Oskar Kokoschka’s Roses II
A long lost painting!
Oskar Kokoschka’s painting Roses II:
Oskar Kokoschka’ s Roses II has been at the centre of an incredible story that held three generations of collectors and experts in awe. The painting, dated 1925, was long considered lost, but dramatically resurfaced. It went under the hammer on 7th December 2012, on the occasion of the first live international auction in the history of the internet. The starting price was just €5000 and it was auctioned off for €9250 (including buyer’s fee).
A story of two sides
The remarkable story of this rose painting began in 1966, when German businessman Wolfgang Ritter purchased it at Lempertz auction house for 90,000 Deutschmarks. Formerly head of the renowned tobacco company Martin Brinkmann AG, Ritter was a passionate art collector and a great admirer of Oskar Kokoschka’s work.
When Wolfgang Ritter passed away in 1993, his heirs decided to place their father’s substantial collection of paintings for auction at Sotheby’s. Three Kokoschka works were valued, including Roses II. It was listed in the artist’s first catalogue raisonné (Wingler No 190) and was confirmed as original beyond doubt. According to Kokoschka’s own written testimony, the painting is a “draft” of one of his still-life works (Wingler No 204), dated 1925 in Scheveningen, The Hague. (See a copy of Kokoschka’s signature for Lempertz auction house in 1966).
However, the expert responsible for valuing the painting in 1993 had doubts about the authenticity of Roses II. As there was another picture on the back of the painting, the entire piece was evidently not all Kokoschka’s work. The painter’s widow was also sure that her husband, who died in 1980, had never used a painted piece as canvas. The appointed expert should have investigated the case further, but it wasn’t to be: he fell ill and did not contact the Ritter family again. The painting was forgotten about.
Nearly 20 years later, Wolfgang Ritter’s granddaughter came across a painting while she was clearing out, and asked Auctionata to value it.
It didn’t take our experts long to identify the artist and title of the painting. There was no doubt: it was Oskar Kokoschka’s long-lost Roses II.
The painting went under the hammer once again on 7th December 2012, in the first live international auction in the history of the internet. And so the story of this beautiful work of art continued; a story that, like the painting itself, had two sides. One was based on the word of Oskar Kokoschka, who confirmed the painting as his original work beyond doubt. The other was based on the second catalogue raisonné, which only listed it ‘with reservations’, and whose authors still doubted the authenticity of the piece.
Auctionata expressly notes that this work has been listed in the 1995 Catalogue Raisonné by J.Winkler and K.Erling only under reserve. Therefore doubts exist regarding the authenticity of this work. In this respect a purchase of the work takes place at the buyer’s own risk!
Auctionata hereby releases a further expert opinion on the painting “Roses II” that reached us on November 24, 2012. We must state that according to our knowledge the majority of the authors based it upon photos. Material scientific examinations were not conducted.
One sentence from this statement shall be emphasised beforehand:
“One cannot rule out the possibility that Kokoschka retroactively acknowledged the painting as a favour to a friend, in order to limit the financial damage to Hahn.”
It is suggested here that Kokoschka could have aided and abetted fraud. Specifically, it could not be ruled out that Kokoschka, against his better judgment, authenticated a forged painting to enable the resale without financial loss for a friend, the art dealer Hahn, consequently resulting in the financial loss of an unwitting third party – concretely to Kokoschka’s personal acquaintance, the industrialist Wolfgang Ritter.
The fact is that this expert opinion suggests possible severe charges against people who cannot defend themselves. Auctionata hereby distances itself expressly from the assumption that Oskar Kokoschka could have been involved in a fraud in connection with the painting “Roses II”. The release of this statement by Prof. Dr. Régine Bonnefoit, Dr. Katharina Erling und Prof. Dr. Heinz Spielmann occurs for the means of transparency and was neither shortened nor changed by Auctionata.
Statement from 24.11.2012 received by email
After detailed examination and consultation of the two internationally recognised Kokoschka specialists Prof. Dr. Heinz Spielmann and Dr. Katharina Erling, the Fondation Oskar Kokoschka in Vevey (CH) declares the still life Roses II, offered by Auctionata, a forgery.
This finding is made on the basis of 1) the stylistic 2) the technical findings and is 3) substantiated by the body of source material.
