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KOLLERview is published four times annually.

Next issue: March 2021.

KOLLERView 4-20

In this issue:

• In the name of friendship
• An obsession with landscape
• Umbrellas on two continents
• Variation, Series, Continuation
• A passion for Chinese painting



The Art of Stealing

Marcel Duchamp's 'Fountain', illustrated in the Dada journal The Blind Man in 1917.

“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal” – T.S. Eliot

Appropriation art, using pre-existing images or objects and subtly transforming them, is often said to have begun with Marcel Duchamp’s 'readymades' in the early 20th century. Readymades are found objects, such as the porcelain urinal signed 'R. Mutt' placed on a pedestal and entitled 'Fountain', which Duchamp submitted to the Society of Independent Artists exhibition in New York in 1917. 'Fountain' eventually came to be recognized as a seminal work of modern art, and already in 1917 an article in the Dada journal The Blind Man stated: 'Whether Mr Mutt with his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance. He CHOSE it. He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view – created a new thought for that object'.

Obviously, artists have always appropriated, copied, or stolen ideas and motifs from others. But to do so in a culture where the mere accusation of plagiarism is enough to destroy a career (or Joseph Biden’s first U.S. presidential campaign in 1987), and to do so consciously and with the goal of replacing the image in a new context or otherwise transforming it into something new, is a relatively modern concept.


Richard Pettibone
(Los Angeles 1938–lives and works in New York)
Andy Warhol 'Campbell's Soup Can: Cream of Mushroom Soup'. 1987. Acrylic and screenprint on canvas.

In his Campbell’s soup can series, Richard Pettibone takes appropriation art to another level – by copying an image from Andy Warhol, who had himself appropriated the image from another source. Pettibone first met Warhol in 1965, and the pop artist was amused by Pettibone’s small-scale versions of his celebrated soup cans. As Pettibone later put it, ‘He was already copying, so why not copy the copy?’. Through subtle differences, and especially by leaving the traces of the artist’s hand which Warhol sought to efface in his own graphically-inspired compositions, Pettibone creates something new out of Warhol’s series, by holding a distorting mirror up to another mirror.

In the 5 December auction, a 'Campbell's Soup' screenprint by Warhol will also be offered.


Sylvie Fleury
(Geneva 1961–lives and works in Geneva)
Concetto spaziale. 1995. Jeans, ripped.
Auction 5 December 2020
Sold for CHF 5 500

Sylvie Fleury often uses elements from fashion and haute couture to inject some femininity into the often male-dominated art world. In “Concetto Spaziale”, Fleury substitutes blue denim for the slashed canvas famously employed by Lucio Fontana, making a reference to the fashion cult of ripped jeans and at the same time recasting the iconic image in the light of consumer culture.


(Bristol 1974 – lebt und arbeitet u.a. in England)
Love Welcomes Mat.
Multiple. Welcome mat and remains of a life vest.
Auction 5 December 2020
Sold for CHF 6 250

Banksy is perhaps the most famous living appropriation artist, and his 'Love Welcomes Mat' continues the tradition of Duchamp’s ready-mades. In this work, he uses the remains of a life vest combined with a hand-stitched welcome mat and produced by women in refugee camps to call attention to the plight of migrants. Banksy often subverts paintings or uses images of famous works, such as Vermeer’s 'Girl with a Pearl Earring' (transformed into 'Girl with a Pierced Eardrum'), in order to convey an anti-war or anti-establishment message. He is also featured in this auction with 'Rude Copper', his earliest commercially released screenprint.

KOLLERview is published four times annually.

Next issue: November 2020.

Click & Read

In this issue:

• The art of transformation
• When art meets politics
• Green retreat
• Great resonance
• Battle-proven arsenal



The scene is imaginary, but the butterflies are real

Carl Wilhelm de Hamilton (1668–1754)
A pair: Forest floor with squirrel and insects / Forest floor with barn owl. Oil on canvas. 72 x 56 cm each (one shown).

At first view, the three paintings by Carl Wilhelm de Hamilton (Brussels 1668–1754 Augsburg) in the 25 September auction (lots 3071 and 3074) appear to be charming depictions of the busy life on a forest floor: squirrels, snakes, snails and lizards go about their food-gathering amidst a profusion of leafy plants and mushrooms. But one aspect of these works makes them startlingly unique: the butterflies were originally actual specimens, glued to the canvas.

In these paintings, de Hamilton employed a genre known as the forest-floor still life, or sottobosco, developed in the mid-17th century by Dutch painter Otto Marseus van Schrieck (ca. 1613–1678). Marseus lived on the outskirts of Amsterdam in a marshy area known as the “land of snakes”. He spent a large amount of his time observing and capturing specimens of reptiles, insects and amphibians – so much so that his wife claimed that the snakes began posing for him!

