Sale: 545 / Evening Sale, Dec. 08. 2023 in Munich Lot 38


Emil Nolde
Palmen, 1915.
Oil on canvas
€ 600,000 / $ 648,000
€ 635,000 / $ 685,800

(incl. surcharge)
Palmen. 1915.
Oil on canvas.
Signed in lower left. Signed and titled on the stretcher. 74 x 88 cm (29.1 x 34.6 in).

• Nolde saw Paul Gauguin's images from the South Seas in 1905 and made his dream of such a journey come true in 1913.
• Palm trees in a frenzy of tropical colors - the basis for his later bright watercolors.
• Privately-owned for more than 60 years.
• From the legendary Modern Art collection of Dr. Ismar Littmann
• Free from restitution claims.
• Part of Ida Bienert's important Dresden collection after 1935

We are grateful to Dor Levi, Ramat Gan, John F. Littman, Houston, Cornelia Muggenthaler, Munich, and Anna Rubin, New York, for their kind support and the good cooperation.

PROVENANCE: Dr. Ismar Littmann Collection, Breslau (acquired in the 1920s, until September 23, 1934).
From the estate of Dr. Ismar Littmann, Breslau (inherited from Dr. Ismar Littmannn on September 23, 1934 until February 26/27, 1935: auctioned at Max Perl, Berlin).
Ida Bienert Collection, Dresden (presumably since 1935).
Friedrich Bienert Collection, Berlin (from the above, until 1962, auction at Stuttgarter Kunstkabinett).
Leo Brand Collection, Neuss (since 1962: auction at Stuttgarter Kunstkabinett).
Ever since family-owned.
Amicable agreement with the heirs after Dr. Ismar Littmann, Breslau (2023).

The work is free from restitution claims. The offer is made subject to a fair and just solution with the heirs after Dr. Ismar Littmann.

EXHIBITION: Kunstausstellung Alfred Heller, Berlin (with the label on the reverse, presumably May 1923).

LITERATURE: Martin Urban, catalogue raisonné of painting, volume 2, 1915-1951, Munich 1990, no. 718, p. 103
Stuttgarter Kunstkabinett Roman Norbert Ketterer, 37th art auction (part 1), May 3 - May 4, 1962, lot 335 with illu.
Max Perl, Bücher des 15.-20. Jahrhundert (.), Gemälde, Aquarelle, Handzeichnungen, Graphik, Kunstgewerbe, Plastik, auction on February, 26-28, 1935 (catalog no. 188), lot 2557.
Ferdinand Möller an Antonie Kirchhoff, typescript, February 7, 1935 (estate of Ferdinand Möller, Berlinische Galerie, BG-GFM-C,II 1,485).
Helcia Täubler to Hans Littmann, typescript, January 16, 1935 (Getty Research Institute - Special Collections, Wilhelm Arntz papers, box 17, folder 26-28).
Bernhard Stephan, inventory of the Littmann Collectioin ("Großes Buch"): "Palmen (Südsee)", inv. no. 243.
"For their harshness, fresh naturalness and overall character, these South Sea pictures are […] hardly comparable to any pictures by other painters."
Emil Nolde, 1936

Journey to the South Seas
The small travel group left Berlin on October 2, 1913 on behalf of the Reich Colonial Office and traveled via Moscow through Siberia and Manchuria to Mukden, from there through Korea to Seoul. They traveled through Japan for three weeks, then across the Sea of China to Beijing. Emil and Ada Nolde traveled through the country on their own, all the way to Hankou and took a small steamboat down the Yangtze River via Nanking to Shanghai; from where they crossed the sea to Hong Kong. Nolde drew the Russian people in Siberia who, coming from the vast steppe, waited until they could continue their journey; he recorded Japanese actors in his sketchbooks. The famous ink drawings and watercolors of the junks were created on the journey down the Yellow River.
From Hong Kong, Nolde sent all the drawings he had created up to that point home, along with the objects and figures he had bought in Russia and China.. Many of them are still in the Ada and Emil Nolde Foundation in Seebüll today. After a long, stormy crossing over the Philippines and Palau, Emil and Ada Nolde reached the island kingdom New Guinea, where Nolde would stay for six months.