1) A comparison with authentic floral still lifes by Kokoschka from the year 1925 [Johann Winkler, Katharina Erling, Oskar Kokoschka. Die Gemälde. 1906-1929, Salzburg 1995, Nr. 208-211] shows that Roses II displays a completely different brush style. The monogram “OK” in the lower right corner also does not match Kokoschka’s handwriting, as a look at the referenced comparative examples shows. The partly rubbed off flower heads lack volume and spatial depth. The top left blossoms are entirely inorganic and only formulaically and flatly indicated. The schematically set diagonal brushstrokes, which are supposed to indicate a tabletop, are especially peculiar. Kokoschka models the curvature of the vases in his floral still lifes with pastose brushstrokes while Roses II features only a flat, dark green colour area.
2) The canvas features another floral sill life on the reverse, which is also from the hand of an unknown painter. A comprehensive investigation of the canvas by Katharina Erling showed that this painting originated first. According to Ms. Erling, this is evidently shown by the kinks in the canvas, the clipping of the canvas to the size of Roses II and the pin holes for the stretcher frame. Only after the canvas was reversed and newly mounted, Roses II was painted on the new front side. As Olda Kokoschka confirmed during her life, Kokoschka would have never used a canvas with a still life by a different painter on its reverse side. Heinz Spielmann added the argument against an attribution to Kokoschka that he does not know an authentic painting of the artist, in which the stretcher frame is nailed in this manner.
3) Kokoschka supposedly confirmed the authenticity of the painting for the Lempertz auction 488 on June 14/15, 1966 from a photograph, however earlier sources exist in which the artist describes the painting as a forgery. Roses II was acquired 1949 in Munich by Kokoschka’s collector friend Willy Hahn without prior agreement with the artist. In a letter to Hahn from April 2, 1953 [Briefedition, Bd. 3, S. 273] Kokoschka wrote: “I, too, am sorry about the forgery […]”. Hahn replied to this letter April 10, 1953: “In 1949 I acquired it [the portrait of Rachel Bondi] together with your dubious floral still life in Munich. I still cannot quite believe that it is supposed to be a veritable forgery.” Hahn appears astonished by Kokoschka’s message that the floral still life is a forgery. One cannot rule out the possibility that Kokoschka retroactively acknowledged the painting as a favour to a friend, in order to limit the financial damage to Hahn. In 1995, Johann Winkler and Katharina Erling have further considered the possibility that after viewing the photograph of Roses II, Kokoschka confused it with his oil sketch [Catalogue Raisonné, Nr. 209] of the still life Flowers at the Open Window [Ibid., Nr. 210]. Roses II is not recorded in the account books of the gallery Paul Cassirer – the entries for paintings from the year 1925 are almost complete – nor is it mentioned in the earlier literature or verifiable through exhibitions. The reasons for the subsequent acknowledgement of the work by Kokoschka cannot be exactly reconstructed. The arguments mentioned in 1) and 2), however, clearly exclude Kokoschka’s authorship.
Prof. Dr. Régine Bonnefoit, Dr. Katharina Erling and Prof. Dr. Heinz Spielmann
Any errors or misunderstandings resulting from this translation of the original German text remain under reserve.
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Oskar Kokoschka was one of the greatest exponents of expressionism.
Kokoschka was born on 1st March 1886 in Pöchlarn, Vienna. He painted portraits, landscapes and cityscapes, and also worked as a graphic artist, sculptor and writer.
Kokoschka studied at the Viennese School of Arts and Crafts between 1905 and 1909, where he was inspired to paint by Gustav Klimt and German art nouveau. Following a year in Berlin, he moved back to Vienna where, inspired by cubism, he created biblical-themed oil paintings. His unrequited love for Alma Mahler was also a central theme to his work. From 1912 to 1923 he was a professor at Dresden Academy.
He served in the military between 1914 and 1916, and spent a long period in a sanatorium in Dresden recovering from injury. 1916 marked the start of his second, expressionist creative period during which, still based in Dresden, he produced lithographic drawings in large format.
Kokoschka’s great breakthrough came in the 1920s. From 1924 to 1930 he travelled Europe, Western Asia and North Africa, recording his impressions of both cities and landscapes in his oil painting. He lived in Prague from 1934 to 1938, then emigrated to London, where he took British citizenship.
During the time of the Third Reich, his work was classified as ‘degenerate art’. In 1937 he produced his Self portrait of a degenerate artist (Selbstbildnis als entarteter Künstler), a reaction against the Nazi repression of art.
Kokoschka participated in the modern art post-war exhibitions documenta 1 (1955), documenta II (1959) and documenta III in 1964, in Kassel.
He died on 22nd February 1980 in Montreux and was buried in Clarens cemetery. The Oskar Kokoschka Prize for visual art was created in his memory.
To date, Oskar Kokoschka’s paintings have fetched prices of up to €2 million at international art auctions.