Marseus was apparently just as interested in the scientific and natural aspects of this ground-level population as in their potential as artistic subjects. He lived in an age when scientific theories were debated and discussed throughout learned society, such as the prevalent belief in spontaneous generation, which held that certain animals and plants, particularly “low beings” like snakes, toads and mushrooms, could arise from non-living matter – such as maggots generating from rotting flesh.


Detail of the above painting, showing how the butterflies appear today...

The painter and amateur scientist effectively crossed the line between science and art when he glued the scales of actual butterfly wings to his canvas. The technique consisted of making a wing-shaped reserve using a white, probably lead-based adhesive as an imprimatura. Then the wings were pressed onto this reserve, causing the scales to adhere to the canvas, with the white background enhancing the shimmering colours. The effect must have been enchanting. Today, due to the fading of the butterfly scales’ colours, the wings appear to be white, unless they have been overpainted.


... and the colours they may have had originally.

Marseus had numerous followers, and Carl Wilhelm de Hamilton was one of the most influential in spreading the sottobosco genre Marseus had invented, since he migrated from Belgium to Germany, where he worked as court painter in several cities. Microscopic examinations of the present works by researcher V.E. Mandrij have revealed the remains of the original butterfly scales which Hamilton applied, as well as some coloured glaze that the artist added, probably to complete the areas where some scales were lacking. Hamilton also imitated Marseus’s technique of using actual lichen and moss instead of a paintbrush to represent such vegetation.


Carl Wilhelm de Hamilton (1668–1754)
Forest floor still life (detail).
Oil on panel. 47.2 x 34 cm.

An interesting aspect of both Marseus’ and Hamilton’s work is that despite the obvious symbolic opportunities that such compositions afford (the Greek word for butterfly, psyche, also signifies “soul”, so a snake or a toad snapping up a butterfly conjures a world of moralising possibilities) the artists seemed to be more interested in depicting real animals and plants, devoid of any hidden meaning, for the pleasure of recreating – or creating – an intimate moment on the forest floor.

The work of Marseus and his followers was subsequently almost completely forgotten, and it was not until the 1991 installation “In and Out of Love” by Damien Hirst that actual butterflies would make their reappearance in the world of art.


Behind the canvas: Love and scandal in Georgian Britain

Seymour Dorothy Fleming (1757–1818) as Lady Worsley.
Portrait by Joshua Reynolds, 1776 (detail).
Harewood House Trust, Yorkshire.

The portrait of John Lewis Fleming (1779–1836) offered in our 25 September auction (lot 3083) is of interest not only for its attribution to Sir Thomas Lawrence, one of the greatest British portrait painters, but also for Fleming’s association with one of the most famous women in late 18th-century England: his wife, Seymour Dorothy Fleming (1757–1818).

Seymour Fleming, headstrong heiress to a small fortune, married Sir Richard Worsley when she was seventeen. Worsley was from an old aristocratic family, and in need of greater wealth to improve his position in London society. They had a son together, Robert Edwin, but Lady Worsley soon felt neglected and restless, and embarked on a series of affairs, including one with a neighbour and close friend of Sir Richard’s, Captain George Maurice Bissett. The relationship with Bissett soon became serious (in August 1781 Lady Worsley gave birth to a daughter which was purported to be Bissett’s), and in November 1781 Seymour eloped with her lover. This was an audacious act for the time – most ladies of her standing would have simply carried on the affair while their husbands turned a blind eye, as apparently Worsley had done until then – but she probably hoped that such a bold move would persuade her husband would grant her a divorce.


A satirical print from 1782 mocking the humiliating verdict of one shilling in damages handed over to Lord Worsley.
Etching published by Hannah Humphrey.
© The Trustees of the British Museum.

The effect was just the opposite – furious at the public betrayal by a friend, Worsley sued Bissett for what was called Criminal Conversation, a civil suit for damages in compensation for the seduction of one’s wife. He also refused to grant Seymour a divorce and demanded the unprecedented sum of £20 000, which would have ruined Bissett financially. Worsley seemed to have an open-and-shut case, with letters and witnesses, but Seymour was not one to be defeated so easily. She adopted the novel if somewhat reckless defence of exposing intimate details of the couple’s private life during the trial, with witnesses recounting episodes of Sir Richard’s voyeurism and encouragement of his wife’s infidelities. She succeeded: instead of £20 000, the jury awarded Worsley the humiliating sum of one shilling, and he became the mockery of all England, forcing him flee the hounding of the popular press through an extended journey to the Middle East.

