S otheby’s is delighted to offer an important group of Old Master prints from the collection of the esteemed art historian and publisher Walter L. Strauss. Born in Nuremberg in 1922, where his father ran a toy factory, Strauss and his family emigrated to the United States in 1936 following the introduction of the Nuremberg Race Laws. Despite undertaking his studies as an expatriate non-native speaker at the age of fourteen, Strauss was an avid learner.
He graduated from school a mere two years later at the top of his class, before earning degrees in political science (the University of Wyoming), chemical engineering (Pratt Institute) and philosophy (the New School for Social Research). He also served as a lieutenant with the United States Armed Forces intelligence agency, the Office of Strategic Services, during World War II.
Following the tradition initiated by his father, Strauss went on to run a toy importation company in New York in the 1950s. Though this was a full-time responsibility, the entrepreneur’s voracious mind compelled him to begin studying at night, and his attention turned to the great Renaissance artist with whom he shared a birth place: Albrecht Dürer.
In 1970, Strauss dedicated himself completely to his art historical ambitions, though he soon became frustrated by difficulties in having his writings published. He decided then to establish a publishing house in New York, Abaris Books, focused on art historical and philosophical publications, with a particular emphasis on the graphic works of fifteenth- to nineteenth-century European Masters. In subsequent years, Abaris published a multitude of scholarly reference books, the most significant of which was The Illustrated Bartsch, an immense and now indispensable compendium of Old Master prints.
Strauss himself wrote and edited many important titles, including The Complete Engravings, Etchings and Drypoints of Albrecht Dürer (1972), The Woodcuts and Wood Blocks of Albrecht Dürer (1979), and the six-volume catalogue, The Complete Drawings of Albrecht Dürer (1974). His purview then extended to the works of another illustrious figure in art history: Strauss soon edited Hendrick Goltzius, 1558-1617: The Complete Engravings and Woodcuts (1977), and Hendrick Goltzius, Master Engraver 1558-1617 (1980).
Given his steadfast dedication to the scholarship surrounding Dürer and Goltzius, along with other epoch-making Old Masters such as Rembrandt, it is an honour for Sotheby’s to present such an important group of works by the artists that Strauss so diligently collected and researched.
The collection comprises several of these great artists’ most celebrated prints, such as Dürer’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and Interlaced Cord Patterns and Goltzius’s The Large Hercules. These momentous subjects are accompanied in the sale by scarce and sought-after works by Rembrandt, including David and Goliath and Self-Portrait in a Cap, wide-eyed and open-mouthed (lot 60), and an incredibly rare engraving – The Visitation – by one of the earliest and most significant printmakers in the history of art: the Master ES.