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Lot #97 

Emil Filla (1882–1953)

Still Life with a Mandolin

mixed media (oil, sand) on canvas
signed lower left
73 × 115 cm
Estimate: 15,000,000 CZK - 25,000,000 CZK
Starting price: 10,000,000 CZK
Hammer price:
16,200,000 CZK

This masterful painting captures the state of Filla’s mind and work at the peak of his career in 1932. In May of 1932, a comprehensive solo exhibition was organised for Filla at SVU Mánes for his fiftieth birthday, at which he exhibited an extensive selection of his work – a total of 343 paintings, drawings, graphics, and sculptures. The exhibition was opened by Vincenc Kramář, a theoretician and collector of Cubism and Filla’s great patron. Subsequently, in November, an exhibition of contemporary fine art presenting works related to surrealism took place entitled the International Exhibition Poetry 1932 [Mezinárodní výstava Poesie 1932], where Filla exhibited another seven paintings. The name of this exhibition captured everything that united the participants. “Poetry” symbolised creative freedom and new poetic content in art. Filla himself came significantly closer to surrealism at this time, relaxing his work more and more in favour of fresh colour compositions that were visually extremely appealing in every way. Rich organic shapes that swirl and intertwine, struggle with each other, or complement each other harmoniously began to dominate his canvases. He was also interested in musical subject matters, from musical instruments in still lifes to women playing the mandolin to singers and clarinettists, and these distinctive props would “just” complement trays of fruit or vases of flowers.

In the presented painting, the content-bearing motif is concentrated only on the mandolin on the right and the bowl of fruit on the left. Although the painting depicts the simple being of things, it is full of excitement. The scene gets more attractive as the beholders examine the canvas and discover that the almost baroque-like looseness of the form of the compact composition is composed of intertwining surfaces that float through space. The only limiting element is the black outline, which sometimes appears on the surface and then sinks back into the depth of the painting. It is also impossible not to notice the significant flattening of all objects except for one – the textured surface of the mandolin, on which Filla applied a layer of grit and sand mixed into the still-wet oil paint. The colourful decorative parts with the motif of rhombuses and the ornamental symbol of the lily flower, which appeared in several of Filla’s paintings, suggest different types of tablecloths, which are supposed to anchor the objects in space and give the composition a tight, unifying form. As an exceptional element, it is necessary to highlight the motif of the frame, which appears at the right edge and in the upper left corner. With this, Filla tried to involve the beholder in his game of open forms, in which the same object can be depicted again and again, given a different form, and yet its essence remains unchanged. The relatively large format allowed the artist to fully develop his sense of the seriousness of the established genre of still life, and his lyrical and simultaneously organic concept with an almost biomorphic transformation of shapes made the painting an attractive example of “portrayed music” transferred on canvas.

The painting was published in the artist’s most comprehensive monograph (V. Lahoda, Emil Filla, Prague 2007, p. 285, fig. 284). On the stretcher is Filla’s number F 251 in red pencil. The artwork comes from an important Prague collection. The authenticity has been verified by the Filla Foundation, and it will be included in an upcoming inventory of the artist’s work. Assessed during consultations by Mgr. T. Donné and PhDr. R. Michalová, Ph.D. The expertise of PhDr. K. Srp is attached.