Painted in 1911, Stilleben mit Sonnenblumen was executed by Macke in his first studio in Bonn, after his return from Southern Germany - a crucial phase within his brief and intense career, when he critically reconsidered the influence of contemporary French painting on his art and elaborated his own individual pictorial vocabulary based on a unique synthesis of form and colour.
After a productive stay on Lake Tegern in Bavaria, where he had been invited by the Dsseldorf playwright Wilhelm Schmidtbonn, Macke was eagerly looking for a new atelier, which he found in Bonn, on the last floor of an old building on Bornheimer Strasse, owned by his wife Elisabeth. Settling in this new studio was pivotal for his artistic development. Here he felt comfortable and at ease, and so began one of the most productive periods of his career. In early 1908 he started incorporating fauve motifs in his watercolours: his delicate Vier Menschen unter Bumen (Private Collection) reveals his first hesitant analysis of Matisse's use of space and colour. His second stay in Paris in 1908, and his third in 1909, gave him a deeper awareness of the contemporary avant-garde experiments. But the crucial debate about the expressive power of pure colours reached its climax only in 1910 when Macke, working on Lake Tegern, spent a great deal of time with Franz Marc discussing the most recent developments in French contemporary painting.
In Tegern, Macke did a series of sketches (Skizzenbuch No. 38, published in U. Heiderich, August Macke, Die Skizzenbucher, Vol. II, Stuttgart, 1987, pp. 819-835) inspired by the German edition of Matisse's Notes d'un peintre (appeared in La Grande Revue, Paris, Dec. 1908). In February 1910, Macke travelled to Munich where he saw Matisse's works exhibited at the Thannhauser Gallery and was particularly impressed by a painting of 1904, Saint Tropez, La Terrasse (Boston, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum), which he copied in his sketchbook (page 78 of Skizzenbuch No. 38) and re-elaborated in the infamous Unser Garten mit blhenden Rabatten (1912, Private Collection). In May 1910, both Macke and Matisse were among the artists who paid a tribute to the masterpieces of Orientalism by visiting the monumental exhibition Meisterwerke Muhammedanischer Kunst held on the Theresienhhe in Munich. Like Matisse, Macke was deeply impressed by the prismatic colouration and clear contours of the Islamic tapestries and artefacts in the exhibition. He adapted many of these elements into his own paintings of the next two years.
Macke's subsequent studio pictures executed in Bonn have a monumentality and colourism which we have not seen before in his work. Here Macke executes his still-life on board rather than on canvas, which by nature leads to a deeper resonance in colour tones. Use of oil on board was also much favoured by Jawlensky for this reason (see lot 72). He also begins to develop a more dramatic approach to perspective, flattening his recession and using broad colour planes, very much in keeping with Matisse's experiments of the same period. Arguably, as can be seen in Matisse's celebrated Nature morte painted between 1906 and 1910 (fig. 1), Macke had a less stylistic approach to his still-life subjects of this period but there is also a danger that one compares Macke's works of 1910/11 too much with his French contemporaries'. Amongst the German painters of the early period of the twentieth century, Macke was certainly amongst the most daring and the keenest to argue that he had his own personal painting idiom.