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Max Oppenheimer *
Lot No. 31 
Max Oppenheimer *
  • Max Oppenheimer *
  • Max Oppenheimer *

Max Oppenheimer *

(Vienna 1885–1954 New York)
War End (World War II; newspapers, in the background a street scene in New York with the Statue of Liberty), oil on canvas, 27.7 x 48.3 cm, framed

This work will be included in the catalogue raisonné of the paintings of Max Oppenheimer by Marie-Agnes v. Puttkamer.

Private Collection, USA
Dorotheum Vienna, 23 May 2012, lot 837
Private Collection, Linz

… Oppenheimer decided to take the name ‘Maximilian Mopp’, which was easier to understand in the USA.
He carried out a portrait commission immediately after arriving, which Walter Boveri had already arranged for him from Zurich. This was followed by the portrait of the wife of radio and television magnate William S. Paley, meaning that he was able to start off earning a material livelihood. He needed this even more desperately as his brother, Friedrich Heydenau, who still lived in Vienna, had been begging him for help. He sought out Thomas Mann as soon as he had arrived in Princeton. With Mann’s support, he was at least able to use his publisher, Bermann, to arrange a trip to Sweden, to begin with. However, he had to cover the costs of his accommodation there, as it was impossible for larger sums of money to be sent from Austria. The Artists’ Gallery exhibited one of his likenesses in autumn 1939 as part of an exhibition of portraits. Berlin-based Galerie Nierendorf, which had also relocated to New York to escape the Nazis, exhibited 26 of his works in a solo exhibition of his paintings in winter 1940/41. This exhibition was also taken on by the Arts Club of Chicago and the Milwaukee Art Institute, albeit in a smaller form. However, Oppenheimer was not able to build up a large pool of clients. At this time, abstract impressionism had started to dominate the art market, and there was less interest in representational painting. Friends such as the violinist Joseph Szigeti or Austrian doctor Dr Hopfinger had to support him by purchasing his works and placing commissions. He was not able to find his feet in New York, an unfamiliar city. He became increasingly bitter. He was a near-daily presence in Café Eclair on 72nd Street, where Viennese émigrés met, and where he was able to play chess in the familiar atmosphere of the coffee shop.

The well-known voices and faces gave him the feeling of being at home. Friends from previous periods in his life who met him in New York barely recognised him: “He had sunk from his former fame to a miserable existence, and nobody would have believed that he had once rivalled Liebermann and Corinth, under the patronage of the Cassirers in Berlin.” “He looked old and haggard. He was not doing well, financially. The Americans loved Klee and the abstract artists, but he focused on representation.” His self-portrait, begun soon after his arrival (CR 270), and the work started just a few years before his death (“St Sebastian in front of New York”, CR 288), along with images such as “Memories of the Augarten in Vienna” (CR 279), possibly provide us with the most vivid impression of his despair: St Sebastian appears gaunt and naked in a frontal pose. One arm is behind his body, and the other protects his head. No longer pierced with arrows, he is instead under threat from the skyscrapers of Manhattan. The painter depicts himself with anxious, broken brushstrokes against the background of two musicians playing their instruments – one of his favourite topics, and one which enjoyed so little success in the New World. He never gained the strength to complete this painting […].

He died of a heart attack on 19 May 1954, completely alone. It was not until the following day that his body was found on the staircase in his studio. He was buried in the Ferncliff Cemetery in Ardsley, New York, on 23 May 1954, far from his Austrian homeland. He had kept Austrian citizenship, and had even hoped to visit the country that summer. He was not even able to enjoy the news that his large-scale work “The Philharmonic Orchestra Players” (CR 295), started in Vienna and completed in New York, was to be exhibited in Vienna, as he had always hoped. Only in December 1954, after his death, did the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education declare its interest in purchasing the work, and in exhibiting it, should a suitable occasion arise.
From: Marie-Agnes von Puttkamer. Max Oppenheimer 1885-1954, Leben und malerisches Werk mit einem Werkverzeichnis der Gemälde, Böhlau Verlag 1999

Max Oppenheimer *
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  • estimate
    EUR 40,000 to 60,000
    USD 46,000 to 69,000

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Modern Art
Date: 15.05.2018, 18:00
Location: Palais Dorotheum Vienna
Exhibition: 05.05. - 15.05.2018

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