Lot 125
  • 125

Heinrich Campendonk

800,000 - 1,200,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Heinrich Campendonk
  • Der wiesse Baum (The White Tree)
  • Oil on canvas
  • 35 1/4 by 31 3/4 in.
  • 89.5 by 80.6 cm


Katherine Dreier, New York
Theodore W. Braasch, New Jersey (and sold: Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., New York, November 18, 1964, lot 97)
Arnold Saltzman, New York (acquired at the above sale)
Acquired from the above


Brooklyn, The Brooklyn Museum, Sociéte Anonyme Exhibition, 1926, no. 77
New York, Museum of Modern Art, German Paintings and Sculpture, 1931, no. 11, illustrated in the catalogue
Chicago, Chicago World's Fair, A Century of Progress, 1933, no. 747, illustrated in the catalogue


Clarence Joseph Bulliet, The Significant Moderns and Their Pictures, New York, 1936, illustrated pl. 251
Andrea Firmenich, Heinrich Campendonk, Recklinghausen, Germany, 1989, no. 925, illustrated n.p.

Catalogue Note

Der wiesse Baum (The White Tree) is a bold yet beautifully lyrical rendering of Campendonk's favorite theme, that of animals in nature. A complex mixture of human, animal and plant life, this composition illustrates the artist's firm belief in a cosmic harmony of man and nature. The stylized and vividly colored figures are intertwined in a way that suggests the unity of all living forms. Surrounded by animals, the cowherd seems to inhabit a 'primitive' and unspoiled world, far from the bustle of urban life. Like the Impressionists and Fauves before them, Campendonk and his fellow German Expressionists often ventured into nature, seeking a more peaceful, elemental environment. Peter Selz writes, "By means of his extremely personal symbolism, Campendonk has created an idyllic, evocative world that defies rational explanation. As early as 1921 Georg Biermann pointed out that among European artists Campendonk was most closely related to Marc Chagall, probably with reference to the mysterious symbolism that each artist employed" (Peter Selz, German Expressionist Painting, Berkeley, 1973, p. 309).

Campendonk was a member of Der Blaue Reiter and took part in the group's first exhibition, held in Munich in 1911. Like the other members of the group, he believed in the power of visual art to express the spiritual truths. While Kandinsky chose to convey his beliefs in the preternatural through abstraction, Campendonk and Franz Marc found the expression of the spiritual and the symbolic in the animal world. In 1911, Campendonk moved to the Bavarian village of Sindelsdorf, where he joined Marc. As Selz further notes, "When the Rhenisch painter Heinrich Campendonk came to live in Bavaria, he saw peasant votive pictures under glass. Fascinated by this naïve, forceful expression, he tried to re-create—not imitate—the spirit, technique and subject matter of folk art. He settled among the Bavarian peasants and lived on their farms for many years, first in Sindelsdorf and then, after being discharged from the army in 1916, in Seeshaupt, on lake Starnberg. Aided by his strong sense of color, he soon mastered the technique of under-glass painting. After the deaths of Marc and Macke, who exerted such a strong influence on his work, Campendonk carried on many of their forms and concepts and at the same time was deeply occupied with the problems of cubism... Campendonk has established a formal unity of patterns, color, and overlapping planes... objects are painted in their broadest, simplest and most significant aspects" (ibid., p. 309). Thus while the imagery of Der wiesse Baum (The White Tree) is based on scenes from daily life of the villagers, it represents a world fantasy and fairytale lyricism characteristic of Campendonk's art.

The present picture is uniquely distinguished by its impressive provenance, particularly as it was previously in the collection of Katherine Dreier, a German-born artist, scholar, arts patron and a leading figure in the fight for women’s suffrage in the United States. Dreier befriended many of the most important avant-garde artists of the early twentieth century, among them Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray, with whom she founded the Societé Anonyme in 1920 to exhibit and promote interest in modern art in New York. As a leader of the Societé she orchestrated numerous seminal exhibitions and is considered responsible for introducing Alexander Archipenko, Jacques Villon, Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky and David Burliuk to an American audience. Together with Duchamp she amassed an unrivaled collection of modern masterpieces, with a keen focus on German Expressionism, the majority of which they left to the Yale University Art Gallery. The present work is one of the select few works by Campendonk she retained in her personal collection, another being Mystical Crucifixion of circa 1926-28 which she donated to the Museum of Modern Art, New York, where it remains still today.