Lot 12
  • 12

KARL SCHMIDT-ROTTLUFF | Watt bei Ebbe (Fens at Low Tide)

2,000,000 - 3,000,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Watt bei Ebbe (Fens at Low Tide)
  • signed S. Rottluff and dated 1912 (lower right)
  • oil on canvas
  • 76.5 by 84cm.
  • 30 1/8 by 33in.
  • Painted in 1912.


Baron von der Heydt, Wuppertal

Prof. Dr. Kurt Forberg, Düsseldorf & St. Moritz (acquired by 1960)

Private Collection, Germany (by descent from the above in 1979)

Sale: Villa Grisebach Auktionen, Berlin, 24th November 1995, lot 23

Sale: Villa Grisebach Auktionen, Berlin, 28th November 2013, lot 10

Purchased at the above sale by the present owner


Munich, Galerie Hans Goltz, 2. Ausstellung, 1913, no. 139 (titled Watt)

Berlin, Kunst-Salon Fritz Gurlitt, Kollektionen, 1914, no. 41 (titled Watt)

Essen, Museum Folkwang, Dem wiedereröffneten Museum Folkwang zum Gruss, 1960, illustrated in the catalogue (titled Am Watt bei Dangast)

Düsseldorf, Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen, Zehn Jahre Grosser Kunstpreis des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen, 1962, no. 42, illustrated in the catalogue

London, Tate Gallery, Painters of the Brücke, 1964, no. 260

Frankfurt, Kunstverein, Vom Impressionismus zum Bauhaus. Meisterwerke aus deutschem Privatbesitz, 1966, no. 75, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

Düsseldorf, Galerie Wilhelm Grosshennig, Sonderausstellung: S. Rottluff. Gemälde aus den Jahren 1907–1961, 1969, illustrated in colour on the cover of the catalogue

Munich, Haus der Kunst & Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Europäischer Expressionismus / L’Expressionnisme européen, 1970, no. 138 (in Munich), no. 127 (in Paris), illustrated in colour in the catalogue


Karl Ruhrberg, Der Schlüssel zur Malerei von heute, Düsseldorf & Vienna, 1965, illustrated after p. 128

Abraham B. Enns & Hans-Friedrich Geist (eds.), 50 Jahre Overbeck-Gesellschaft Lübeck, 1918–1968, Lübeck, 1968, illustrated in colour p. 35

Sammlung Forberg, Düsseldorf, 1970, illustrated in colour

Ewald Rathke, Expressionismus, Munich, 1971, illustrated in colour pl. 18 (titled Sandbänke und Ebbe)

Donald E. Gordon, Modern Art Exhibitions 1900–1916, Munich, 1974, vol. II, listed pp. 732 & 821 (titled Watt)

Gerhard Wietek, Schmidt-Rottluff: Oldenburger Jahre 1907–1912, Mainz, 1995, no. 285, illustrated in colour p. 549

Catalogue Note

Painted in 1912, Watt bei Ebbe exemplifies the energy and radical experimentation that defined Schmidt-Rottluff’s involvement with Die Brücke. Along with Kirchner and Heckel, Schmidt-Rottluff was one of the founders of the movement, pioneering a new form of art that promoted freedom of expression and rejected the traditions of academic painting that had been central to their artistic education in turn of the century Dresden. ‘With faith in progress and in a new generation of creators and spectators we call together all youth,’ Kirchner wrote in the programme of Die Brücke in 1906, continuing: ‘As youth, we carry the future and want to create for ourselves freedom of life and of movement against the long established older forces. Everyone who reproduces that which drives him to creation with directness and authenticity belongs to us’ (quoted in C. Harrison & P. Wood (eds.), Art in Theory, 1900-1990, Oxford & Cambridge, 1993, pp. 67-68). 

Schmidt-Rottluff spent the summers between 1907 and 1912 in the small coastal town of Dangast often in the company of Heckel. The wild and untouched nature of the surrounding countryside was a significant source of inspiration and the related paintings show an increasing freedom of expression articulated through a visionary use of colour. In Watt bei Ebbe broad swathes of red and orange are juxtaposed against gloriously deep blues and blacks to create a work of remarkable emotional intensity.

In their experimentation with colour the Brücke artists were keeping pace with prevailing currents of European modernism and particularly the painting of the Post and Neo-Impressionists. ‘Van Gogh held a particular appeal for this new generation of German artists, as the Expressionist writer Ernst Blass recalled: ‘Van Gogh stood for expression and experience as opposed to Impressionism and Naturalism. Flaming concentration, youthful sincerity, immediacy, depth; exhibition and hallucination… The courage of one’s own means of expression’ (E. Blass, quoted in Expressionism in Germany and France (exhibition catalogue), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles & The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal, 2014, p. 48). A few months after the founding of Die Brücke in 1905, they had had the opportunity to see his work first-hand at the Van Gogh retrospective held at the Galerie Arnold in Dresden. This proved a pivotal moment for the group and had considerable influence on their development of an expressive aesthetic that was characterised by a flattened perspective. Equally, in the beautiful simplicity and rich colouration of Watt bei Ebbe the influence of Gauguin (fig. 2) is also apparent. Whilst the members of Die Brücke absorbed these influences, they also invested their art with a freshness and naïvety that expressed the self-confidence of youth. Theirs was the first distinctly German artistic movement of the twentieth century, and their bold aesthetic established Schmidt-Rottluff and his colleagues as a reckonable force among the European avant-garde. 

Perhaps most significant, however, is the correspondence with the vivid compositions of the Fauves (fig. 1), which the Brücke artists are likely to have seen as early as 1906. They also shared with them an interest in the ‘primitive’ art of the past as a means of confronting the alienation of modern life which for the German artists was made manifest in their revival of older media, such as their use of woodcut prints. This influence is clearly felt in Watt bei Ebbe where Schmidt-Rottluff builds the composition with a remarkable economy of means that borders on abstraction, making full use of light and dark contrasts to achieve his pictorial vision.

In the present work Schmidt-Rottluff embraces a Fauve approach to colour but the pictorial clarity is indicative of the singular style that defines his work of this period. Barry Herbert observed this tendency when writing about Schmidt-Rottluff’s Brücke canvases: ‘His work reached an extreme pitch of emotional intensity in its semi-abstract handling of form and colour without ever quite losing contact with tangible reality. The brilliantly coloured, loosely applied paint communicates that feverish involvement with the subject that distinguished the young German artist's vision from the more impersonal approach favoured by Matisse, and identified him as, above all, a direct successor to van Gogh and Munch’ (B. Herbert, German Expressionism, Die Brücke and Der Blaue Reiter, London, 1983, p. 118).