NEW YORK, NY.- Sothebys
announced that Egon Schieles masterwork landscape Dämmernde Stadt (Die Kleine Stadt II) (City in Twilight (The Small City II)) will highlight their Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale in New York on 12 November 2018.
Painted in 1913, Dämmernde Stadt is one of Schiele's finest landscapes remaining in private hands, with comparable works now principally found in museum collections. The dreamlike view above the city of Krumau - birthplace of the artist's mother - documents the pivotal period during which Schiele established his singular and now-iconic visual language, after years of shadowing his mentor Gustav Klimt.
Independent of its art historical importance, the work is distinguished by the remarkable family history it has brought to life. Dämmernde Stadt was purchased in 1928 by Elsa Koditschek, a young Jewish widow living in Vienna. During the course of her harrowing persecution by the Nazis following the annexation of Austria in 1938, the work was forcibly sold in payment of alleged debts to the very person who helped Elsa survive. Sotheby's will present the work this November as the resolution of a joint and private restitution between the present owners and Elsa's heirs.
Elsa's story is told today through an extensive and incredibly rare family archive of correspondence she wrote throughout the war and for years after. However, her heirs had remained unaware of the landscape until recent years, when Sotheby's research on an unrelated picture uncovered reference to the Koditschek name. Lucian Simmons, Sotheby's Worldwide Head of Restitution, and Andrea Jungmann, Managing Director of Sothebys Austria, initiated a dialogue between the family and the present owners that has ultimately resulted in the present offering.
Dämmernde Stadt is now on public view in Sotheby's London galleries for the first time in nearly 50 years, through 9 October. The landscape will return to our New York headquarters for the full exhibitions of our Impressionist & Modern and Contemporary Art auctions, which open on 2 November. Dämmernde Stadt is estimated to sell for $12/18 million in the 12 November auction. Lucian Simmons, Sothebys Worldwide Head of Restitution and Senior Specialist in the Impressionist & Modern Art Department, commented: It is always a thrill to offer such an important work from an iconic artists career, and this 1913 masterpiece by Egon Schiele is one of few exceptional landscapes by the artist remaining in private hands. But it is a particular privilege to present Dämmernde Stadt at auction this November because of the family history it witnessed, and which we are now able to bring to light. The painting tells the incredible story of Elsa Koditschek, whose decision to purchase such an avant-garde painting in 1928 --- the only major piece of art that she is known to have bought --- is a testament to her own prescience. While the sequence of horrific events that ensued would rob her of this important work for the better part of her life, it has been an absolute honor to help facilitate the homecoming of Dämmernde Stadt to Elsas heirs, who will view the painting for the very first time when it goes on view in our York Avenue galleries next month. In the past, Sothebys has been fortunate enough to aid in the return of works with similar provenance to their rightful owners, and we look forward to presenting this immensely dynamic picture in our Evening Sale this November.
DÄMMERNDE STADT (DIE KLEINE STADT II)
The series of large-scale townscapes painted by Egon Schiele between 1913 and 1917 show him working at the apex of his artistic powers, experimenting with elements of composition, color and form that would eventually lead him to Abstraction.
Dämmernde Stadt depicts the small, medieval town of Krumau, the birthplace of Schieles mother and one of only two locations that are the subjects of his celebrated landscapes. Referred to by Schiele as the dead city, Krumaus compact configuration was intriguing to the artist, who captured its winding streets and crumbling buildings from perched atop the high left bank of the Moldau river - known today as the Vltava in the Czech Republic. The result of this radical approach to perspective is a flat pictorial dreamscape that reflects both his highly-personalized interpretation, as well as his emotional and psychological response to the storied town.
These stylistic elements manifest in myriad characteristics throughout the canvas: the boldly-delineated shapes of buildings rooftops; twilight cast in a muted palette; and windows aglow with brilliant, jewel-like colors reminiscent of Gothic stained-glass. In looking to a Medieval past, Schiele was aligned with a contemporary strain of Gothic revivalism. However he was also attuned with the artistic movements developing concurrently across Europe at the time. His adoption of the high viewpoint and his growing sensitivity to formal relations suggest that he was looking at the work of Post-Impressionist artists, such as Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cézanne. The influence of Klimts experiments with form, and the square format in particular, are also apparent in the present work.