The first stop was Rabaul on New Pomerania, from there Nolde traveled to Käwieng on New Mecklenburg, to Manus, the largest of the Admiralty Islands, and finally to the main island of New Guinea. Nolde searched and found "primal" life and "wild prehistoric people" on dangerous paths to villages in the jungle and on journeys to small islands with people that had not yet been affected by European civilization. Nolde was captivated by the magic of the foreign landscape.

The first large oil paintings were created in Käwieng (Kavieng), and Nolde used a police detention center as his studio. "I had my little sketches on hand, but it was the strong experiences and the deeply guarded observations that mattered most." (Emil Nolde, Welt und Heimat, Cologne 1965, p. 98) Nolde also noted: "I had and still have the impression that the tropics are not as colorful as is generally assumed, only the people were colorful, as well as the birds, the fish, the red hibiscus and the leaves of the bougainvillea. The sunsets with their optical refractions could also be wonderful color orgies, but only for a few minutes." (Ibid., p. 146)

The colorful spectacle of the sunset is a recurring theme, not only in his South Sea sketches and pictures. Sketches such as "Palmen am Ufer" (Palm Trees on the Shore), drawn on thin, brownish-yellow paper with colored pencils and colored crayons, convey Nolde’s first impressions of nature. The oil paintings were created in the studio at a later point, some even back home.
In May 1914, Ada and Emil Nolde left New Guinea to return home via Celebes, Java and, after a detour, into the interior of Burma. To Nolde, the landscape of Java appeared to be a well-tended, rich, tropical garden. He marveled at the temple of Borobodur and regarded the abundance of ornaments and the sensually beautiful sculptural figures as the greatest contrast to the art of the north - and to the passionate, expressive gestures of his own pictures - and yet as "the most wonderful of all", according to Emil Nolde. He was touched by the mysterious and mythical aura that surrounds the legendary art of the ancient cultures of South Asia, and he established a 'secret' connection that would last years. The Eastern Vajang figures and masks recur in some still lifes, where they are united with the blooming flowers in Ada's garden; domestic and exotic things combine to form a strange, quiet beauty.

The last leg of the home-bound journey was overshadowed by the outbreak of World War I, which surprised them in Port Said in Egypt. They reached Germany after a detour, but the luggage with the oil paintings had to be left behind and initially seemed lost. They could only take the sketchbooks and the watercolors with them, as well as the entire wealth of memory of what Nolde had seen as a painter during the trip.
Around 19 oil paintings that were created under often adventurous circumstances during Nolde's stay in the South Seas from December 1913 to May 1914 appeared lost. But after seven years of a feverish search for the missing works, Emil and Ada Nolde left Berlin and traveled to Paris and London via Heidelberg in January 1921. A last clue finally pointed to Plymouth, where a department store owner named Popplestone made the pictures, stored in two rolls, available to them: "The two rolls stood between a lot of junk and when the merchant was gone and we were alone with a worker, the ropes were cut. We found the paintings only slightly damaged. Now they are on their way to Utenwarf", Nolde reported to his friend Hans Fehr, lawyer and patron, in Heidelberg (Hans Fehr, Emil Nolde. Ein Buch der Freundschaft, Cologne 1957, p. 91 ).

Palm trees bent by the wind
But back to 1915. Nolde impressively rendered an account of everyday life and the natural beauty in what was then New Mecklenburg (now New Ireland) in numerous watercolors, colored drawings and sketches, which he then used as basis for large-format paintings after his return to Utenwarf on Alsen: painted memories of the South Seas. Still longing for the pictures that were made in New Guinea and believed to be lost, this South Sea landscape was made: Palm trees forced to grow crooked by the wind, which Nolde lets appear like a silhouette in backlight in front of a dramatically staged sunset that colors the entire sky red and yellow. A strong blue mixes with the green of the palm leaves, held by twisted trunks that head in the same direction like a choreographed ballet. "The sunsets with their optical refractions could also be wonderful color orgies, but only for a few minutes; then darkness fell", said the artist about the daily spectacle that touched him so much (Emil Nolde, Welt und Heimat, Cologne 1965, p. 146).

