Two works that on paper are worth millions of dollars. Today, at Rockefeller Center, Christie’s sold two important works by Egon Schiele that were part of the collection of Viennese cabaret and film star Fritz Grünbaum.
The collection was lost when the Nazis invaded Austria in the late 1930s, and both Grünbaum and his wife were sent to concentration camps where they died.
The first, Frau, das Gesicht verbergend, was estimated at $1,500,000 to $2,000,000, and was sold at $2.100.000.
Created in 1912, this work is notable for its unusual viewpoint and suggestively intimate pose of the protagonist, who focuses on the model’s curvaceous form as she turns onto her side and begins to remove her clothes under the artist’s watchful gaze.
The model’s identity remains a mystery but the face hidden under the crook of her arm and the wild tangle of black hair falling loose in a cloud around her, is reminiscent of a series of portraits Schiele made of the Bohemian dancer and mime Moa.
Rejecting the traditional idealization of the female nude and including the imperfections and anatomical quirks that marked the model’s body, this work captures the explosive modernity of Schiele’s vision in this period.
The second, Frau mit schwarzer Schürze, had an estimate between $500,000 and $800,000 and sold for $400.000.
Executed in delicate layers of pigment, Frau mit Schwarzer Schürze reveals Schiele’s growing reliance on the use of watercolor in the second half of 1911. His art had undergone a dramatic transformation over the previous year, moving away from the bold, jagged, angular lines that had previously dominated his work to explore a softer, more delicate approach to form.
In this work, Schiele lets the strokes of color overlap the outlines of the underlying pencil drawing, giving the figure’s outline a more rounded and organic character. Maintaining a sense of the fluidity of the painting and the artist’s bold brush movements dancing on the page, Schiele plays with the sheer liquidity of watercolor, restricting the flow of pigment by adding a thin white “halo” around the edges of the girl’s body.
Both sales were overseen by the law firmDunnington Bartholow & Miller LLP, which is highly experienced in this matter.
Vanessa Fusco, head of the sale, spoke about the two works, explaining how they “show the bold nature of his innovative studies of the female figure, an artistic obsession that occupied him throughout his short career. Through his exacting and ruthless investigation of the female body, the artist challenges and subverts the conservative veneer of contemporary Viennese society, revealing the latent erotic charge that existed just beneath its surface. This underlying tension, combined with Schiele’s incredible mastery of the media, gives these works a timeless quality that justifies their topicality and desirability.”