But Seymour also became a social pariah. No one in the polite British society of the time could associate with someone who had so openly publicised their scandalous acts, and she found herself shunned by many of her former friends and family. Once again Seymour refused to bow to her fate, however, and along with other ladies in a similar position, she became a member of the demi-monde who met socially under the name of the “New Female Coterie”. Bissett eventually left her, as there was no possibility of marriage – Worsley did not even sign a separation agreement until six years after the trial, with the clause that Seymour leave England for four years. She moved to Paris, where women of her reputation were more socially accepted, but within a year of her arrival the Revolution broke out. Swept up in the Reign of Terror, Seymour probably spent some time in a French prison before finally returning to England in 1797, very ill and in a precarious financial situation.


Attributed to Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769–1830).
Portrait of John Lewis Fleming (1779–1836).
Oil on canvas. 76.5 × 63.8 cm.
Sold for CHF 25 000

Sometime during this period, Seymour met and fell in love with John Louis Hummell (born Cuchet), a Geneva-born musician who had been somewhat of a child prodigy, even performing for King George III and Queen Charlotte at the age of nine. Their age difference was considerable, but there seems to have been a real affection between the two. When Worsley died in 1805 and Seymour finally came into possession of his estate, they married and Hummell changed his name to John Lewis Fleming; Seymour also took back her maiden name. The present portrait was most likely commissioned by Seymour from the most fashionable portrait painter of the day as a sort of advertisement of her new husband’s arrival in society (the musician, although at ease in upper social circles, was not nobly born).

Two years after Seymour’s death in 1818, Fleming – who had inherited Seymour’s fortune – married a French noblewoman, Ernestine Jeanne Marie de Houdetot (1796–1836). Their daughter married a Bernese patrician, Dyonis Bernhard Friedrich von Graffenried (1815–1886), and so the painting came to Switzerland, where it has remained in the same family ever since. John Lewis Fleming’s last wish was to be buried next to his first wife, Seymour Dorothy Fleming, in Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris.


“Le goût Rothschild” in a time capsule

A view of the interior of the Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild. The present table is visible in the center left.

The “table d’accouchée” to be offered in our 24 September auction (lot 1050), belonged to Adèle de Rothschild (1843–1922), a member of one of the most fabulously wealthy families in history. The Rothschild family, whose wealth derived from banking and finance, were avid collectors, and their collecting preferences and decorating style became known in the latter half of the 19th century as “le goût Rothschild” (the Rothschild taste). Their Renaissance-style palatial homes filled with the finest selection of (mostly French) antiques, gilding, heavy fabrics and carved boiseries set a new standard, and were emulated by later generations of high-wealth individuals such as the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Duponts and Gettys.

In Paris in 1862, Adèle de Rothschild wed her cousin, Salomon de Rothschild (1835–1864), who died of a heart attack just two years later. Salomon’s impetuosity and financial extravagance often caused difficulties with the rest of his family, but he was also a dedicated and passionate collector, amassing an impressive number of high-quality books, photographs, paintings, sculpture, decorative arts and Middle Eastern art, especially during the two years following his marriage to Adèle. After her husband’s death, Adèle, aged twenty-one, led a somewhat reclusive existence for the next half-century, although there is some evidence – not least invoices for significant amounts of cognac and cigars – that she continued to lead an active, if highly selective, social life within her residence. She supported the arts throughout her lifetime, and was an early patron of Alphonse Mucha, for example, sponsoring his first visit to the United States in 1904.


A Louis XV rosewood and pupleheart marquetry
"table d'accouchée". Paris, circa 1750/60.

From 1872 Adèle oversaw the construction of a large mansion in the Monceau district of Paris, the Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild, designed to house and display the collections of her late husband as well as those of her father, Mayer Carl von Rothschild. The present table was a part of the sumptuous décor of the Hôtel Rothschild and is a typical example of the fine quality of the family’s legendary furniture collections. The “table d’accouchée” is one of several French furniture forms invented in the mid-18th century which corresponded to a shift during the period of Louis XV from the quite exposed manner of living at Versailles under the previous reign towards more intimate private apartments. The upper section lifts off and is designed to be used while reclining in one’s bed, as a lectern, writing desk or dining tray.

Today, according to the wishes of Adèle de Rothschild, the Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild houses a foundation dedicated to artists and the arts, and one room has been carefully preserved and is open to the public, the Cabinet of Curiosities. Containing over 400 works of art, it is an excellent example of the “goût Rothschild” and a fascinating time capsule from a period when collectors with means could fully satisfy their passion for extraordinary works of art.


The Association of Swiss Youth Parliaments is celebrating its 25th anniversary by leaving a lasting mark: 25 trees will be planted, symbolising 25 years of the promotion of political participation and political education of children and young adults.

