Sotheby’s to Sell Hascoe Family Collection of Important Czech Art

Sotheby’s London will offer Czech Modernist paintings, sculpture and Cubist furniture from the outstanding Hascoe Collection of Czech Modern Art, on Monday, 13 June 2011.

This collection is an extraordinary testimony to the vision of its creators, Norman and Suzanne Hascoe, who over the course of twenty-five years assembled what, is now one of the most important private collections of Czech Modernist art, and the most exciting group of Czech works to come to the market in the last decade. Together, the works in the sale – nearly 200 lots – are estimated to realise in excess of £5 million.

The Hascoe Collection offers a remarkably complete survey of Czech painting and sculpture of the first half of the twentieth century. The core of this collection of paintings revolves around the leading figures of Czech Modernist painting: František Kupka, Bohumil Kubišta, František Foltýn, Emil Filla and other fellow Osma artists, such as Antonín Prochaszka and Josef Capek, who were at the forefront of international Cubism.

Norman and Suzanne Hascoe are remembered for their buoyant, cheerful and energetic spirit, easily inspiring friendships all over the world, and for their shared dedication in their quest for objects of beauty and cultural significance across a wide spectrum. Their discerning eye and passionate focus is reflected in their collection of Czech art, which was housed in a wonderful waterfront home in Greenwich, Connecticut, in America.

The sale will feature twenty works by František Kupka, including his tour de force of early abstraction, Movement, painted between 1913 and 1919 (estimate £500,000-700,000),. Movement is one of the finest examples of Kupka’s paintings from this key period in his artistic career. Although the stridently red central motif can perhaps be read as evoking a recumbent human form, Movement is essentially what its title implies: a study of objects in dynamic shift.

Kupka settled in Paris in 1895 after completing his studies at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Vienna, earning his living in the French capital in his early years there as an illustrator for periodicals and journals, with a strong vein of social commentary running through his work. The stimulating environment of the French metropolis, the ferment of modern art in the city, and the artists and exhibitions travelling to it were all to inspire Kupka’s painting significantly. From 1909 onwards, he increasingly turned away from capturing external reality towards espousing a radical simplification of pictorial composition that resonated deeply with internal realities of emotion, of instinct, and of the spiritual as well as the cosmic and the cosmological.

Kupka’s paintings from the first two decades of the twentieth century most strongly demonstrate his interest in the cosmological and in the interplay between the visual arts and music. Although Kupka did not go perhaps as far as Wassily Kandinsky went in his exploration of the interplay between the visual and the aural (Kandinsky was, after all, a synaesthete for whom precise sounds such as a single note played on a violin conjured a vividly precise colour), the focus in Movement on a very dense, rich colour palette suggests that there is another sense-dimension at play here and the ellipses of orange and yellow in the background plausibly echo galactic phenomena such as the rings of Saturn.

Among the Osma artists the work of both Bohumil Kubišta and Antonín Pocházka stand out, the former for his magnificent Cézannesque Still Life with Fruits of 1909, and the latter for his exquisite Cubist compositions such as Still Life with Vase and Flower of 1914 (estimate £20,000-30,000). Painted in 1909, Still Life with Fruit (estimate £300,000-500,000) epitomises the flowering of Modernism in Central European art, and demonstrates Kubišta’s experimentation with perspective and colour at its most sophisticated. Vibrant objects snake across the canvas in a tour de force of contrasting forms and textures, all depicted in contradictory perspectives. The table top is besieged by bulbous objects, described with hints of angles that are a premonition of the Cubism that would follow in Kubišta’s work. A generously gathered tablecloth drapes beyond the edges of the composition, amplifying the sense that the fruits are toppling with the cloth into the foreground, anchored only to the surface of the table by the large vase at the upper left.

Kubišta’s still-lives of this period focus on the inherent geometry of objects and explore the spatial problems of representing three-dimensional form. The inspiration of Cézanne’s approach breathed new life into the time-honoured tradition of still life painting at the turn of the century, and his aesthetic accomplishments had a profound impact on Kubišta’s work of this time. While there is still a sense of three-dimensionality and recognisable form in Still Life with Fruit, space is defined by the contrast of colour surfaces. Warm and cool tones press dynamically against each other, allowing the warm tones to expand, and act almost as a light source within the composition. While Kubišta’s aesthetic and ideological development passed through Impressionism, Expressionism, Cubism and Futurism during his life-time, his still-lives best encapsulated his yearning for innovation and a personal departure from the academic. Much more than a simple, representational image, Still-Life with Fruit captures mood and emotion, showing Kubišta’s process in untangling personal and traditional methods of perception.

Reflecting the uncertainty and aggression of the War years, Josef Čapek turned Cubism to dramatic effect in the contrasting images of his double-sided work Sailor and Phantomas of 1917-20 (estimate £150,000-200,000), while in the early 1920s František Foltýn pushed further the boundaries of Cubism in his powerful depiction of Dostoyevsky and the new post-war international order in his strident personification of Imperialism (both estimated at £120,000-180,000).

The diversity of the sculpture collection that features thirteen different artists is characterised in the two very distinct aesthetics of Jan Štursa and Otto Gutfreund. Virtual contemporaries, the work of these two men accounts for some fifty sculptures in the collection. Both artists expressed their shared drive to reveal the essential vulnerability of the human form, but achieved their ends in very different ways. Štursa conceals the psychological intensity of his work behind a poetic lyricism that ranges from the innocence of Puberty to the coquettish sensuality of Woman with Dolphin. In contrast Gutfreund uncovers the inner soul of his figures through the brute physicality of the material at his disposal, the anguished gestures of the subjects that inspired him and the cubistic language that he made uniquely his own. The resultant force of his work is as evident in the contraposto diagonals of The Cellist (estimate £2,000-3,000) as in the torment of Anxiety (estimate £12,000-18,000), works which established Gutfreund incontrovertibly as the foremost Czech sculptor of his generation.

Selected highlights will be shown in New York (29 April – 2 May), Vienna (4 – 6 May), Moscow (16 – 20 May) and Prague (23 – 26 May).

Image: Josef Čapek, Sailor and Phantomas (double-sided work, detail shown) Estimate £150,000-200,000. Photo: Sotheby’s

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