A painting which was sold to German-American film director William Dieterle in 1940 to avoid it being destroyed by the Nazis during World War II is set to be auctioned by Christie’s in London for GBP 35 million.
The oil painting, named ‘The Foxes’, is set to be the centrepiece of Christie’s ’20th/21st Century: London Evening Sale’ on 1st March.
It was painted by expressionist painter Franz Marc (1880-1916), considered by many to be the father of modernism, in 1913.
Marc, whom the Nazis called a degenerate artist as part of their suppression of modern art in 1930s, was mostly known for his paintings of animals in vibrant colours.
Christie’s said: “‘The Foxes’ reveals the bold experimentation of Marc’s revolutionary style in the last full year of his artistic career.”
After Marc’s death, the painting was purchased by Jewish investment banker Kurt Grawi and his wife Else in 1928, who then smuggled it to the US after they fled Germany in 1939.
Grawi then sold the painting to German-American film director William Dieterle to raise funds to help ensure his family’s survival and emigration to New York in 1940.
Two decades later, ‘The Foxes’ was donated to the Duesseldorf city art collection after German businessman Helmut Horten acquired it in the 1960s.
After years of hesitation and delays, the German advisory panel on Nazi-looted art urged the Kunstpalast art museum in Duesseldorf to return the painting to Grawi’s heirs on their request in January 2022.
However, after just a few weeks of having it in their possession, the Grawis have now decided to auction the artwork.
Christie’s CEO Jussi Pylkkaenen said: “This is a painting that will be chased by the world’s greatest collectors.
“‘The Foxes’ encapsulates everything that we find inspiring about Marc’s work: it has dynamism, sensational colour, incredible balance and a spirituality in its sublime subject which completely draws the viewer into the painting. Aside from its unquestionable beauty, it is a work with an extraordinary history, both of ownership and of exhibitions, having featured in so many important avant-garde shows over the past 100 years.
“It is a huge honour for Christie’s to be entrusted by the Grawi family with the sale of a painting of such art-historical importance. Marc, along with Wassily Kandinsky, was a trailblazer of the European avant-garde at the beginning of the 20th century who challenged and completely overturned many of the accepted maxims of classical painting.”
The Head of Impressionist and Modern Art at Christie’s London, Keith Gill, said: “There is a long tradition of Christie’s selling the very best German art in London, continuing this March with the sale of Franz Marc’s ‘The Foxes’, a work that truly defines Modernism in the 20th century.”
Gill added: “A painting by Marc of this pedigree, date and quality has not appeared on the open market for over fifty years. We are delighted to offer our colleagues and our clients an opportunity to view this iconic painting as it is toured internationally for the first time in more than 20 years.”
Other highlights of the auction will include David Hockney’s painting ‘David Graves in a Harlequin Shirt’, expected to fetch up to GBP 5 million, alongside an artwork by Lucian Freud named ‘Girl with Closed Eyes’ estimated at GBP 10 million.
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