Take part in the auction of the 25 trees via Koller Auctions and support Swiss youth politics! Bidding begins on 5 October 2020, on our “ibid online only” auction page. The sale closes on 23 October 2020.




A painting from the "Golden Age"

Old Master paintings specialist Karoline Weser presents a landscape by one of the most important artists of the Golden Age of Dutch painting, Salomon van Ruysdael.

Heavenly wonder

The minute workings of this fascinating astronomical clock are revealed by Furniture & Decorative Arts specialist Stephan Koller.


KOLLERview is published four times annually.

Next issue: September 2020.

Click & Read

In this issue:

• The power of the series
• From the abstract to the figurative
• View to infinity
• Osmosis between Surrealism and reality
• Year-round precision
• Turquoise – popular all over the world
• Collecting as a private passion
• Enlightenment and wordly succour



Hundertwasser – artist, architect, environmental activist

The Quixote Winery, Napa Valley, California.
Photo: Treve Johnson

Carl Doumani, owner of the Quixote Winery under construction in Napa Valley, California, was excited to show its architect, Friedensreich Hundertwasser, his latest acquisition: a series of fragile, tile-inlaid columns designed by Hundertwasser and custom-made in Germany, which amazingly had all arrived intact. Hundertwasser observed the columns, and immediately took a hammer and smashed one to pieces. “If they don’t see that we use broken materials, they’ll never know”, said the artist.

This devotion to imperfection, so typical of Hundertwasser (1928–2000), stems from his profound and intimate relationship to nature. Well-known as an iconoclastic painter and architect, Hundertwasser would have been equally pleased to be remembered as a tireless environmental activist. A pioneer in this field, Hundertwasser never relented in his struggle to incorporate nature in our everyday lives, and to consider close contact with nature as essential to our physical and mental well-being.


Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928–2000)
Der gelbe Platz - Flugplatz. 1958.
Watercolour and varnish on wrapping paper,
primed with chalk.
Sold for CHF 195 000

His childhood in Vienna was profoundly marked by the rise of Nazism and the Second World War. His mother was Jewish, and he had to pass for a Catholic in order to escape the fate of many of his other relatives. He found his solace in nature, and for the rest of his life waged war against the “godless and immoral” straight line, absent in nature and all too present in the military parades of his youth.

The tension between the natural world and man’s unnatural attempts to subvert it is omnipresent in Hundertwasser’s art, architecture and writings: first published in 1958, his “Mouldiness manifesto against rationalism in architecture” maintains that one should welcome mould and rust in habitations, because “life is moving into the house, and through this process we can more consciously become witnesses of architectural changes from which we have much to learn”.

In the work presented here, “Der gelbe Platz – Flugplatz” (The yellow square – airfield), 1958, this tension is clearly evident in the composition, separated into two parts by a horizontal line. In the upper section, nature is given its deserved importance, symbolized by a complete spiral surrounded by greenery. The harmony of the upper section is cruelly absent in the lower half, with its broken spiral, the incursion of man-made elements like smoking factories, and a general atmosphere of incompleteness. The spiral was very important in Hundertwasser’s worldview. “I am convinced that the act of creation took place in the form of a spiral,” he wrote. “Our whole life proceeds in spirals”.

For Hundertwasser, a home – and by extension, a world – which leaves no place for nature is quite simply uninhabitable. He devoted his entire life, through his art, architecture and activism, to increasing the amount of spaces where humans may not only live, but thrive, in harmony with nature.

Upcoming auctions:
5 December – Prints & Multiples
5 December – PostWar & Contemporary



Chamberlain and César

John Chamberlain (1927–2011)
Kiss #14. 1979.
Painted steel. 68.5 x 59.5 x 61 cm.
Sold for CHF 526 000.

The sculptures of American artist John Chamberlain (1927–2011) and those of French artist César (1921–1998) are often considered to be of the same artistic trend. But however much they may appear to be similar, the artistic process and philosophy behind their works are quite different.

Chamberlain’s main early influences were the works of first generation of abstract expressionists, particularly the sculptures of David Smith, as well as the paintings of Franz Kline and of Chamberlain’s friend and mentor, Willem de Kooning. He hit upon the idea of using old car parts in the mid-1950s while staying at a friend’s house on Long Island, the painter Larry Rivers, who had parts from a 1929 Ford in his yard. Chamberlain repeatedly ran over the rusty metal fenders with a truck, eventually transforming them into “Shortstop” (1957), his first car-parts sculpture.

