Sotheby’s is touring an Egon Schiele painting of a fishing boat through Asia at the moment before they bring it back to sell in London on February 26th in the Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale. It will be offered with an estimate of £6 – 8 million. The sale follows Schiele’s centenary year and a series of celebratory exhibitions all across Europe. These have coincided with some strong recent prices for Schiele, especially at Sotheby’s which sold his 1913 cityscape for $24.6 million in NY in November – the second highest price for the artist. That interest was echoed in the wider interest in German and Austrian art in the same sale (which saw records for Oskar Kokoschka and Ludwig Meidner, and an exceptional price for an oil by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.)
A square-format depiction of a fishing boat in Trieste painted in the pivotal year of 1912, it has never before been at auction, having remained in a private collection since 1962. Its first owner was the patron Heinrich Böhler, Schiele’s pupil who supplied the artist with paint, canvas and models. Böhler worked side by side with his teacher. He also became a dedicated collector of his work.
The painting is notable for its composition, sitting alongside Schiele’s townscapes with its flattened, closely-cropped perspective and bold colour. The painting holds a unique position in Schiele’s oeuvre. Schiele was imprisoned earlier that year. Outcast and shaken, he returned to Trieste where he could relive memories of earlier visits shared with his sister Gerti in 1907 and 1908. Here’s Sotheby’s release on the art work:
As the art world takes stock following a series of centenary exhibitions honouring the life and art of Egon Schiele, whose untimely death at the tender age of 28 in 1918 left so much unsaid, Sotheby’s is set to celebrate Schiele’s extraordinary power this February when a fascinating work by the Austrian artist comes to auction for the first time. Painted in 1912, Triestiner Fischerboot (Trieste Fishing Boat) holds a unique position in Schiele’s oeuvre and was created in the aftermath of what was arguably the most tumultuous and life-changing experience for the artist. Recently released from a brief period of incarceration in Neulengbach in Austria, and rejected by the local community there, Schiele’s visit to Trieste in 1912 was prompted by a desire to escape the grim memories of his recent past, and relive fond memories of earlier visits shared with his beloved sister Gerti in 1907 and 1908. It also prompted an unleashing of radical new artistic expression. In a year of iconoclastic developments across Europe that forever altered the direction of twentieth-century art, from Cubism, Orphism and Futurism to Expressionism, Schiele sought to explore in oil a thoroughly modernist treatment of colour, surface, pattern, texture and form. Offered at auction now for the first time, having been in a private collection since 1962, it will be offered as one of the highlights of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale in London on 26 February with an estimate of £6,000,000-8,000,000.
Adopting a square format for this work, Schiele challenged the traditional notion of perspective in landscape painting with a foreground and background. Instead, he transforms the canvas into a composition of patterns and clearly delineated forms with little or no reference to perspective. In this he was indebted to Gustav Klimt, his friend and contemporary, who had been using the square format for his landscapes since the closing years of the nineteenth century, around the same time Claude Monet started using a square canvas for his depiction of waterlilies. The painting’s vertiginous, flattened and closely-cropped perspective and bold use of bright patches of pure colour are a distillation of Schiele’s reorganisation of form within the melting pot of European avant-garde painting.
In the summer of the preceding year Schiele and the model Wally Neuzil had settled in Neulengbach seeking inspiration but Schiele’s bohemian lifestyle scandalised his conservative neighbours. The couple found themselves in a precarious position when a retired naval officer’s daughter asked for their help to run away and although they returned the girl to her parents, the artist was arrested and placed on trial. The experience and particular loss of freedom it entailed was to have a marked effect on Schiele’s life and work. Drifting in what appears to be an open sea, the boat in this painting can be seen as a powerful symbol of the artist’s state of mind, conveying the same haunted vision expressed in the artist’s portraiture.