Max Slevogt - Frau Lewin (Bildnis Helen Koslowsky-Lewin)
Frau Lewin (Bildnis Helen Koslowsky-Lewin)
oil on canvas 70,3 x 52,6 cm und datiert 'Slevogt 1917'
This impressive painting is a portrait of Helen Koslowsky-Lewin (1896-1976), the wife of the Wroclaw textile manufacturer Leo Lewin (1881-1965). The couple married in 1917. Slevogt portrayed her in (two) more paintings, which are mentioned in his handwritten inventory of works for the year 1917. Here she wears a form-fitting black dress with a white fox stole that extends beyond her shoulders and perfectly sets off her slender young face and the elegantly contoured hat. The entire image with the wonderful fur displays a concentrated and refined beauty.
The figural expression achieved here is effectively the result of Slevogt's superb painting: the artist finds a way to ingeniously complement the serene pose with his colour, brushstroke and contour. His painting captivates viewers through the balanced interplay of subtle tonalities and vivid brushwork. The portrait is built up of nuanced shades of white, grey, blue and violet placed over the monochrome pastel of the background, which thins out towards the edges until it scarcely covers the light tone of the canvas. Only in isolated passages brownish, yellowish and reddish tones are mixed into the saturated hues of the dynamic and sometimes thickly applied brushwork. The dark and expressive character of the sitter and her warmer flesh tone stand in contrast to the winterly coolness of the image as a whole. As in a number of other paintings, Slevogt proves himself here to be a master of modulations of 'white', and these nuances allow him to impressionistically illuminate his subject. His Don Juan in the 'Champagne Aria' of 1902 - was he not in sparkling white as well? In the war year 1917, this lightness represented a distant reminiscence; the different historical moment may explain the seriousness in Helen Lewin's dark eyes. Her husband, Leo Lewin, was not only well-known among his contemporaries as an art collector: he was also heir to a textile manufacturing business that - particularly during the war years - was of considerable importance to the German Empire. Max Liebermann also painted several portraits of the Lewin dynasty, including an image of Helen Lewin from 1923 (cf. Eberle 1923/12).
The reverse inscription 'Bildnis Frau C.' (Portrait Ms. C.) by an unknown hand and the publication of the painting under this title are undoubtedly erroneous. Sigrun Paas assumes that the portrayed woman had mistakenly been taken for Lotte Cassirer, Dr. Hugo Cassirer's wife, whom Slevogt portrayed at that time too. Hans-Jürgen Imiela confirmed the identity of the portrayed woman. A photograph of the painting, taken by a Wroclaw photographer, exists in the artist's archive.
Accompanied by a photo-document from the Imiela Archive (photocopy), the painting confirmed by Hans-Jürgen Imiela, Mainz
We would like to thank Sigrun Paas, director of the Slevogt-Galerie, Edenkoben, Schloß Villa Ludwigshöhe, for archive information and Bernhard Geil, Slevogthof-Neukastel, for additional advice.
Formerly Collection Leo Lewin, Breslau/Wroclaw; Coulter Gallery; Christie's London, 3 Apr. 1979, lot 25; Collection of The Maspro Art Museum, Japan; Christie's New York, 2 Nov. 2005, lot 454; private possession, Switzerland
Christie's cat. Impressionist and Modern Paintings and Sculpture, 3 Apr. 1979, lot 25 with full-page colour illus. ("Bildnis Frau C."); Ingo F. Walther (ed.), Malerei des Impressionismus 1860-1920, Cologne 2010, vol. II, p. 462 with colour illus. ("Bildnis Frau C.")
Possibly: Venice 1922 (XIII. Esposizione Internationale d'Arte della Città di Venezia), no. 906 (frame label)