“Shortstop” created a sensation, and by the early 1960s Chamberlain was already a well-known figure in the art world. Speaking later of these early sculptures, Chamberlain said, "I found myself working with a certain spontaneity. I was trying to attach the top part of (a sculpture) to the lower half, but when I put it in the right place, it connected up in three different places, so it told me how to put it together". This aptly describes an important aspect of Chamberlain’s artistic process – his sculptures are actually a form of collage, in the Surrealist tradition where many Abstract Expressionists took their inspiration. For Chamberlain and other artists such as de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, the act and manner of creation were as important if not more so than the work itself or the materials that composed it.


César (César Baldaccini) (1921–1998)
Compression Evian. 1990.
Compression with various plastic bottles.
30 x 21 x 21 cm. Unique work.
Sold for CHF 8 700.

César was a member of the New Realists, who were much closer to Dada, the forerunner of the Surrealist movement. César came from from a very humble background, and began using found objects out of lack of access to more expensive materials, but the components of his sculptures – as in many of the works of his fellow New Realists – almost always had a political and/or sociological significance. His “Compression Evian” illustrated here is an overt commentary on our consumer society, whereas Chamberlain, despite the seemingly obvious associations with cars as a symbol of American consumer culture, consistently declined to define his works as political statements. Abstract Expressionism was in some ways more self-centred than other artistic movements, and it was precisely this self-seriousness that the New Realists took every opportunity to poke fun at: as with Niki de Saint-Phall’s “shooting paintings”, where artists could fire a rifle at bags of paint attached to a canvas and produce a ready-made Pollock-type drip painting.


John Chamberlain (1927–2011)
Grass Skirt Opus. 2002.
Painted and chromed steel. 41 x 33 x 32 cm.

Another salient aspect of Chamberlain’s work was colour. In the 1950s, most contemporary sculpture was monochrome, and Chamberlain’s bright, glossy colours were like an explosion on the art scene. At first they were inherent to the car parts he used, but later on the artist didn’t hesitate to add colour, sometimes painting the pieces before they were dismantled and after reassembling them, sanding or scraping off areas to obtain the desired effect. While colour was certainly also important for César, it is difficult to imagine him altering the colours of the found objects that made up his sculptures.


César (César Baldaccini) (1921–1998)
Painted sheet metal. 31 x 31 x 16 cm.
Sold for CHF 24 700

One thing that Chamberlain and César certainly do have in common is that they are both well known – as artists often are – for only one aspect of their work. Both artists were highly talented and diverse and worked in a wide variety of media – Chamberlain even made underground films in the 1960s in the style of Warhol – but in the public’s mind they are associated with one thing: compressed sculptures. Perhaps future retrospective exhibitions will lead to a greater understanding of the work of these two artists and the fascinating period in which they lived.

Upcoming auctions
5 December – Prints & Multiples
5 December – PostWar & Contemporary



Safe Havens: Artists' Gardens

Fabio Sidler

Max Liebermann in his garden in Wannsee circa 1922.
© Max Liebermann Society.

As soon as the first measures to contain Covid19 in Switzerland were lifted, there was a rush to the garden centres. Apart from cooking, gardening was probably the most popular occupation during the lockdown in many parts of the world. The garden has always been considered a refuge, a safe haven. This is also clearly reflected in European cultural history: from the 15th century onwards around Florence, the culture of the country home, or villa, was revived, following ancient Roman models. Far away from the city, the Medici and many other powerful merchants and politicians established magnificent rural estates with well-kept gardens, now known as Renaissance gardens. Here they created spaces where they exchanged ideas with intellectuals about literature, art and philosophy. In Boccaccio's Decameron, for example, ten young people meet in such a place to self-isolate from the plague and to pass the time by telling stories.

It is striking how many important Impressionist and Modern artists also had private country homes with beautiful gardens. The most famous example is probably Monet's garden in Giverny. Jackie Bennett's book The Artists' Garden (White Lion Publishing, 2019), shows more than 20 gardens by world-famous artists. They are by turns a source of inspiration, an open-air studio and a secret retreat. Many of these places can still be visited by the public today.

In our auctions of 19 June and 3 July we offer some beautiful examples of such garden views:


Max Liebermann (1847–1935)
Flowerbed in the Wannsee garden viewed towards the north. 1918. Oil on board. Sold for CHF 488 000.

Max Liebermann
In 1909 Max Liebermann acquired a property at Wannsee, which he lovingly called his "castle on the lake" including a villa and garden house. The flower terrace and the kitchen garden of the summer house on the Wannsee lake are the subject of a large series of garden paintings that substantially shaped the late work of the German Impressionist. Liebermann had the gardens regularly enlarged, seeking advice from the director of the Hamburger Kunsthalle Alfred Lichtwark and others, and thus created a personal open-air studio. From 1914 onwards, he made intensive use of this new inspiration, and the constantly changing plantings, colourful flowers, lush greens of the meadow and trees and various viewpoints provide an endless variety of motifs. In all, he created about 200 paintings and several drawings of his garden, showing its splendour from all points of view. It is not surprising that Liebermann liked to spend a great deal of time here, especially during the First World War and the Great Depression following it.


