Lot 41
  • 41

Max Pechstein

500,000 - 800,000 GBP
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Max Pechstein
  • Stilleben mit Pfeife (Still-Life with Pipe) - Recto Palau Mädchen (Palau Girls) – Verso
  • signed HMP and dated 1917 (lower right); titled on the stretcher
  • oil on canvas
  • 71 by 81cm.
  • 28 by 32in.


Private Collection, Germany

Sale: Sotheby's, Munich, 8th June 1988, lot 43

Purchased at the above sale by the present owner


Berlin, Fritz Gurlitt, Max Pechstein, 1918, no. 9


Georg Biermann, Max Pechstein, Leipzig, 1919, illustrated p. 30

Magdalena M. Moeller, Max Pechstein. Sein malerisches Werk, Munich, 1996, no. 91, illustrated p. 318

Aya Soika, Max Pechstein: Das Werkverzeichnis der Ölgemälde, Munich, 2011, vol. I, no. 1917/6, illustrated in colour p. 485


The canvas is unlined, and has been painted on both sides by the artist. It is currently framed to show both sides. There is a small spot of retouching on the flower pot on the recto visible under ultra-violet light. Apart from a minor spot of paint loss in the lower left corner of the recto, this work is in very good condition. Colours: Recto: In comparison to the printed catalogue illustration, the overall tonality is much less red; the colouration is much richer, more varied and more vibrant in the original. Verso: Overall fairly accurate, although slightly fresher and more varied in the original.
"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. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Painted in 1917, Stilleben mit Pfeife and Palau Mädchen, is a vibrant and enigmatic double-sided work painted after Pechstein’s release from military service. The present canvas is one of a number of works executed during this challenging period, in which the artist revived the brilliant colours of his pre-war style which he applied in thick brushstrokes and blended directly on the surface. The recto represents the bohemian clutter of his studio, with oriental fans, brightly coloured cloths and potted plants arranged in a sumptuous riot of colour and form. The frieze-like arrangement on the verso was inspired by the artist’s trip to the Palau islands in the Pacific which he had undertaken in 1914 (fig. 1). The Expressionists held a deep fascination for the exotic, partly inspired by countless trips to the Museum für Völkerkunde and its like, and equally significantly by Gauguin's paintings of Tahiti (fig. 2). The painters of Die Brücke had initially sought inspiration closer to home along the northern coastline of Germany and Denmark, but eventually searched further afield, with the South Sea Islands a particularly prized destination. Unlike his friend Emil Nolde, who travelled to New Guinea as part of a scientific expedition organised by the Imperial Colonial Office in 1913, Pechstein's journey to Palau was taken under his own steam with financial support from his dealer. He and his wife arrived on the islands with forty cases of belongings and an oven for baking bread. During the four months he spent on Palau he kept a diary in which he recorded his life among the natives, for whom he had a great deal of empathy: 'Since I myself grew up among simple people amidst nature, I readily came to terms with the abundance of new impressions. I didn't have to change my attitude that much... Out of the deepest feeling of community I could approach the South Sea islanders as a brother. From the outset I was familiar with the management of simple handicrafts, just as I had sailed, fished, and woven nets with the people of Nidden and Monterosso al Mare. So here it was also easy to learn to steer a canoe through the coral reef. I felt the most wonderful unity around me, and I breathed it in with an unbounded feeling of happiness' (the artist quoted in Primitivism in 20th Century Art (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1984, vol. II, p. 391). Sadly, the Pechsteins idyllic existence in the South Pacific was brought abruptly to an end with the outbreak of the First World War, and they were forced to return to Germany.

Soon after his return, Pechstein joined the army and served with distinction on the Western Front. Understandably, he had little or no opportunity to paint during his time in uniform and therefore the transfer to canvas of his Palau experiences were put on hold. However, in May 1917 he returned home to Berlin for good having been seconded to the Flying Corps as an aerial photography analyst. This move effectively safe-guarded him for the remainder of the war and may have been due to certain influential friends and patrons who petitioned for his return from the frontline. In June 1917 he declared to his friend Alexander Gerbig: ‘There is only one thing I still want to do, to work and only to work, to contribute to the clarification of the conditions of our time and art’ (quoted in B. Fulda & A. Soika, Max Pechstein: The Rise and Fall of Expressionism, Berlin, 2012, p. 195).

After the initial difficulties Pechstein faced when he returned to his studio, he soon began to paint again, quickly regaining his old fluency and verve. Discussing this period of intense production, Bernhard Fulda and Aya Soika relate it directly to his trip to the Pacific, writing: ‘For over two years he [Pechstein] had yearned to render his Palau experience in oil, now paintings based on his sketches from Palau were among the first pictures which he produced. Landscapes dominated by the lush green of tropical vegetation, the dark blue of the Pacific, and the glowing yellow and red of sand and earth made for spectacularly colourful compositions’ (B. Fulda & A. Soika, ibid., p. 196). The Palau landscapes marked a new phase in the artist’s career. He became commercially successful with some of his canvases commanding prices in excess of 2000 marks (more than the annual income of a working-class household), and with the Palau landscapes he also achieved critical success. In 1918 his dealer reopened his gallery, and the debut exhibition was a solo-show of Pechstein’s most recent paintings, including the present work. The soft contours and rich colouration that defined his 1917 paintings drew praise from critics such as Fritz Stahl, who wrote: ‘Only now do I believe in the painter Pechstein. […] No longer caricatures, [but] humans standing there, women even in all gracefulness with delicate limbs and fine hands’ (F. Stahl, ‘Max Pechstein’, in Berliner Tageblatt, 3rd June 1918).