This work undoubtedly marks a turning point in Nolde's work at the beginning of the First World War: these South Sea pictures helped Nolde to pursue his chosen artistic path with a firm tread and increased his self-confidence as a free, innovative representative of modern, pure painting. This landscape testifies to Nolde's effort, indeed ability, to painterly reinvent the quality of the South Seas with the help of a tiny color sketch, as if he were still there, a magnificent encounter in the form of the elements of wind and earth: "Everything primal and primordial always captivates my senses. The great, roaring sea is still in its original state, the wind, the sun, yes, the starry sky is almost as it was fifty thousand years ago", said Emil Nolde (Emil Nolde, Jahre der Kämpfe, Berlin 1934, p. 177).
With the stirring painting "Palmen", Nolde was looking for a way out of the historical dilemma of not having the pictures painted in New Guinea available for presentation at the museums of Karl Ernst Osthaus in Hagen or Max Sauerlandt in Halle. And so Nolde relied on his great talent to express the timeless and eternal idea of the primal with this South Sea landscape from 1915. He repeated an undoubtedly elemental landscape as an evocation of the cyclical rhythms of the nature of the South Seas. [MvL]

Dr. Ismar Littmann. The Collector
"Inscr. in bottom left: Emil Nolde; in front of an orange-red sky that turns yellow-green at the top, palm trunks with their dark green crowns rise from the deep green ground. There are bushes in the background on the left." This is how Nolde's painting is described in the "Großes Buch", the 1930 inventory of one of the largest and most important modernist collections of the pre-war period. It is the inventory of the Ismar Littmann Collection.

The Breslau lawyer and notary Dr. Ismar Littmann was one of the most active and most important collectors of German Expressionism. Born as a merchant's son in Groß Strehlitz, Upper Silesia, on July 2, 1878, he settled in Breslau with a doctorate in law in 1906, and soon got married to Käthe Fränkel. Ismar Littmann was admitted as lawyer to the regional court. He soon ran his own law firm, later together with his partner Max Loewe, and was promoted to notary in 1921.

The wealthy lawyer Dr. Ismar Littmann was a generous patron and supporter of modern, progressive art. He was particularly committed to contemporary artists from the environment of the Academy of Fine Arts in Breslau, such as the "Brücke" painter and academy professor Otto Mueller. Today, the "Breslau artist bohème" that Ismar Littmann shaped, promoted and accompanied as a collector and patron is still well known.

From the late 1910s on, Dr. Ismar Littmann compile his soon-to-be-famous art collection. The Littmann Collection included works by well-known German artists of Impressionism and Expressionism, among them Otto Mueller, Käthe Kollwitz, Max Pechstein, Alexander Kanoldt, Lovis Corinth and, of course, Emil Nolde. Littmann also had a personal connection to some of those mentioned. Littmann compiled almost 6,000 important works of art, watercolors, drawings and prints, as well as paintings until the late 1920s.

The "seizure of power" by the National Socialists brought about sudden change and the Jewish lawyer Dr. Ismar Littmann soon faced severe persecution. His professional group was among the first that the National Socialists wanted to destroy economically and socially. As early as in the spring of 1933, neither Dr. Ismar Littmann himself nor his children were able to pursue their professions any longer. Deprived of his livelihood and joy of life, Ismar Littmann faced the ruins of a glamorous existence. Deep despair drove him to suicide on September 23, 1934. Ismar Littmann left behind his widow Käthe and their four children. Fortunately, the survivors were able to escape the National Socialist dictatorship.

In order to finance their escape and livelihood, the Littmann family was forced to sell parts of their important art collection. On February 26 and 27, 1935, numerous works from the Littmann Collection were offered as part of a collective auction at auction house of Max Perl in Berlin. Among them were also two paintings by Emil Nolde: the "Buchsbaumgarten", returned to the heirs accompanied by great international attention by the Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum in Duisburg in 2021, and our work "Palmen", which is now sold by the current owners subject to a "just and fair solution" with the heirs of Dr. Ismar Littmann.

