Lot 21
  • 21

Max Pechstein

1,500,000 - 2,000,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Max Pechstein
  • Stilleben (Still Life)
  • Signed HM Pechstein and dated 1919 (lower right); titled Stilleben (on the reverse)
  • Oil on canvas


Galerie Gurlitt, Berlin (until 1923)

Dr. Karl Lilienfeld, Leipzig, Berlin & New York (acquired by 1932 and until the 1950s or 1960s)

(possibly) Weintraub Gallery, New York

Emile E. Wolf, New York (acquired in the 1950s or 1960s)

Thence by descent


Cambridge, Germanic Museum; East Hampton, Guild Hall & New London, Lyman Allyn Museum, Paintings by Six Modernists, 1932

Cambridge, Germanic Museum, Harvard University, on loan 1935-37

San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Art, on loan 1937-38

New York, Museum of Modern Art; Detroit, Detroit Institute of Arts & Dallas, Dallas Museum of Art, "Primitivism" in 20th Century Art, Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern, 1984-85, illustrated in color in the catalogue


Max Pechstein, Sein malerisches Werk  (exhibition catalogue), Brücke-Museum, Berlin; Kunsthalle, Tübingen & Kunsthalle, Kiel, 1996-97, illustrated p. 104 (titled Afrikanische Holzskulptur)

Aya Soika, Max Pechstein: Das Werkverzeichnis der Olgemalde, Munich, 2011, vol. II, no. 1919/7, illustrated in black and white p. 130 & illustration in black and white of the reverse p. 530

Catalogue Note

Painted in thickly-laden brushstrokes of strikingly bright colors, Stilleben is an excellent example of Pechstein’s mature expressionist style, and an important record of his interest in the art of Oceania and Africa. As with many avant-garde artists of his generation, Pechstein was fascinated by the art of "primitive" cultures. He used his knowledge and personal collection of exotic ephemera to construct still-lifes that are imbued with an exuberant animation in the same manner as his daring figurative works. Aya Soika speculates that it was the accounts of life in the South Seas published in the History of All Times and People written by Karl Semper in 1900 and illustrated with photographs of indigenous art and architecture that first prompted Pechstein and his fellow Brücke artists to visit the ethnographic museum in Dresden which held an extensive collection of exotic art and artefacts. Attracted by the wilderness and vitality of the exotic cultures he had glimpsed in the museum, Pechstein planned a trip to Palau in the Pacific Ocean in 1914. On his journey he produced very little and the outbreak of war prevented him from working on his return, but in 1917 through to the early 1920s Pechstein executed an extraordinary number of works related to his experiences in the South Seas, such as the present painting. 

The Brücke artists interest in the art of indigenous peoples was a phenomenon not exclusive to the German avant-garde. At the end of the 19th century artists followed in the footsteps of ethnographers, travelling to far-flung places in search of a different way of life, and the art and  culture they found had a profound impact on the development of  modern art, from the work of Paul Gauguin to the early stages of Cubism. In an introductory text written for an unpublished book on ethnographic art, Pechstein’s erstwhile Brücke colleague Emil Nolde wrote: “How has it come about that we artists derive such pleasure from seeing the expressive products of primitive peoples?… They create with the material in their hands, between their fingers, giving expression to their delight in forming images. Their uncompromising naturalness, the intensive, often grotesque expression of life and strength in simplest form – is it perhaps this which constitutes the source of our enjoyment of these native objects” (E. Nolde quoted in Emil Nolde (exhibition catalogue), Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, 1995, p. 148). Another member of Die Brücke, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, carved his own sculptures inspired by dance and freedom in the wilderness. His still life of 1912 shares notable qualities with the present work, though the figures pictured are sculptures of his own creation as opposed to those from Pechstein's journeys overseas. The pleasure that Pechstein found in his collection of objects and their important contribution to his own art it fully evident in Stilleben of 1919.

According to Aya Soika's catalogue raisonné entry for this piece, the composition on the reverse, entitled Hügelige Landschaft (Hilly Landscape) dates from circa 1911.