New York – On December 6 in New York, Sonnenflecken (1922), a masterpiece by Max Pechstein (1881-1955), renowned painter and member of the Die Brücke group, will highlight Bonhams’ Impressionist & Modern Art auction. Offered at an estimate of $1,000,000 – 1,500,000, the work is one of a series of boldly colored Expressionist landscapes and waterscapes painted during the early 1920s; it is emblematic of a period of great productivity and creativity in Pechstein’s life, a rebirth as he called it, during which he was completely devoted to his art.
Sonnenflecken likely belongs to the series of Colorist landscapes which Pechstein executed in and around Leba – a small village on the Baltic coast of what is now Poland – from July to September 1922, with the central subject the reflection of the sun on water, the study of which would recur in his later works. Pechstein’s enthusiasm for the rustic environs of Leba is imbued in Sonnenflecken, seen in how he depicts a river of intense blue and yellow pigment – striking complementary colors – flanked by verdant fields and foliage with a newfound intensity and vigor. Under the vivid gold and emerald sky, the sailboats and waterscape come alive with energetically applied, angular streaks of color, immersing the viewer in Pechstein’s distinctive vision of the world.
The sale will also feature a curated section of works entitled “Émigré Artists in America,” highlighting artists whose styles were greatly influenced during their time in the United States, and who in turn inspired the next generation of artists. The group includes German-born, American naturalized artists Max Ernst and George Grosz, Russian-born, French naturalized artist Marc Chagall, Mexican painters Diego Rivera and Rufino Tamayo, French-Mexican artist, Alice Rahon, and French-born, American naturalized artist Hilla von Rebay, among others.
A significant exodus of artists resulted from World War II, fleeing from France, Germany, and other Eastern European countries to escape Nazi persecution. Such was the case for Marc Chagall (1887-1985) who was born to a Jewish family, and left France in 1941 for New York. Chagall’s later works were defined by increasing lyricism and abstraction, and he took on several important monumental commissions based in the United States: Peace (1964) for the United Nations and The America Windows (1977) for the Chicago Institute of Art, which he considered symbols of gratitude for his asylum in the US during World War II. Featured in the sale is a fresh-to-market painting, Paysanne au visage vert (circa 1978-1981) by Chagall, estimated at $350,000 – 500,000, which has been unseen by the public since it was acquired by the present owner in the mid-1980s. Similarly, Max Ernst (1891-1976) fled Germany for New York in 1941, eventually settling in Sedona, Arizona where he created an artist’s colony, before relocating to Paris for the remainder of his life. Offered in the sale is Gracieux et subtil, also titled Eclosion (1957), estimated at $140,000 – 180,000, and is exemplary of his interpretation of Surrealism, exploring biomorphic forms and geometric shapes as recurring motifs.
Taking inspiration from his new country, Street Scene, New York (1934) by George Grosz (1893-1959) depicts a bustling, quintessentially American street in New York City, estimated at $25,000 – 35,000. While in Berlin he was known for striking anti-war drawings and works that critiqued social corruption in Germany, Grosz took the opportunity to re-establish himself in the United States as a painter of landscapes and still lifes. Hilla von Rebay’s (1890-1967) avant-garde artistic style was welcome in New York when she arrived in the late 1920s; she aided the popularization of Modern art in the United States and was co-founder and first director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. In the sale, Abstract composition (1946), was painted nearly two decades after she arrived in the country and just a year before she was made an American citizen; it is estimated at $20,000 – 30,000.Magic Games (1978) by Françoise Gilot (b. 1921), estimated at $80,000 – 100,000, is an additional highlight of the sale.Born in Paris, Gilot had already entered a mature period of her artistic career when she began to spend time in La Jolla, California. In the US, the artist found a freedom from tradition and Gilot’s style completely changed; her paintings took on flat planes of color, influenced by the stark contrasts of hues she found along the coast.