Henri Martin (1860–1943)
Pergola Nord-Ouest de Marquayrol en fin d'automne.
1910–20. Oil on canvas.

Henri Martin
After 10 years of searching for the perfect country house, in 1900 Henri Martin finally purchased a large 17th-century villa called Marquayrol in the village of Labastide-du-Vert in southwest France. The house and the region became Martin's summer holiday resort, where he escaped from the big city of Paris between May and November to enjoy the serenity of nature.


Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1860–1943)
Dans le jardin des Collettes à Cagnes. Circa 1910.
Oil on canvas. Sold for CHF 360 000.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir
In 1907, Renoir bought the estate "Les Collettes" in Cagnes on the Mediterranean near Nice. He moved there in autumn 1908. The villa, with its picturesque farmhouse, olive and orange groves and views of the hilly landscape, offered the artist many subjects for his late landscapes. In these, Renoir succeeded in creating a silvery light similar to that of Camille Corot, whom he greatly admired, as seen in Corot’s French landscapes around 1850. The painting offered here is a particularly fine example by Renoir, harmoniously finished and therefore, unlike many other late landscapes, signed by hand.


Albert Marquet (1875–1947)
Arbre en fleurs devant Alger. Circa 1943.
Oil on canvas.

Albert Marquet
During the Second World War, Albert Marquet and his wife Marcelle remained in Algiers, and in 1941, just outside the city, they bought a parcel of land called Djenan Sidi Saïd, which Marcelle translated as "The Garden of the Happy Lord".

Upcoming Auctions, Fine Art
  4 December –  Impressionist & Modern Art
  4 December –  Swiss Art
  5 December –  PostWar & Contemporary, Prints & Multiples



Pirates, Piety and Power:
The story of the extraordinary Roentgen workshop that almost never existed.

An 18th-century Moravian missionary ship.

Abraham Roentgen was on a ship bound for the colony of North Carolina. The year was 1737, and the young German cabinetmaker had left everything behind – his young wife, recovering from illness after a stillborn birth, and a promising career in London making furniture for a wealthy British clientele – in order to do missionary work for the Moravian Bretheren, to which he had recently converted. But suddenly, the trip had to be aborted when Spanish pirates attacked the ship. After a being stranded on the Irish coast for several weeks, Roentgen made his way back to his wife, and decided to pursue his cabinetmaking career on the solid land of Germany.


Workshop of Abraham and David Roentgen
A finely inlaid harlequin desk.
Neuwied, circa 1765/68. Sold for CHF 73 000.

Abraham (1711–1791) and his son David Roentgen (1743–1807) went on to establish the most successful furniture business in the 18th century – but one has to wonder if this ever would have happened had those pirates chosen another ship to attack. When the Count of Neuwied invited the Moravians (or Herrnhuter as they were known in Germany) to settle in his city in 1750, Abraham Roentgen moved his business there, where it would remain for the next fifty years.

Among the special privileges the Count granted to the bretheren were exemptions to the limit of the number of workers in a given workshop, as well as to the strict division of labour among the guilds. These liberties allowed Roentgen to rapidly develop his business by increasing the number of workers as needed, and by employing the finest master craftsmen for all of the elements of his furniture – including casework, carving, turning, and bronze mounts – thus giving him complete control over the quality of his factory’s workmanship.


Detail of the marquetry on the above Roentgen harlequin desk.

Roentgen’s furniture soon found favour amongst the German nobility. He not only introduced fashionable forms and techniques acquired during his time in England, but also included ingenious mechanisms combined with some of the finest inlay and marquetry work available, as in the present example. David joined his father’s workshop as a teenager, and together they built a solid reputation for producing luxury furniture.

By the end of the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763), however, the finances of the company reflected the disarray that Europe found itself in, and the Roentgens needed to expand their clientele. They travelled to London to examine the possibility of establishing a workshop there, and despite their dire financial straits returned with a large quantity of exotic woods and mounts.

These expenditures, as well as the Roentgens’ practice of producing expensive pieces on speculation rather than on order, made the Herrnhuter community nervous about the numerous loans they had made to the workshop. The bretheren not only put a stop to future financing, but excluded David from religious rites.


