News 2013

Discovery of an unusual still life by Oskar Moll


Still life with Begonia, circa 1918
Oil on canvas (relined)
64,0 x 58,5 cm
signed bottom left: Oskar Moll
Private Collection, Mönchengladbach

It must have been a beautiful day in the summer of 1918, when the newly-appointed professor at the Breslau Academy of Art prepared to paint this bright impressionistic still life. He quickly pushed a table against a reddish window-sill and covered it with a white cloth, leaving folds. Then, around the central motif of a begonia in an earthen pot standing in a saucer, he placed in a semicircle two different shells and a pipe. The viewer's gaze wanders  past the strip of green wall at the edge of the picture to the far-off deep blue sky, nearness and distance thus merging to form an indissoluble unity.
With the two-dimensional structure of the picture and the deliberate reduction to few accessories, the artist has created a minimalist composition where the colouration is concentrated only on the triad of red, blue and green shades. Here the Silesian artist's interpretation of still life clearly moves away from the earlier, more opulent, three-dimensional arrangements in which he paid tribute to Henri Matisse, the French master he admired.

The particular charm of this still life lies in his novel choice of extraneous objects – here in a combination unique to Moll's still-life painting. Besides the pipe – a favourite accessory of the habitual cigar-smoker – a striking feature is the specific type of begonia: a fairly rare example from amongst the many different species. This is a high-growing, floribunda variety (begonia richmondensis) with red stems and bare jagged leaves with small teeth on their edges. The flowers range in hue from pinkish-white to red, with yellow pistils.
One of the shells is the "oyster drill", or European sting winkle (ocenebra erinacea), a mollusc found in the North Sea and the Mediterranean; the other is a speckled ivory cone (conus eburneus), a species of sea snail native to East Africa, Australia and Polynesia.

Adhesive labels – fragmentary but authentic – on the stretcher, together with the historical ornamental picture-frame, provide proof that Moll showed this still life at prestigious exhibitions between 1918 and 1922: at the Museum Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf, the Kestnergesellschaft in Hannover and the Flechtheim Gallery in Berlin. Since 1930, the painting has been the property of a family in the Rhineland.