Lot 12
  • 12

Herbert Bayer

300,000 - 500,000 USD
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  • Herbert Bayer
  • Photomontage
a unique object, photomontage with gouache, mounted to illustration board, framed, Buhl Collection and Guggenheim Museum, National Gallery of Art, and Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art exhibition labels on the reverse, 1932


The photographer to Joella Bayer, his wife

Acquired by Kaspar Fleischmann, Zurich, 1987

Christie's New York, Twenty Years: Celebrating Galerie zur Stockeregg, Zurich, 4 October 1999, Sale 9306, Lot 21


Los Angeles, ARCO Center for Visual Art, herbert bayer: photographic work, April - May 1977

New York, The Museum of Modern Art, herbert bayer: photographic works (an abridged version of the ARCO exhibition), October 1977 - January 1978

Zurich, Galerie Zur Stockeregg, Herbert Bayer: Vintage Works, May - August 1987

New York, Guggenheim Museum, Speaking with Hands: Photographs from The Buhl Collection, June - September 2004, and 4 other international venues through 2007 (see Appendix 1)

Washington, National Gallery of Art, Foto: Modernity in Central Europe, 1918-1945, National Gallery of Art, June - September 2007; and traveling thereafter to:

New York, Guggenheim Museum, February - May 2008

Milwaukee Art Museum, February - May 2008

Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, June - August 2008

Palm Beach Photographic Centre, In Good Hands: Selected Works from the Buhl Collection, March 2011


This unique object:

Jennifer Blessing, Speaking with Hands: Photographs from The Buhl Collection (Guggenheim Foundation, 2004), pp. 54 and 203

Leland Rice and Beaumont Newhall, herbert bayer: photographic works (Los Angeles: ARCO Center for Visual Art, 1977), pl. 62

Matthew S. Witkovsky, Foto: Modernity in Central Europe, 1918-1945 (Washington: National Gallery of Art, 2007), fig. 97, p. 120


This work consists of several photographic components, expertly collaged together and carefully retouched and accentuated with black and gray gouache applied by hand and airbrush. The photographic components are affixed to a sheet of stiff, thick illustration board. The piece is essentially in excellent condition, although this assessment needs to be understood within the context of Bayer's photomontages. While it is not a pristine object, all of the extensive retouching and gouache-work are done by Bayer himself. At a modest distance, these coalesce into a unified whole. Closer examination reveals the painstaking care with which Bayer pieced the collage together. The photographic paper used appears to be single-weight paper with a glossy surface. Bayer made extensive use of gouache to create the shadows behind the hands, which give the hands an almost three-dimensional appearance. Bayer has done heavy retouching to make the eyes blend more seamlessly into the palms. A small portion of the lower left corner of the building is almost entirely recreated in gouache. This work is on illustration board that measures 18 1/2 by 13 3/4 in. That portion of the mount which extends beyond the edge of the photomontage has glue and paper remains, suggesting that this image was overmatted at one time. The corners and edges of the mount are bumped and worn. There is a half-inch tear in the upper right edge of the mount, not affecting the image. The two lower mount corners are creased, but again, this does not affect the image. The reverse of the mount is somewhat soiled.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

The Buhl Collection Lonely Metropolitan is the original fotoplastik created by Herbert Bayer in 1932.  This unique work is composed of several photographic elements, artfully combined into a cohesive whole with the aid of Bayer's expert airbrushing and handwork.  In 1936, and later in 1968, Bayer issued small editions of copy photographs of this original photomontage and other fotoplastiken, and it is primarily through these second-generation prints that the images are known.  Lonely Metropolitan, as offered here, is the original montage from which all subsequent generations of prints of this image have been made.

The Austrian-born Bayer became interested in art as a boy; by the time he attended the Bauhaus in Weimar in 1921, he had already worked as a professional commercial artist and graphic designer in Linz and Darmstadt, Germany.  At the Bauhaus, he studied mural painting under Wassily Kandinsky.  Between 1925 and 1928, he was an instructor at the Bauhaus, teaching typography and advertising design.  In the late 1920s and 1930s, Bayer worked in Berlin, and it is during this period that he created the series of works that he referred to as fotoplastiken, including Lonely Metropolitan (cf. herbert bayer: photographic works, plates 65 - 74). 

Bayer’s process for creating his fotoplastiken (literally 'photo sculptures') was a complex and varied one.  In some instances, he photographed objects in his studio; he also used found imagery.  A meticulous craftsman, Bayer combined these photographs, expertly assembling all of the elements into a homogenous composition.  Bayer’s handling of Lonely Metropolitan is masterful.  In it, several photographic components are collaged together and carefully accentuated with black and gray gouache applied by hand and airbrush.  Bayer made extensive use of gouache to create the shadows behind the hands, which throw them into greater relief, giving them an almost three-dimensional appearance.  Bayer similarly blended the eyes seamlessly into the palms of the hands. 

Throughout Bayer's brief career as a photographer, which lasted roughly from 1926 to 1938, he consistently pushed the medium's boundaries, and continually approached his compositions with intelligence, imagination, and a sly sense of humor.  In Lonely Metropolitan, eyes stare from the palms of hands that float in midair within an urban courtyard.  In Self-Portrait (ibid., pl. 64), the photographer looks in mock horror as he removes a portion of his arm in front of a mirror to reveal not flesh and bone, but an opaque stone-like interior.    

Lonely Metropolitan is perhaps Bayer's most famous fotoplastik.  Like the best of Bayer's fotoplastiken and photomontages, Lonely Metropolitan depends for its impact not only upon a precise Bauhaus-inspired handling of materials, but also upon a clever juxtaposition of disparate images that creates a dreamlike totality bordering on the Surreal.  Within the context of the Buhl Collection, in which hands are the consistent motif, the pairing of the eyes with the hands serves as an especially poetic comment on one collector’s approach to the medium.