The "Neuwied Cabinet", the most expensive piece of furniture of the 18th century.
© Photo: Kunstgewerbemuseum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. Photographer: Stephan Klonk

Faced with this crisis, David hit upon a novel but risky idea: he would hold a lottery to sell their stock of luxury items. Confident in the fascination for gambling prevalent among Europe’s elite of that time, and despite the fact that such practice was contrary to the brotherhood’s beliefs, David set out on a promotional tour throughout major German cities, advertising “Neuwied work” as a must-have luxury brand. The first prize was a magnificent chinoiserie bureau-cabinet with a carillon clock.

The lottery, held in Hamburg in 1769, was a complete success: all of the tickets were sold, and the Roentgen manufactory’s reputation spread throughout Europe.

Over the next thirty years, David Roentgen sold the workshop’s creations to the most powerful figures in Europe, reasoning that if the regent purchased their furniture, their courtiers and other wealthy subjects would follow suit. The stratagem worked splendidly, and Roentgen approached rulers such as Marie-Antoinette, Louis XVI and Catherine the Great with supreme confidence, often custom-making extremely costly pieces before knowing whether or not they would consent to purchase them.

To Frederick William II, King of Prussia, Roentgen sold a bureau-cabinet for the incredible sum of 13 000 gold thaler, making it the most expensive piece of furniture ever sold in the 18th century.


Portrait of David Roentgen, circa 1785-90.
Roentgen Museum, Neuwied

Furniture pieces from the Roentgens such as the harlequin table offered in the 18 June auction are witnesses to the ingenuity and superb craftsmanship of this unique workshop, as well as to the prevalent taste of the ruling classes during the Age of Enlightenment. At the end of his long career, David Roentgen, like his father before him, retired amongst the Herrnhuter bretheren with which he finally was reconciled, and his diplomatic skills and extensive connections occasionally served the Prussian court. His legacy would live on as a model to be emulated by furniture manufacturers throughout the 19th century and beyond.

Upcoming auctions, Fine Furniture & Decorative Art
24 September 2020 – Fine Furniture & Porcelain



Andy Warhol, underground filmmaker

The album cover of the soundtrack to "Blood for Dracula".

Andy Warhol was once asked at a party while holding his ever-present camera, “Why do you constantly take pictures of people?” Warhol stared at the guest for a moment, who was holding a cigarette, then replied, “Why do you smoke?”.

Always fascinated by the photographic image, Warhol made hundreds of films, beginning from the period when he moved into the “Factory” studio in 1963. His first movies were silent and black-and-white, due to the limitations of his 16mm Bolex camera. From this period comes the 6-hour film “Sleep” (depicting a person sleeping during an entire night), as well as “Kiss”, “Haircut”, and his first, unfinished version of “Dracula” (1964), starring fellow underground filmmaker Jack Smith.


A scene from Warhol's "The Chelsea Girls", featuring Nico and Ondine. The entire film was shown in a split screen.

By the mid-1960s Warhol’s films had achieved a certain success and recognition within the underground scene in New York, and certain productions from this period are considered classics, such as “The Chelsea Girls” (1966), a series of twelve 33-minute reels all shot in different rooms of the Chelsea Hotel, which Newsweek called “The Iliad of the underground”. Warhol’s directing career more or less ended with his near-fatal shooting in 1968 by Factory habituée Valerie Solanas. Paul Morrissey, his main filmmaking assistant since 1965, took over and eventually brought Warhol-produced/inspired films to a much larger public.


Udo Kier going green in "Blood for Dracula".

It was Morrissey who directed “Andy Warhol’s Dracula” (1973-74) for which this image was created. Later entitled “Blood for Dracula”, the film stars German actor Udo Kier and Joe Dallesandro, an American actor who appeared in many Warhol / Morrissey films, including “Flesh for Frankenstein”. The shooting of “Dracula” started just a few days after “Frankenstein” was completed, with the actors getting shorter haircuts in order to play their new roles. “Dracula” opened in Germany and the US to mixed reviews, but has since become somewhat of a cult classic, and despite its low-budget “trash” aesthetic contains some beautifully shot scenes.


Andy Warhol (1928–1987)
Dracula. 1981.
Colour screenprint with diamond dust.
TP 2/30, trial proof outside the edition of 200. Unique.
Sold for CHF 116 000 (world auction record)

Warhol included the image of Udo Kier as Dracula in his 1981 “Myths” series of icons of popular culture. The screenprint offered here is a unique test proof, and differs significantly from other test proofs and the final edition in its vibrant colours and the use of diamond dust – in the final version, the grey-and-black toned figure nearly blends into the dark background. The film may be essentially Morrisey’s work, but the appropriation and repurposing of a classic element from popular culture, as seen in the present screenprint, is quintessential Warhol.

