KARL HOFER (1878-1955) Liegender Mädchenakt vor Fenster mit Berglandschaft (Painted circa 1939 - 1940)

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Lot 35AR
Liegender Mädchenakt vor Fenster mit Berglandschaft

Sold for £ 125,000 (US$ 157,104) inc. premium
KARL HOFER (1878-1955)
Liegender Mädchenakt vor Fenster mit Berglandschaft
signed with the artist's monogram (lower right)
oil on canvas
39 x 61cm (15 3/8 x 24in).
Painted circa 1939 - 1940


  • Provenance
    Private collection, Berlin.
    Anon. sale, Leo Spik KG, Berlin, 21 October 2004, lot 128.
    Galerie Wolfgang Roth, Berlin.
    Private collection, Austria (acquired from the above in December 2004).

    K. B. Wohlert & M. Eisenbeis, Karl Hofer, Werkverzeichnis der Gemälde, Vol. II, Cologne, 2007, no. 1427 (illustrated p. 268).

    'Everything to be experienced bases itself not so much in diversity but in the intensity of the experience, often in quite ordinary life' (Karl Hofer quoted in Erinnerungen eines Malers, Berlin, 1953, p. 120).

    Painted at the outbreak of the Second World War between 1939 and 1940, Liegender Mädchenakt vor Fenster mit Berglandschaft was realised at a time of great hardship for Karl Hofer. The 1920s had seen Hofer securing institutional recognition and commercial success with his professorship at the Kunsthalle in Charlottenburg, Berlin, alongside a contract with the celebrated gallerist Alfred Flechtheim, but the 1930s and 1940s were to usher in a decisively more challenging phase for this already mature artist. Following retrospectives of Hofer's paintings to mark his fiftieth birthday in 1928, and a subsequent solo show in 1931, Hofer's work was deemed 'degenerate' by the National Socialist regime shortly after they came to power and he was summarily dismissed from his teaching-post in 1934. Forbidden to paint or to exhibit, some 311 paintings by Hofer were confiscated from German Museums by the Nazi authorities, a number of which were exhibited in the notorious 'Entartete Kunst' exhibition of 1937 in Munich.

    Against this devastating background and in contravention to the prohibition on his painting, Hofer remained remarkably prolific; employing an act of creative defiance despite the public denigration of his work. Liegender Mädchenakt vor Fenster mit Berglandschaft, was executed during these troubled years and illustrates many of the themes and influences which thus far had defined Hofer's style. Yet, as with many others from this period, he instils the work with deeper symbolic meaning and gestures towards a sense of contemporary malaise.

    Depicting a reclining nude set against an Italianate landscape, the present painting immediately recalls the Classical influences which shaped Hofer's nascent career. During his studies at the Art Academy in Karlsruhe, Hofer was inspired by the work of the Swiss Symbolist painter Arnold Böcklin. Known as one of the 'German Romans', Böcklin imbued Italian landscapes with a German Romantic spirit, instilling cypress trees and rocky outcrops with a sense of melancholy, mystery and timelessness in a manner akin to Caspar David Friedrich. Later, Hofer was introduced to the work of the 19th Century German painter Hans von Marées, whose classical style and depiction of mythological subjects prompted Hofer to spend a couple of years in Rome. Like Marées, who had also spent time in Italy studying the Old Masters, Hofer began to employ Classical Arcadian themes within his painting from 1903, yet in contrast to the naturalistic techniques of his mentors, Hofer conveyed his scenes through distinctively modern means.

    Inspired by the naïve work of Henri Rousseau, and in accordance with the simplified forms, bold palette and strong contours of the German Expressionists, Hofer distilled his compositions to their essentials. While never associated with German Expressionist movement, he shared their desire to express the world from a subjective perspective rather than depicting an accurate representation of reality. After a visit to Hofer's studio in 1909, Auguste Macke enthused about his admiration for the artist, a reaction which was likely prompted by an appreciation of their shared expressive aims: 'Hofer is a very impressive painter; he is of huge talent and appeared almost euphoric. I am not easily impressed by a living artist, but he really struck me as a person and as an artist' (Auguste Macke in a letter to Sofie Gerhard, Paris, 13th October 1909, quoted in H. Garnerus, Karl Hofer 1878-1955, Exemplarische Werke, Sammlung Hartwig Garnerus, Heidelberg, 1998, p. 20).

    As seen in the present work, it is through a purification of form and subject that Hofer is able to heighten the subjective intensity of his composition to provoke an emotional reaction. Appearing to cast the scene in the genre of the erotic mythological pastoral, we are immediately reminded of Giorgione and Titian's seminal work, Sleeping Venus; both nudes are reclined, propped on sheets or drapery with a classical background beyond. Yet, through a reconfiguration of the genre's conventions, Hofer is able to jolt the viewer into a new perspective.

    In contrast to Giorgione's passive and peaceful figure, Hofer's subject is unquestionably active. She sits alertly, her pose rigid, and appears to fix her gaze at something in the middle distance, the somber expression and typically black eyes lending the woman a somewhat troubled air. Her sexuality is also diminished, gone are the soft curves and delicate contours of Venus, replaced instead by an angular, sharp edged figure who appears hollow-cheeked and gaunt – decisively not a woman of mythology but rather a contemporary woman experiencing the privations of war-time Germany. Despite referencing the Italianate landscape, Hofer is also careful to situate his subject in a different context. Liegender Mädchenakt vor Fenster mit Berglandschaft is crucially not an Arcadian scene. Rather than placing the woman within nature, she is portrayed in a stark, domestic interior. In fact, the contrast between the dark, unpainted walls of the modest room and brilliant blue tones of landscape beyond, make the viewer question the verity of the scene – does the landscape reality exist? Or is it simply a painterly trick or an imaginative construction to emphasise the disparity between past and present, the Acadian idyll and contemporary adversity.

    Hofer repeated the format of the present composition many times both before and after painting Liegender Mädchenakt vor Fenster mit Berglandschaft. This iterative process allowed him to explore the possibilities of the scene, in which details could be altered to imbue the work with a variety of meanings. The closest comparable to the present work is a larger canvas entitled Liegender Mädchenakt vor Fenster mit Palman painted in 1941. In this painting, the composition remains almost identical to the present work save for three small details. Most notably, Hofer has here disposed of the classical landscape and substituted it with a tropical view of palm trees. Meanwhile, to integrate the entire composition within this context, Hofer has painted a slated overhanging roof visible to the top of the window and echoed the motif of tropical flora to the sheets beneath the figure. The setting here is decisively in the East, far from war-torn Europe. The landscape no longer functions as a marker of genre or contrast, but rather serves to locate his subject in another world altogether. A desire which would have been particularly powerful for Hofer at the time. In 1941, Mathilde Hofer, the artist's estranged wife, was denounced as a Jew by Gestapo informants and sent to her death at Auschwitz.

    This work, as with Liegender Mädchenakt vor Fenster mit Berglandschaft, is testament to Hofer's creative resilience and enduring expressive force. By drawing upon Classical themes but anchoring his subjects in 'ordinary life' Hofer is able to reference the present moment while also lending his subjects a timeless quality. Fundamentally, it is this representation of common human experience outside the confines history of which allows his paintings to resonate, and to touch contemporary viewers long after their creation.
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