Albin Schram: The Curiosity of a Collector

Albin Schram: The Curiosity of a Collector

Sotheby’s is delighted to present a number of works on paper from the collection of Albin Schram, including drawings by artists such as Camille Pissarro, Edgar Degas, August Macke, Emil Nolde and Alfred Kubin.

C ollections are often sparked by seemingly inconsequential moments. For Albin Schram (1926–2005) such a pivotal event occurred on receipt of a letter, written by Napoleon Bonaparte to his wife-to-be Josephine de Beauharnais, and gifted by his mother Erika Schicht. This letter speaks of an argument with Bonaparte, undone by passion, seeking desperate reconciliation through three kisses.

For the insatiably curious Schram, such an entry into the emotional space of one of the important players of modern history immediately preceding his conquest of Europe, was a thrill like no other. Encouraged by his wife, Anne Bibot, Schram began amassing not only historical letters but sketches by some of the greatest artists of the twentieth century. The extraordinary selection of works, now presented in The Artist’s Sketchbook: Where Inspiration Finds Form, reflects Shram’s astute taste and devotion to the personality of the artist and space of creation. Each work is an art historical jewel with a fascinating story to tell.

It is no surprise that the purchase of this shimmering pastel, Olinde et Sophronie, by Edgar Degas was one that particularly excited Schram, prompting delighted phone calls to his family. Much like the original letter that set Schram on his journey of collecting, here Degas portrayed another image of love, torment and duty. The scene is derived from the story of Olindo and Sophronia, as told in the Renaissance poem, Gerusalemme Liberata (Jerusalem Delivered), written by Torquato Tasso in 1581. In layers of soft pastel that build to create swatches of dynamic and vivid colour, Degas captures the climactic moment when Olindo and Sophrinia are tied to a stake, claiming responsibility for a crime that neither committed in, each to save the other. Scenes from the poem were a frequent subject for artists from the Baroque period onwards and, in both palette and form, Degas appears to pay homage to Delacroix’s famous composition in the collection of the Neue Pinakothek in Munich.

Studies for now famed compositions were another thrilling part of Schram’s collection. This sketch is a study for Kupka’s Symbolist masterpiece, Soleil d’automne, in the collection of The National Gallery, Prague; another oil version is in the collection of the Centre Pompidou, Paris. Soleil d’automne depicts three goddesses basking in the golden light of the autumn sun, partly sheltered by the dappled shade of an apple tree.

Frantisek Kupka, Soleil d'automne, 1905-06. © Jean-Claude Planchet - Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI /Dist. RMN-GP
© ADAGP, Paris.

1906 was a pivotal year for Kupka - he settled in a suburb outside of Paris and, for the first time, was asked to exhibit in the esteemed Salon d’Automne, which in title bears an uncanny resemblance to his magnificent painting. This sketch depicts the beautiful and languorous central figure, whose contrapposto pose embodies an inspiring sense of quiet confidence.

1909 was a year of similar art historical importance for the newlywed August Macke. It was in this year that he relocated to Tegernsee, a charming resort town on a lake located near the Bavarian Alps in Germany. This move was to enrich Macke’s artistic development – he befriended fellow-artist Franz Marc, who in turn introduced him to Wassily Kandinsky – both of whom had a profound effect on the direction of the artist’s œuvre. The works produced during this period now rightly count amongst some of the most important of his entire career. In this wonderful pencil sketch, August Macke depicts the tradition of putting on one’s Sunday best and going for a stroll.

The bold foreshortening ensures that the smart hats of both men and women dominate the foreground, while more hats and canes proliferate in the background. With his free and confident lines, Macke wonderfully conjures the air of relaxation, easy contentment and community on this Sunday outing. The sketch relates to Macke’s celebrated paintings of people at leisure: women in their finery window-shopping and men in top hats reading on a park bench.

Shram was captivated by Alfred Kubin and this sale offers nine thought-provoking works from his collection. Conveying the Austrian artist’s mastery as a draughtsman, they highlight the multifarious influences that shaped his œuvre and how his creative energy fed upon the vagaries of his ever-troubled mind. Traumatised by his formative years which witnessed the early death of his mother, acrimonious conflicts with his father and an attempted suicide at nineteen years old, his graphic art grapples with his personal suffering and his exploration into history, philosophy literature and nature.

Rendered in pen and ink, this work is a preparatory sketch for the lithograph Die Weiber von Weinsberg (The Women of Weisnberg). When King Conrad III defeated the Duke of Welf and placed the Castle of Weisnberg in Bavaria under siege, the women of Weisnberg negotiated a surrender which granted them the right to leave with whatever they could carry on their shoulders. However, rather than taking food or money, they outwitted Conrad and carried their husbands on their shoulders, saving their lives in the process, as shown in Kubin’s dramatic work.

This work on paper, executed circa 1919, will be sold with a copy of the book, Wilde Tiere, which contains 32 collotypes by Kubin. The book is signed A.K and dedicated to Meiner lieben Freundin vom Wiedergeborenen AK, ambiguously hinting at a recent illnesses, from which he is now ‘re-born’. Fascinated by Darwin’s theories of evolution, Kubin depicted animals both in conflict and in harmony, striving to explore the complexities of the world’s species. Displaying Kubin’s finely honed imagination, the prowess of the lion is deftly conveyed by his stillness and menacing eyes, seemingly unphased by the writhing snake that confronts him.

The works on offer in The Artist’s Sketchbook: Where Inspiration Finds Form, offer tantalizing glimpses into the history and stories that enchanted and intrigued Albin Schram and his wife. Every work is captivating as a physical expression of the character of the artist and each unfolds to tell stories of the complex, timeless and universal expressions of love and loss, joy and fear, community and creation. The pure and varied sentiments of humanity live on in these works and Sotheby’s is delighted to offer them to the next generation of collectors.

Impressionist & Modern Art

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