Upcoming auctions
5 December – Prints & Multiples
5 December – PostWar & Contemporary



When a pearl necklace was worth the price of a mansion

Elizabeth Taylor with one of her natural pearl necklaces.

For millennia, natural pearls were among the most valuable items one could possess. Cleopatra famously won a bet with Marc Antony that she could spend 10 million sesterces on a single dinner, by dissolving an unusually large natural pearl in vinegar and drinking it. In 1917, Pierre Cartier purchased a mansion on New York’s 5th Avenue (now known as the Cartier Mansion) with a double-strand natural pearl necklace, worth $1 million at the time.

The pearl and diamond necklace offered in our 2 July auction was priced by a Zurich jeweller at 100 000 Swiss francs in 1919 – roughly 1 million francs in today’s currency – as the original invoice attests. But just a few years after Cartier’s trade and the purchase of the Zurich necklace, pearls were worth a fraction of their former value. What caused this dramatic change in the pearl market?


Chinese pearl divers from the Tiangong Kaiwu encyclopedia, 1637.

The value of natural pearls previous to the 20th century resided in their extreme rarity. It takes years for a mollusc to create a pearl, and this process only occurs in approximately one in 10 000 shells. Pearl divers had to plunge to depths of up to 40 metres to retrieve potential pearl-bearing bivalves, which was both dangerous and time-consuming. Because of this, pearls were reserved for the extremely wealthy, and figured prominently in richly-adorned pendants, earrings and necklaces.


Various types of cultured pearls. Photo © GIA.

In 1921, however, cultured pearls appeared on the international market for the first time, having been developed in Japan from the late 19th century by Kokichi Mikimoto and others. Natural pearls are formed when a mollusc creates a protective nacreous layer around a tiny irritant or a wound. With cultured pearls, a bead and a piece of epithelial tissue is inserted by pearl farmers, resulting in more efficient production, as well as more affordable pearls. By the 1950s and 60s, cultured pearls were within the reach of most middle-class consumers, and the fact that they were worn by celebrities such as Jackie Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe rendered them all the more desirable.


A natural pearl and diamond necklace, circa 1919.
89 graduated, round and semi-round, cream-coloured natural pearls of D ca. 4 - 7.2 mm
With original purchase invoice from Eugen Keller, December 1919.
Sold for CHF 16 000.

Today it is possible to obtain what was formerly one of the world’s greatest treasures – a necklace of natural pearls – and enjoy what once only a lucky few could own.

Upcoming auctions:
29 September – Jewellery (online only)



Emilian School, 16th Century (detail)

Sold for CHF 45 000

View sales results

Strong results and active bidding in Koller’s online auctions despite the current climate

The coronavirus crisis did not discourage online bidders from enthusiastically participating in Koller’s “ibid online only” auctions. The sales, which closed on 31 March and 1 April, achieved an overall total of well over 100% of the pre-sale estimates. Koller postponed its March saleroom auctions due to the impossibility of holding a preview, but decided to go ahead with its planned online sales with only a virtual preview. The results for these items of modest value were excellent, in spite of the fact that the items could not be previewed in person, and even in fields for which the demand has been more restrained in recent years: the results for antique furniture exceeded expectations, as did books and porcelain. Old Master paintings did particularly well, and two works – an Emilian School family portrait and a head of an apostle by a follower of Van Dyck – sold for many times their starting prices, at CHF 45 000 and CHF 34 000 respectively.

The current crisis perhaps even contributed to the success of the sales: "I must congratulate you on the perfect organisation of the auction", one buyer wrote to us after the sale. "It allowed my wife and I to experience a few exciting hours despite being under ‘house arrest’".

Koller has been holding ibid online only auctions regularly since 2018, offering works with a broader appeal alongside their main saleroom auctions, and they have proven to be a success not only among Koller’s traditional bidder base but also among a new generation of collectors accustomed to purchasing online. The transparent process, easy access to high-resolution images, condition reports and direct advice from specialists make this a popular way to access an entire range of art and objects, from fine art and design to wine and fashion & vintage.


KOLLERview is published four times a year,

the next issue will follow in June 2020.

Click & Read

In this issue:

• Treasure from Limoges
• Golden Middle Ages
• White gold from Meissen
• 18th-century “Design”
• Astronomical precision
• From Corot to Lieberman


Koller is the leading Swiss auction house, with offices in Munich, Dusseldorf, Florence and Beijing. Each year Koller holds over eighty auctions, covering all of the major collecting categories in the fine and decorative arts, jewelry, wristwatches, Asian art and wine. Koller regularly sets record prices and benefits from a large base of international bidders. With its team of highly experienced specialists, the family-owned auction house combines the distinct advantages of an internationally active auction house with Swiss reliability and efficiency.