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Sotheby's Offers One of the Most Important Works by Egon Schiele Ever to Come to the Market
Egon Schiele, Häuser mit bunter Wäsche,“Vorstadt” II, 1914. Estimate: £22-30 million/ $36-50 million. Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- On 22 June this year, Sotheby’s London will offer for sale one of the most important oils by celebrated Austrian artist Egon Schiele ever to come to the market. The painting – Häuser mit bunter Wäsche,“Vorstadt” II of 1914 - ranks among just a small number of significant cityscapes by Schiele remaining in private hands. Having been acquired - in the year it was painted - by Schiele’s friend and greatest patron Heinrich Böhler, the painting was subsequently sold by Böhler’s widow in 1952 to Rudolf Leopold, founder of the Leopold Museum in Vienna, which boasts a pre-eminent collection of Austrian 20th-century art. The work now comes to the market for the first time, with an estimate of £22-30 million/ $36-50 million.*

Helena Newman, Chairman, Impressionist & Modern Art, Sotheby’s Europe, said: “We are thrilled to be offering this masterpiece of 20th-century art in our June sale. Its richness of colouration achieves a transcendental intensity that epitomises Schiele’s unique contribution to the development of 20th-century art. The painting is unquestionably one of the greatest Schiele oils ever to come to the market but, quite aside from its rarity and quality, it is also distinguished by an illustrious provenance, having never before appeared on the auction market, and having previously resided in just two great collections since the artist painted it - those of Heinrich Böhler and the Leopold Collection.”

Peter Weinhäupl, Managing Director of the Leopold Museum, said: “The Leopold Museum today is committed to affirming its position as the pre-eminent repository of Austrian Modern Art and the decision it has taken with this sale is a testament to this commitment. While this painting will be missed, the museum is fortunate to hold eight further Schiele cityscapes of superb quality in its collection.”

Painted in 1914, at the height of Schiele’s short career (he died in 1918 at the age of just 28) Häuser mit bunter Wäsche, “Vorstadt” II - translated as Houses with colourful Laundry, “Suburb” II - is one of Schiele’s most impressive cityscapes. The painting, an oil on canvas, is loosely based on motifs drawn from Krumau. It was this town in Southern Bohemia in which Schiele’s mother was born, and to which Schiele and his lover Walburga (Wally) Neuzil moved in 1911, in order to escape what they perceived as the claustrophobic atmosphere of Vienna (ironically, they were soon driven out of the town by the residents, who strongly disapproved of their liberal lifestyle, and returned to the environs of Vienna a year later).

The houses in the painting are rendered as if stacked up one upon the other, rising into the picture-plane with their vibrant roofs and walls. This compositional format, using the elevated perspective, is typical of Schiele’s most accomplished cityscapes. It suggests the vantage point of a soaring bird, or a visionary, hovering above the landscape and looking down from the heights.

Commenting on the painting, Professor Dr Rudolf Leopold, founder of the Leopold Museum, said: “The colorful laundry, infused with much more motion than its surroundings, may in Schiele’s eyes have symbolized the still innocent and carefree lives of children and young people. Grown old, they remain in their dwellings, crowded into a constricted space. This idea is suggested by the interlocking character of the houses, and is underscored by the physiognomic suggestion of the two house walls on the right with their ‘window eyes’. Just behind the houses begins an open, empty no-man’s land. The mountain peaks emerging from the clouds – perhaps meant symbolically as the goal of human longing – appear inaccessible.”

Heinrich Böhler (1881-1940)
The first owner of Häuser mit bunter Wäsche, “Vorstadt” II was Heinrich Böhler, an heir to the Böhler-Werke steel-producing factories. While the Böhler family were known to be patrons of the arts, it was Josef Hoffmann – the celebrated Viennese architect and co-founder of the Vienna Secession – Union of Austrian Artists - who introduced Heinrich Böhler to Schiele in 1914. They were to become close associates.

Soon after the initial introduction from Hoffmann, Schiele took on Böhler as a pupil but, as scholar Jane Kallir relates: “Böhler soon turned out to be far more than just a student. Not only did Böhler supply Schiele with paint, canvas and models when they worked side by side, he also became a dedicated collector of the artist’s work”. Böhler bought a significant number of paintings in 1915, and even paid Schiele a stipend of 200 kronen a month during the war years. Heinrich Böhler, along with his cousin Hans (an artist in his own right), was a painting companion for the artist and they often went on painting excursions to Krumau. Heinrich Böhler was also the subject of a number of Schiele’s paintings.

Rudolf Leopold (1925-2010)
Professor Rudolf Leopold discovered the works of Egon Schiele while studying for his doctoral degree in medicine in Vienna in the early 1950s. His first visit to the city’s Dorotheum auction house and Kunsthistorisches Museum had made a dramatic impact on him: ‘My eyes literally overflowed. It was on this day that I decided to collect paintings,’ he recalled.

The works of Schiele held a particular fascination for Leopold. He was convinced of the artist’s genius, despite the disparaging judgements of contemporary Austrian art historians and foreign critics, who dismissed Schiele as a ‘local talent’ and his work as ‘pornographic’. In 1952, Rudolf Leopold purchased his first work by the artist, Krumau Town Crescent of Houses I (The Small City V), of 1915. He had begun the world’s greatest collection of Egon Schiele’s works.

With an exhibition of modern Austrian art put together by Leopold in 1955, in Amsterdam and Eindhoven, the hitherto little known Schiele suddenly moved into the front rank of European artists. In 1972 Rudolf Leopold published a critical catalogue of Schiele’s works, with a detailed list of his motifs. A series of key international exhibitions sealed Schiele’s reputation.

In 1994, Rudolf Leopold established the Leopold Museum Private Foundation, with the financial support of the Republic of Austria and the National Bank of Austria. The foundation was made for the public benefit and guarantees public access to the more than 5,000 treasures from Leopold’s personal collection of Austrian art. In 1997, Rudolf Leopold was awarded the Cross of Honour for Art and Science, First Class. In 2001 the Leopold Museum opened its doors to the public after the Collection toured Europe and worldwide, including such cities as London, Barcelona and New York, for seven years. Professor Rudolf Leopold died on 29th June 2010.

*Estimates do not include buyer’s Premium

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