A collection’s many journeys
The works in this family collection were carefully brought together by a passionate collector and enthusiast of the arts over a period of almost thirty years, starting in the early 1960s. German art of the 1920s was at the heart of the collector’s interest, and included the social satire of George Grosz and Otto Dix, as well as important works of the Neue Sachlichkeit, Dada and Constructivism. Most of the artists represented in this collection, who had lived through the horrors of World War I and established themselves as artists during the Weimar Republic, found themselves defamed as ‘degenerate’ by the Nazi regime. Some were driven into exile, such as George Grosz, and many of those who remained in Germany were banned from working. Otto Freundlich (see lot 77) was murdered at Sobibor concentration camp on the day of his arrival in 1943.
Much of the artists’ work had to be hidden from the ‘Entartete Kunst’-purge, and many of the paintings, works on paper and prints in this collection are rare survivors of this feverish and fascinating, yet doomed period of German art.
Amongst the printed works, the etchings and drypoints of Otto Dix stand at the centre of the collection, oscillating – therein representative of the collector’s wider tastes and choices – between unsparing realism, fierce social criticism, collage-like elements inspired by the Dada-movement, and the surreal and the grotesque, all served up with a generous dose of black humour (also see lots 78-79 and 81-89).
The works in this outstanding collection were bought after much consideration from a few trusted gallerists, occasionally at auction and, whenever possible, from the artists themselves. Some emerging artists of the post-war period, for example Friedensreich Hundertwasser (lot 91), were supported with occasional purchases of a work, but above all with boundless generosity and hospitality. The collector would drive through the night across Germany and Switzerland to visit artist friends, attend museum openings or see auction previews. Each new purchase was shown to the family and explained and discussed before finding its place on the walls of the family home.
This was not investment, this was a ceaseless passion. The collection was to be enjoyed amongst friends and family at home, but also by the general public – no museum loan request was declined, and as the reputation of the rarities in this private collection grew, more museum loan requests would follow. There was a constant stream of shippers arriving at the door collecting loans for museums across Germany and the United States. The collection’s journey has continued for another thirty years in the hands of the collector’s family after his passing. Some of the masterpieces in the collection found their way to prestigious museum collections, while others are now being sold, so that they can continue on the next phase of their journey.
The present etching Syphilitiker is one of the most grotesque and compositionally daring images in Otto Dix’s early graphic oeuvre. The eponymous ‘syphilitic’ is depicted as a large head, strangely super-imposed over a street view. The head is almost bodyless, the neck and collar only suggested rather than described. Upon closer inspection, it becomes apparent that the head only consists of an outline and some hair towards the edges, but is otherwise featureless. In a collage-like manner, the head is filled with figures of nude women, syringes and the brand names and packages of various medicines and remedies. Two syringes poke it from the outside, but we are in fact looking into the mind of the sufferer rather than at him. His head is entirely filled with this man’s obsessions: sex - and the wish for a cure from his infection. The street scene in the background places us in the uncomfortable position of seeing something we often wonder about, but rarely get to know: the inner strife and turmoil of a fellow passer-by.