Estate of Bertram and Ruth Malenka

Bonhams is delighted to present property from the Estate of Bertram and Ruth Malenka, ardent collectors whose passion for works of art and decorative objects spanned continents and centuries. During their more than 60-year marriage, the couple amassed a collection of more than 150 works that they carefully studied, restored, displayed, and admired.

The Malenka's diverse acquirement process grew as their interests evolved. The collection commenced with Japanese ukiyo-e prints that Mr Malenka acquired while stationed in Tokyo, shortly after the Japanese surrendered in WWII. From there, Mr and Mrs Malenka grew their collection to encompass an impressive array of African Art acquired at auction; American Southwest decorative pieces, some of which were purchased from the Santa Fe Indian Market; and then to drawings by modern masters, including Joan Miró and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, from galleries and auctions. Several of their German Expressionist and Modernist works on paper will be featured in the upcoming May 14th Impressionist & Modern Art sale held in New York.

A highlight of the sale is Kirchner's Weiblicher Akt, an arresting female nude that perfectly encapsulates the exuberant vitality that defines Kirchner's artistic oeuvre. The work was executed a year after the establishment of the Die Brücke group, for which Kirchner used his studio space as a source of inspiration, a physical and idyllic escape from the social conventions of Dresden. In the early years, the female nude served as the foundation amongst the Die Brücke artists. Rather than having professional models, the models were usually friends with the artists, a part of their larger social circle. Poses were limited to quarterly hour time frames to encourage constant energy and spontaneity. In Weiblicher Akt, Kirchner's draftsmanship is reduced to the simple curves that create an abstracted female figure, with the bold and direct brushstrokes illustrating Kirchner's transcription of the ephemeral moment. The minimal composition leaves bare swaths of the paper, creating lightness and sense of freedom throughout the scene. The woman's natural and relaxed pose, facing directly frontal towards the viewer, emphasizes her unabashed nudity and encapsulates the openly sexual and euphoric atmosphere that defined Kirchner's famous studio.

Of note in their collection is Henry Moore's 1938 Drawing for Metal Sculpture, exemplifying how the prolific draftsman used the paper medium to investigate the forms of three-dimensional objects. Although Moore used drawing in a preparatory function, he did not hold that they simply were a means to another end. Rather, with the suggestion of place and atmosphere, the drawings are fully realized works of art themselves. Throughout Drawing for Metal Sculpture we see some of Moore's most recognizable sculptures, including forms that anticipate the internal and external forms that would pervade his 1940s and 50s output. Here, Moore deftly applied chalk for shading and crosshatching with pen to lend the forms a great sense of dimensionality.

Mr and Mrs Malenka were generous supporters of museums and believed strongly in their cultural import. Many pieces in their collection were on frequent loan to the Harvard University museums and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, which now permanently houses works from their collection. Bonhams is honored to handle the sale of select items from their collection.


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