Property from the Oskar Federer Collection
Oskar Federer (1884-1968) was acknowledged as one of the pre-eminent collectors of French Impressionism and nineteenth and twentieth century German, Austrian and Czech art in pre-war Czechoslovakia, and beyond. On 10th January 1932 the Prager Tageblatt wrote: '[Federer] takes an active part in all contemporary issues, and has a reputation for being an ardent patron and supporter of domestic art. His collection of paintings is one of the finest modern art collections in Prague. He is a member of the Modern Gallery curatorial board'.
Federer was the General Director of the largest steel manufacturer in Czechoslovakia, the Vitkovice Mining and Metallurgic Company in the 1930s and was forced to flee Czechoslovakia in 1939 with the help of the British Foreign Office. He finally settled with his family in Montreal, Canada, in August 1940. Federer succeeded in taking with him ten works from his collection, including oil-paintings by Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin (pictured above), Monet and Renoir. The Nazis confiscated the remaining collection which comprised over 100 pieces including paintings, drawings, watercolours and sculptures from his company villa in Vitkovice, his villa in Prague and his home in Kropacova Vrutice.
Approximately twenty-two works ended up in the Gallery of Fine Art of the Municipal Museum of Ostrava by November 1943, when they were given by the regime on loan to this newly-established institution. With the defeat of the Nazis in 1945 and the Communists' rise to power in 1948, the Czech government decided to keep the works in Ostrava and in another public gallery in Pardubice. In 2007, after a ten year litigation, a group of twenty-two works were restituted to the heirs of Oskar Federer who continue his passion and the family tradition of collecting contemporary art.
Sotheby's is honoured to present nine works from this group in the series of Impressionist & Modern Art auctions on 3rd and 4th February 2009 and in our forthcoming Russian Art and 19th Century European Paintings auctions to be held in London later in the year.
Painted in June 1929, the present work captures one of the most striking and magical views of Istanbul. Depicting the atmospheric sunset over the city, Kokoschka most probably painted the present work from the top of the Galata-Tower or another tall building with a view over the 'Golden Horn', the old town and the towering Fatih-Mosque in the centre. On 29th June the painter commented on the present work in a letter to his family: 'I have finished a landscape, very beautiful, it is actually my first picture of the whole trip' (Oskar Kokoschka quoted in J. Winkler & K. Erling, op. cit., p. 146, translated from German).
Kokoschka is one of the most important Austrian Expressionist artists of the 20th century. He was working alongside Egon Schiele in the early 1910s and exhibited with the German Brücke artists at the Galerie Der Sturm in Berlin before he settled in Dresden. His depictions of cities such as Dresden (fig. 2), London and Prague (fig. 3) rank among the finest pieces within his oeuvre. In these paintings the artist either focuses on a city's characteristic detail or, as is apparent in Istanbul I, chooses to depict a larger panoramic view.
The famous Süleymaniye Mosque towers in the centre of Istanbul's highest hill. It was completed in 1557 and set the pattern for mosque-building for the next 200 years and continues to dominate the Istanbul skyline until today. During the reign of Süleyman I (1520-66) the city became a true imperial centre synonymous with grandeur. The vital link between the two sides of European Istanbul is the Galata Bridge, depicted here on the left. Other major landmarks in the picture include the Yeni Valide Mosque just behind and the Beyazit Tower rising high in the background.
A summary of Kokoschka's movements between August 1923, when he left Dresden, and 1935, when he settled in Prague, gives some idea of his astonishing energy and curiosity for new sights. During those formative years he visited eleven European countries and explored much of North Africa and the Middle East. On 27th May 1929, Kokoschka arrived in Istanbul, where he stayed until mid-July of the same year.
As is evident in Istanbul I, water clearly fascinated Kokoschka, nowhere more so than when the heart of a big city was bordering the sea or bisected by a broad mysterious river. Commenting on the artist's use of colour, particularly his preference for different shades of blue, Hans Maria Wingler wrote: 'Kokoschka's colour is more ethereal, more luminous, less material. [...] Blue is definitely Kokoschka's favourite colour, and the one whose favours he woos most assiduously, although it is by no means always the dominant colour in the picture' (H. M. Wingler, op. cit., p. 56).
The present work reflects the new painterly style that Kokoschka developed in the 1920s. He effectively enlarged his angle of vision and range of distance, a practice he adopted as it gave him greater freedom of arrangement. The central perspective becomes doubled, so that instead of being fixed at one focal point it is fixed at several points. He accentuates the rising grounds towards the sides whereby the enclosed harbour in the foreground seems to extend into the viewer's space. As Richard Calvocoressi has noted: '[Kokoschka] adopted the unusual technique of painting the same picture from two different standpoints [...]. This double perspective accounts for the slightly spherical composition of many of his townscapes, similar to a wide-angle photograph, as well as the sense of a spinning motion that inhibits the eye from fixing on a single focal point and which gives equal significance to what happens at the periphery of vision. In short, they are at their best paintings which capture the very feel of life itself' (R. Calvocoressi, 'Travels 1923-30', in Oskar Kokoschka (exhibition catalogue), Tate Gallery, London, 1986, p. 112).
Istanbul I is a brilliant testimony of the painter's newly developed style and is one of his most important city-scape paintings. In his oeuvre this is the only work depicting the unique splendour of the Golden Horn and at the same time a historic document capturing the Istanbul of the late 1920s.
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