Ten years after the Schwabing Art Trove", a discovery that made the headlines around the world, two excellent watercolors from Otto Dix will be called up at Ketterer Kunst
in Munich in Germany in the Evening Sale of the June Auction on June 10, 2022. These works come from the estate of the 2014 deceased Munich collector Cornelius Gurlitt. Otto Dix painted the two watercolors in Düsseldorf in 1922, a time that yielded some of his most important watercolors, which still enjoy great popularity today.
Dame in der Loge (estimate: US$ 161,000- 207,000/ 140,000- 180,000) appears as a glamorous figure from a world between the demimonde and the bourgeoisie, an enigmatic social typology characteristic of Dix, while the Dompteuse (estimate: US$ 115,000- 172,500 / 100,000- 150,000) is a telling and punchy combination of the themes "brothel" and "circus".
Watercolors with the fine erotic appeal of the early 1920s count among the most sough-after works from Otto Dix on the international auction market, explains Robert Ketterer, auctioneer and head of Ketterer Kunst.
Lately the two watercolors were in possession of the Kunstmuseum Bern. In December 2021 the museum decided to return them to the heirs of the Jewish lawyer and well known collector Dr. Ismar Littmann from Wroclaw. In an amicable agreement with the heirs after Dr. Littmann, Ketterer Kunst was entrusted with two more works from the Littmann Collection. In 2021 Ketterer Kunst had already auctioned Lovis Corinths "Klostergarten" and Emil Noldes Buchsbaumgarten, also formerly part of the Collection Littmann.
"The two watercolors are not only of a tremendous art-historical relevance, says Robert Ketterer, auctioneer and head of Ketterer Kunst. They are also documents of the eventful German history.
Dr. Ismar Littmann was a luminary of the Wroclaw art scene and one of the most renowned German art collectors. The art lover and well-known lawyer had a strong liking for the art of his contemporaries. In 1916 he began to compile a collection of works by the today most prominent German artists of Impressionism and Expressionism, among them Otto Dix, Otto Mueller, Käthe Kollwitz, Emil Nolde, Max Pechstein, Alexander Kanoldt and Lovis Corinth. The art scene appreciated both his generosity, as well as his keen eye for exceptional and exquisite art. In many cases works from his collection ended up at important museums. The collection is considered to be one of the 20th centurys most distinguished ones.
Dr. Littmann acquired the two watercolors by Dix from the famous Galerie Nierendorf in Cologne in 1924. Due to his Jewish background, the Nazis oppressed Dr. Littmann from an early point on and banned him from practicing as a lawyer. Littmann's friend, the Breslau dentist Dr. Paul Schäfer, later himself a persecutee of the Nazi regime, supported the family with art purchases. With no prospects for the future, Ismar Littmann died in September 1934 as a result of a suicide attempt. His widow was forced to sell the art collection to ensure the family's survival and to prepare for their escape from Germany. One day before the works were supposed to be auctioned in 1935, the Gestapo confiscated 64 paintings and many paper works, among them those from Otto Dix under allegations of cultural Bolshevism.
More than a year later they were stored in the Nationalgalerie at the Kronprinzenpalais in Berlin. At the latest 1938 the Dix works became state-owned in context of the Degenerate Art campaign and the subsequently mandated expropriation. Along with three other NS art dealers, Hildebrand Gurlitt took over the sale of the works, in order to raise foreign currency for the state. In this context he bought the two watercolors for his own collection. Gurlitt was also one of the main buying agents for the Führermuseum in Linz. In this function he was also involved in Nazi art theft, predominantly in France.
In 1945 American forces seized the Dix watercolors as part of a collection belonging to the NS art trader at the Neue Residenz in Bamberg, however, they returned it in 1950. Meanwhile Hildebrand Gurlitt had become director of the Kunstverein in Düsseldorf. Later the two works were part of a collection comprising more than 1,500 works that Cornelius Gurlitt inherited from his parents in 1968.
