitude of short, rapid brushstrokes in which the foreground bleeds into the horizon, disorienting the viewer. This type of handling is akin to the asymmetricality of the brisk rhythms employed by the composer. This parallel goes beyond visual and sonic pace; it can also be noticed between melody and color. The painter created both harmony and chromatic dissonance within the color scheme as he believed that “there is a dialogue between colors...if they are not in proximity, they cannot be understood” (M. Vischny, Mordecai Ardon, New York, 1974, p. 19). In his music, Wolpe’s extensive use of schoenbergian twelve-tone theory produced similar sonic elements and resonated deeply with Ardon’s painterly approach.
In Memory of Stefan also references the time Ardon spent studying under Paul Klee at the Bauhaus, when he and Wolpe first met. Michelle Vishny recounts that he and Klee spent a great deal of time together, both in and out of the classroom: “Klee’s words and works were a source of inspiration and the greatest Bauhaus influence on Ardon” (ibid., p. 19) One can see the compositional similarities between Klee’s Schlang auf die Leiter (fig. 1) and Ardon’s present tribute. Both make use of negative space to let the compositional elements breathe and attract the viewer’s attention. They create a notion of physicality amidst an otherwise ethereal and dreamlike environment where their respective systems of symbolic imagery are free to take on the full weight of their significance. 

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