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Lot #117 

Emil Filla (1882–1953)

Still Life with a Mandolin and a Porcelain Bowl

oil on canvas
signed lower right
50 × 63 cm
Estimate: 8,000,000 CZK - 13,000,000 CZK
Starting price: 7,000,000 CZK
Hammer price:
7,500,000 CZK

This highly cultivated narrative still life fits precisely into the period of influence of the emerging avant-garde in Czechoslovakia. It represents Filla’s happiest period in life and his imaginative cubism, which was brighter and more expressive than anything he had created up to that time. He painted it with excellence in handling artistic vehicles of expression. His extraordinary imagination allowed him to find ever-new colour harmonies, play with the structure of surfaces and change the overall concept of compositions. He created almost cheerful works in this period, followed by the tranquil white still lifes from the early thirties. The presented artwork appears to be a celebration of the act of painting rather than a presentation of specific items. Following this impression, Filla repeatedly depicted the same objects over and over again, so much so that it almost seems like only two motifs predominated in his still lifes at that time: a tray or bowl of fruit and a musical instrument, mostly a mandolin or a guitar.

In the presented painting, we can see different types of brushwork the artist used for executing individual parts of the surface: plastic paste-like materials intertwine with thinner, smooth paint whilst hatching, created by engraving with the other end of a brush or perhaps a comb, appears on the dark yellow tablecloth. The oval table evoking a kind of baroque rondo points to Filla’s Dutch experience and his connection with tradition, proving that Filla considered cubism an artistic approach that does not dissociate itself from the past but, on the contrary, uses it and builds on it. Another reference to past times is the porcelain bowl, the wavy edge of which creates the impression of a dynamic curve, bringing fragility to the composition and significantly softening the dark mass of the wooden body of the mandolin, which, as the most significant prop, runs diagonally through the entire painting. Although the artwork is based on the principles of cubism, it is characterised by abstract surfaces that appear around the objects. For example, the end of the mandolin in the form of a strange black pentagon at the top left, white vertical stripes on a blue background at the top right, perhaps indicating wallpaper, or a light blue figure right in the middle of the image, separating the musical instrument from the pink surface of the tray. This painting was published in the periodical Volné směry XXVI, 1928–1929, fig. p. 47 (Still Life with Fruit), in the artist’s most important monograph (V. Lahoda, Emil Filla, Prague 2007, p. 284, fig. 282), and in the catalogue Emil Filla. Paintings, sculptures and drawings from the collection of the Golden Goose Gallery (for the 125th anniversary of his birth; Prague, 23 April – 30 June 2007, cat. No. 15). On the reverse is the artist’s number F 42 in red pencil. It comes from a high-quality Prague collection. The authenticity was verified by the Filla Foundation and it will be listed in the upcoming inventory of the artist’s artwork. Assessed during consultations by Mgr. T. Donné and PhDr. R. Michalová, Ph.D. The expertise of PhDr. K. Srp is attached.