For nearly five decades Cornelius Gurlitt lived among this collection in two apartments in Munich and Salzburg. In 2012 the collection was discovered in context of tax offense investigations against him, and was seized by the Munich Department of Public Prosecution. In the following the Schwabing Art Trove made global news. In the light of the story of his fathers life, speculations about masses of looted art and fraud came up. As a matter of fact, respective evidence could be provided in only fourteen cases. The acclaimed weekly DIE ZEIT called the authorities course of action a Bavarian legal scandal.
And Cornelius Gurlitt must have felt the same, as he bequeathed his entire collection to the Kunstmuseum Bern in 2014 shortly before his death. Eventually, the Kunstmuseum stopped the odyssey of the Dix watercolors by making the decision to return them. For both this step and the way the museum handled the whole issue in the media and the art world in general, it was much praised. The newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung called its approach the gold standard, while the FAZ identified a new standard in restitution issues. The Kunstmuseum is in favor of a restitution when works have a patchy provenance and red flags regarding looted art if sufficiently substantiated evidence is given.
"The Kunstmuseum Bern did not only react quick, but also pursued a clear path in the restitution case,", says company owner Robert Ketterer. "The decision set new standards that will also be obligatory for other museums in the future."
Highlights of the Evening Sale, June 10, 2022:
Otto Dixs masterworks are in the best of company in the upcoming auction in June. The highlight of the EVENING SALE is August Mackes Mädchen mit blauen Vögeln (estimate: US$ 2,200,000-3,300,000/ 2,000,000-3,000,000). The section BRÜCKE PAINTERS T HE GERLINGER COLLECTION includes Erich Heckels Kinder (estimate: US$ 690,000-920,000/ 600,000-800,000), Max Pechsteins oil painting In der Hängematte (estimate: US$ 345,000-460,000/ 300,000-400,000) and Ernst Ludwig Kirchners Wintermondnacht (estimate: US$ 287,500-402,500/ 250,000-350,000).
The auction highlights from the section of MODERN ART comprises among them an array of works from Emil Nolde led by the oil painting Rittersporn und Silberpappeln (estimate: US$ 550,000-770,000/ 500,000-700,000), Max Beckmanns Holländischer Radfahrerweg (estimate: US$ 330,000-440,000/ 300.000-400.000), Edvard Munchs Mädchen auf der Brücke (estimate: US$ 176,000-220,000/ 160,000-200,000) and André Derains Arbres aux environs de Martigues (estimate: US$ 110,000-165,000/ 100,000-150,000). Other big names in this department are Lovis Corinth, Conrad Felixmüller, Karl Hofer, Käthe Kollwitz, Wilhelm Lehmbruck, Max Liebermann, Gabriele Münter, Pablo Picasso and Renée Sintenis.
The section of POST WAR ART offers captivating pieces like Georg Baselitzs large-size work Waldweg (estimate: US$ 770,000-990,000/ 700,000-900,000) Gerhard Richters Abstraktes Bild 665-4 (estimate: US$ 660,000-880,000/ 600,000-800,000), Cindy Shermans photograph Untitled #282 (estimate: US$ 495,000-605,000/ 450,000-550,000), Pierre Soulages Peinture 54 x 73 cm, 26 septembre 1981 (estimate: US$ 440,000-660,000/ 400,000-600,000), Tony Craggs Points of View (estimate: US$ 275,000-385,000/ 250,000-350,000) Andy Warhols color silkscreen Goethe (estimate: US$ 198,000-264,000/ 180,000-240,000). It will also include various works of Katharina Grosse, for example Ohne Titel (estimate: US$ 198,000-264,000/ 180,000-240,000) and from Hermann Nitsch, as Schüttbild (estimate: US$ 77,000-99,000/ 70,000-90,000). More top-class art comes from, among others, Horst Antes, Stephan Balkenhol, Eduardo Chillida, Konrad Klapheck, Imi Knoebel, Konrad Lueg, Ernst Wilhelm Nay, Roman Opalka and Steven Perrino.