Bonhams : Expressionist and Modern DelightsWorks on Paper from the Collection of Bertram and Ruth Malenka
Expressionist and Modern Delights
Works on Paper from the Collection 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.

The collection features drawings by German Expressionists who were the vanguard of the burgeoning artistic movement, each work of theirs on offer emblematic of their respective artistic styles. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's Weiblicher Akt (lot 24) is a striking 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 Brucke 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 Brucke artists. Rather than having professional models, the models were usually friends with the artists and part of their larger social circle. Poses were limited to fifteen minutes to encourage constant energy and spontaneity. In Weiblicher Akt, Kirchner's draftsmanship is reduced to 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 a 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.

Another highlight of the sale is Käthe Kollwitz's Die Bittstellerinnen (lot 22), an entrancing depiction of supplicants interrupted in prayer. The figures, presented with prominence on the large sheet, break the fourth wall to stare in unison directly at the viewers who have intruded upon a private moment of reverence. Their sharp, penetrating gaze and raised brows amidst the lighter, fluid charcoal lines constituting their visages arrest viewers in their tracks. The hint of a third shrouded figure laying supine in the background suggests a scene of mourning, a theme that preoccupied Kollwitz throughout her fifty-year career. This work was first in the collection of acclaimed art historian, author, publisher, and gallerist, Otto Kallir. Fleeing from Nazi persecution, Kallir emigrated to the United States in 1939 and brought with him a significant inventory from his Neue Galerie in Vienna. That same year Kallir established Galerie St. Etienne, where he introduced Austrian and German expressionist art to the United States. Through his gallery Kallir held the first American one-person shows for artists such as Gustav Klimt, Oscar Kokoschka, and Egon Schiele, and he collaborated with museum directors to organize the first major exhibitions of Austrian expressionist art at major American museums.

Oskar Kokoschka's Bildnis Claire Waldoff (lot 23) completes the German Expressionist section of the Malenka's collection on offer in the May 14th Impressionist & Modern Art sale. Bildnis Clarie Waldoff is a drawing for an illustration published on the cover of the December 1916 issue of the periodical Der Sturm, a German art and literary periodical created and edited by Herwarth Walden, a champion of Expressionist artists who had a fondness for Oskar Kokoschka. Claire Waldoff was a renowned chanteuse whose fame reached its zenith during the Weimar Republic era of 1920s Berlin. Waldoff was distinguished for singing in a distinctive Berlin slang studded with curses and drags on her cigarette, all while attired in a shirt and tie complementing her cropped hairstyle. Here, Kokoschka portrays the actress, who was in her early thirties, much older than she is. As Slyvia Roth argues, "Out of her eyes, who have come to know the war only as a cheerful staging, a seriousness and a tiredness look at the viewer as if she had been at the front. This artist, Claire realizes when she looks at her portrait, has escaped the war, but in everything he does, and in everyone he encounters, he is accompanied by the trench. He was showered by his own disillusionment which has gone to bits and pieces, into her face, which is free from any illusion," (translated from S. Roth, Claire Waldoff: Ein Kerl wie Samt und Seide, Freiburg im Breisgau, 2016, chapter 22, n.p).

Of note in the Malenka collection is Henry Moore's 1938 Drawing for Metal Sculpture (lot 25), 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/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.

Such biomorphic elements also constitute Joan Miró's Sans Titre (lot 26), a whimsical drawing comprised of geometric, schematic linear configurations. This 1930 work on paper demonstrates Miró's period of buoyant, unflinchingly experimental that comprised his artwork from the first half of the 1930s and his embrace of the tenets of Surrealism; he was interested in spontaneity and fantasy liberating the unconscious. He strove to upset the visual elements of established painting by formulating a new pictorial language. Random symbols and indeterminate forms float across and punctuate the surface of his artworks, imbuing them with a mysterious, oneiric quality. In Sans Titre, lines of an acute angle form the scaffolding of the composition; the viewer's eye is led to the vertex of the angle which meets a small circle resembling a child-like rendering of a human face. Crisp pencil lines undulate from the central compositional elements and a dense nest of markings appears incongruously in the right-hand corner.

Mr. and Mrs. Malenka were generous supporters of museums and believed strongly in their cultural importance. 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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