Lot 101: Max Weber
Still Life (Flowers)
Signed and dated lower right
Canvas (vis.): 18" x 15.5"; Frame: 23.25" x 20"
Provenance: The Collection of Leopold Mittman, New York (acquired directly from the artist);
Thence by descent
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A leader of avant-garde art in the first half of the 20th century, Max Weber (1881-1961) worked in various mediums, but achieved acclaim through his expressionistic paintings of still lifes, nudes, and Jewish subjects. Raised in a strict Orthodox Jewish family who recently emigrated from Russia to Brooklyn, Weber showed an early interest in art, but showing his drawings at home was forbidden. His parents forced him to enter the Normal course at the Pratt Institute where he studied art theory in preparation for becoming a teacher. After a few years of teaching in Virginia and Minnesota, Weber took an extended vacation in Paris and the rest of mainland Europe. There he studied drawing and painting at various French art institutions, a study tour that culminated in a course taught by Henri Matisse where he became friendly with his classmates Gertrude and Leo Stein.
Revitalized and ready to assume the life of an artist, Weber returned to New York in 1909. He exhibited his paintings from his time in Europe at Alfred Stieglitz’ Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession. During this time, Weber’s paintings became distinctly modern, and he “became concerned with formal distortions as a means of activating pictorial space.” By the beginning of the 1920s, critics acclaimed Weber as the most important American modern painter of his time, and in 1930, the first major retrospective of his career was held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. While Weber played with various genres and mediums throughout his career, he frequently returned to painting still lifes, landscapes, and nudes. During the 1940s, Weber “began to manipulate space in a more challenging fashion than he had done in two decades,” and the resulting paintings breathed with emotional fluidity. Untitled (Bathers) from 1942 renders the human subjects indecipherable, yet rich, sweeping lines “suggest an emotional and intellectual state.” Likewise in Flowers Still Life (c. 1942), Weber abstracts the flowers with bold color that fades into a muted background. Towards the end of his accomplished career that explored every corner of American modernism, he was honored with three major retrospectives at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1949, the Jewish Museum in 1956, and the Newark Museum in 1959.
North, Percy. Max Weber: American Modern. New York: The Jewish Museum, 1982. Print.