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Christie'’s is honoured to present for sale the following two groups of drawings by Conrad Felixmüller, both coming directly from different parts of the artist’s family. These two collections offer an intriguing insight into the rich diversity of Conrad Felixmüller’s artistic production.
Born in Dresden in 1897, Felixmüller was brought up in a working-class environment, his father being a local factory blacksmith. After studying at the Königliche Kunstakademie in Dresden in 1913, by the age of 17 Felixmüller was not only a precociously talented painter, but had also mastered the techniques of graphic art. In 1914, Felixmüller exhibited his works for the first time at the Israel Ber Neumann Galerie in Berlin, where he met his lifelong friend, the artist Peter August Bockstiegel (1889-1951). During the First World War, Felixmüller became increasingly involved with literary and political movements, working closely with Herwarth Walden and his Galerie der Sturm from 1915, and later with Franz Pfemfert on the left-wing journal, Die Aktion. In 1919, Felixmüller inaugurated the Dresden New Secession Group, which included artists such as Otto Dix, Lasar Segall, Bockstiegel and Christoph Voll, yet his attention turned more and more to politics, leading him to join the Communist Party (KPD) that same year. The KPD’s founder, Otto Rühle, became a close friend of Felixmüller and the artist painted the Communist leader in one of his most controversial works, Der Redner Nr. I Otto Rühle, 1920 (S. 209), which was confiscated and destroyed by the Nazis in 1933.
The end of the war in 1918 was marked by strikes and protests in Germany, culminating in the November Revolution and the creation of the Weimar Republic. For Felixmüller, 1918 was the year he married Londa, Baroness von Berg, and in which their first child, Luca was born. These two events engendered a significant change of mood in Felixmüller’s paintings. In the late teens and up until the mid-1920s, Felixmüller had created his own Expressionistic style, infused with Cubist elements and a vibrant contrasted palette, but soon realised that Expressionism, which mirrored a sense of urgency and of a need for immediate change, could no longer fulfil its aim within the political and social environment of the time. The cynicism of the Neue Sachlichkeit movement also did not appeal to Felixmüller, a very individualistic artist since the beginning of his career. In the mid-1920s he therefore evolved a very unique personal style, one which was more naturalistic, brighter and with which he could celebrate the happy and tranquil life he shared with his family. However, this change of direction did not spare him from political attention as forty of his works were shown in the 'Entartete Kunst’ exhibition of 1933. Felixmüller was also one of the many victims of Wolfgang Willrich’s Säuberung des Kunsttempels ('Cleansing of the Temple of Art'’), and was personally devastated by having 151 paintings confiscated and destroyed in 1937-1938.
By painting portraits for the rich middle-class, masking the identity of his controversial paintings in his hand-written private inventories, and supported by his friend and patron, Hans Conon von Gabelentz, Felixmüller survived the years of the Third Reich. Later in 1949 when he was appointed Professor at the Martin Luther University in Halle, East Germany, he eschewed politics, never agreeing to produce socialist art for propaganda purposes. Most of his paintings after 1933 pay homage to his family, his favourite models being his wife Londa and his two sons Titus and Luca. He succeeded in creating a unique relationship between himself, the painter, and his models, producing some of his most intimate and touching works, corroborating his own claim that 'My life began with strife, good luck, pain and joy, and hopefully that is how it will end, giving people pleasure’ (Felixmüller, Klotzsche, October 1918, 'Mein Werden'’, in Conrad Felimüller: von ihm - über ihn, p. 30).
(fig. 1) Conrad Felixmüller with Titus and Luca on the heights of Toulon, 1926.
THE PROPERTY FROM THE ARTIST'S FAMILY