THE STORY OF ELSA KODITSCHEK
The following history of Elsa Koditschek's life - and the forced sale of Dämmernde Stadt - has been brought to life via the rediscovery of a family archive of letters written by Elsa throughout the way and much of the remainder of her life:
Elsa Koditschek purchased Egon Schieles Dämmernde Stadt from an exhibition of his works organized by the artists' collective Hagenbund at the Neue Galerie in Vienna in 1928. The only major work of art that she is known to have purchased, the landscape hung in the house that Elsa and her husband, Siegfried Koditschek (who passed away in 1925), had built for themselves in 1911 on Erzbischofgasse in the prosperous suburb of Hietzing. The home consisted of a basement level, a ground-floor apartment occupied by Elsa, a rental apartment above, and a maid's quarters at the top.
At the time that the Nazis annexed Austria in March of 1938, Elsa had been living in the ground-floor apartment with her son and daughter. As the strictures on citizens of Jewish faith began to take effect in Vienna, Elsa offered rooms in her home to friends and relatives, while she slept on a couch in her music room.
By 1939, Elsa's son Paul had relocated to the United States, and she began to write him letters updating him on her life in Austria. These letters note that by this time, Elsa had become financially dependent on a tenant named Sylvia Kosminski, familiarly known and referenced by Elsa as Aunt Sylvia, who rented the apartment above.
In August of 1940, Elsa was faced with two tragedies: the death of her mother, and a notice of eviction from her apartment. She was given 14 days to surrender her apartment, and began dispersing key possessions to friends as well as moving pieces upstairs in the home - including, based on later correspondence, the Schiele.
In October of that year, Herbert Gerbing, an SS officer working on the security detail in the former Rothschild Palace, moved into the ground-floor apartment that Elsa had been forced to leave. On 12 October 1941, Elsa received a postcard requiring her to report for relocation to Łódź (the Litzmannstadt ghetto). In desperation, she turned to Gerbing to ask if she could defer her resettlement - not only was her request denied, but the officer painted an idyllic picture of the life that awaited her and ominously suggested she take the minimum amount of luggage.
Instead of reporting for deportation, Elsa persuaded a Christian couple, Mr. and Mrs. Heinz, to shelter her. She moved with two small suitcases to their apartment on Mariannengasse in central Vienna, where she would remain in hiding for nearly two years. During this time, a number of friends brought her supplies and food, which she prepared on a portable stove. To avoid detection, Elsa was forced to stay away from the windows in the apartment and to leave the lights off when her hosts went out. She would hide for hours at a time in a crevice between a cupboard and a blanket box. In all the time she lived there, Elsa only left the apartment on a handful of occasions, each of which were at night.
During Elsa's period of hiding with the Heinzes, she would be visited by her former tenant Sylvia Kosminski, who brought supplies such as food. At some point during this period of 1941-43, Sylvia visited Elsa and informed her that she would like to sell "the pictures" in repayment of debts incurred as a result of this help. She proceeded to sell her son's microscope, the Schiele, two paintings by Rugendas, and several art books.
Elsa lived in hiding with the Heinzes until June of 1943, when Mr. Heinz came home accompanied by two Nazi agents. Elsa managed to flee the house, and eventually met up with Sylvia Kosminski as part of an emergency plan they previously agreed to. Elsa moved in with Sylvia, living in hiding for years in the apartment of her former tenant, directly above the very apartment of the SS officer who displaced her.
By early 1944, life was miserable for Elsa living as Aunt Sylvias unpaid servant on Erzbischofgasse. Vienna was under heavy aerial bombardment and they often went without power or gas. On Easter Monday 1945, Frau Gerbing and her children fled Elsas commandeered apartment amid rumors that her husband had been beaten to death in Prague. Elsa remained in hiding until April of 1945, when the Russian forces arrived in Hietzing, at which time they raided her home and took away everything that had survived under the Nazis --- even her watch and her supply of candles and matches.
Elsa was eventually able to move to Switzerland after the war concluded, to live with her daughter Hedy. She passed away there in 1961.
Dämmernde Stadt was traded during the Nazi occupation by the Galerie Würthle in Vienna, and reemerged in 1948 when it was lent to a retrospective of Schieles work at the Neue Galerie by Karl Schulda. It was later sold at the Dorotheum auction house in 1950, where it was acquired by Austrian collector, Viktor Fogarassy. Although the painting was then acquired in good faith from Fogarassy in the 1950s by the relatives of the present owners, they have voluntarily agreed with Elsa Koditscheks heirs to jointly offer this magnificent painting at auction through a private restitution agreement.