Restituted Franz Marc Stars at Christie’s

Painting sold to fund collector’s emigration to New York is offered with £35m estimate in March and hopes for much more

The market for works of German Expressionism is hampered by the limited supply of works in private hands and the relative paucity of trades that might excite both buyers and sellers. Into this stalemate comes a work restituted recently after a long case. Franz Marc’s 1913 painting The Foxes has been in a museum in Dusseldorf, Germany for several decades but it had been taken to New York by Kurt Grawi in 1939 when emigrated from Germany. He sold it there to help fund his family’s new life in America. The restitution case was novel for the fact that the work was sold in the United States, not confiscated in Germany. 

Franz Marc was killed at Verdun in March of 1916. A founder of Der Blaue Reiter movement with Kandinsky, Marc’s work had spanned one of the most important periods in the birth of Modernism even though he died at the age of 36. “The Foxes encapsulates everything that we find inspiring about Marc’s work,” Jussi Pylkkänen, Global President of Christie’s said in a statement. “It has dynamism, sensational colour, incredible balance and a spirituality in its sublime subject which completely draws the viewer into the painting. Aside from its unquestionable beauty, it is a work with an extraordinary history, both of ownership and of exhibitions, having featured in so many important avant-garde shows over the past 100 years.”

Christie’s had no trouble finding a backer for the work given the museum pedigree and near universal recognition of the work. “A painting by Marc of this pedigree, date and quality has not appeared on the open market for over fifty years,” said Keith Gill, Head of Impressionist and Modern art at Christie’s. That explains the whisper number of £35 million ($47 million) which is substantially more than the record price for a Marc painting of $24 million paid in 2008 for Grazing Horses III from 1910.

Christie’s are hinting that the work could attract bidders and go for more. Pylkkänen feels strongly enough about the painting to compare it to works that have sold for substantially more. “I have had the pleasure in my career of handling several extraordinary Modernist paintings from this period,” he said, “including Kirchner’s Berliner Strassenszene of 1913 and Modigliani’s Nu couché of 1918.” Both Modigliani nudes sold for prices above $150 million while the Kirchner sold for a relatively modest $38 million but in the very different art market and macro-economic environment of 2006.

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