The 1935 Perl Auction
The 1935 auction at Perl was ill-fated. The discussion about so-called "degenerate art" was already flaring up. 64 paintings, watercolors and drawings, including 18 works of art from the Littmann collection, were confiscated as examples of "cultural Bolshevik tendencies" by the Gestapo before the auction and sent to the Berlin Nationalgalerie the following year. Its director at the time, Eberhard Hanfstaengl, kept some of the works as "contemporary documents" and had the rest burned by order of the Gestapo in the furnace of the Kronprinzenpalais on March 23, 1936. (Cf. Annegret Janda, Das Schicksal einer Sammlung, 1986, p. 69) In 1937, the works "saved" by Hanfstaengl were once again confiscated and defamed as the property of "Nationalgalerie Berlin" in the exhibition "Degenerate Art" in Munich.
Both paintings by Emil Nolde, "Palmen" and "Buchsbaumgarten", were spared this fate. The Gestapo did not confiscate the pictures; they were called up at Max Perl. The two Nolde paintings on offer, both with reasonable estimate prices of 800 and 700 Reichsmarks, attracted some attention in the art world. The art dealer Ferdinand Möller informed the famous collector couple Heinrich and Tony Kirchhoff about the upcoming auction of both works. He wrote about the "Palmen" to Mrs. Kirchhoff on February 7, 1935: "This last picture was made on the voyage to the South Seas, so it is particularly valuable" (Ferdinand Möller estate, BG-GFM-C,II, 1,485).
The Dresden banker Dr. Heinrich Arnhold acquired the "Buchsbaumgarten" for 350 Reichsmark, while the "Palmed" yielded 360 Reichsmark - real knockdown prices in both cases, which, as Ferdinand Möller mentioned in a letter to Tony Kirchhoff, did not come even close to the artworks' true market value. The latter painting was presumably sold to a friend of Heinrich Arnhold, as it was later found in her collection: Ida Bienert.

In the Ida Bienert Collection
The back of the stretcher reveals, small and inconspicuous, the name of the important collector Ida Bienert (cf. Heike Biedermann, Avantgarde als Lebensgefühl. Die Sammlerin Ida Bienert Ida Bienert, in: Dorothee Wimmer (ed.), Kunstsammlerinnen, Berlin 2009, pp. 99-113).
Born daughter of a Silesian textile industrialist in 1870, Ida and her husband Erwin were among the richest people in Dresden in the first decades of the 20th century. She was a thoroughly modern, courageous, reform-minded woman, a feminist of a new type, and compiled one of Dresden's most important collections of modern art with a keen eye. She presented her masterpieces to her avant-garde guests in the family villa on Würzburger Strasse, for which Piet Mondrian designed the "ladies' room" in 1925. Artists and intellectuals come and go at the Bienerts. In addition to some works of French art by Cézanne and van Gogh, important works by, among others, Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, Edvard Munch and Franz Marc, Lyonel Feininger and Emil Nolde, adorned the walls.

The extensive, lavishly illustrated collection catalog that Will Grohmann published in 1933 still provides a shimmering, lively insight into this special art collection. The volume also shows what Ida Bienert appreciated about Nolde: the exotic appeal. In 1933, she owned the two watercolors "Südseeinsulaner" and "Südseefrau", as well as the painting "Südseelandschaft" from 1914. If we put this latter painting next to "Palmen" in your imagination, we understand why Ida Bienert made a late acquisition for exactly this picture (after 1933 she only made sporadic purchases). The paintings, almost the same height, function as counterparts, so to speak: the quiet closeness of the forest landscape contrasts with the wind-swept openness of "Palmen", the "green on green" of the dense tropical forest seems like a counter-image to the powerful color chords of the palm tree picture - and yet, both paintings seem be in harmony in an almost magical way.

Nolde's "Tropenwald" has been at the Kunsthalle Bielefeld since 1951 - a museum painting like many other paintings from the former Bienert collection, which can now also be viewed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York or the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. It is all the more remarkable that the painting "Palmen" with its diverse and extraordinary history can be offered today without pending claims for restitution. [MvL/AT]

Emil Nolde
Palmen, 1915.
Oil on canvas
€ 600,000 / $ 648,000
€ 635,000 / $ 685,800

(incl. surcharge)