Important Masterpiece by Klee Resurfaces After Six Decades, to be Sold in Cincinnati
Erwartender (Expectant Man)
Dans L’attente (alternatively titled on verso)
oil, watercolor, paste, and ink on Ingres paper
signed left center
18.25″ x 11.75″ (sight)
26″ x 19″ (framed)
Cincinnati is regarded as a traditional collecting city, driven by its golden age of painters from the more representational 19th and early 20th centuries. But the Queen City nurtured healthy interest in modern art during the middle of the 20th century, corresponding with the advent of the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center. Jane and Alfred Friedlander were active participants in this collecting movement. There are a number of pieces of correspondence with the artist/musician turned art dealer Theodore Schempp (1904-1988) that relate to some of their earliest and most important acquisitions in the Friedlander collection. Schempp was an Oberlin College graduate, and in his dealing years gained a reputation for furnishing Midwestern collectors and institutions with modern and contemporary works. The Friedlanders were a close part of this circle.
Schempp is documented as offering them works by modernist Nicholas de Stael (French, 1914-1955), Fernand Leger (French, 1881-1955), Serge Poliakoff (Russian, 1900-1969), the above-mentioned Klee and Georges Braque, among others. Schempp is credited with bringing De Stael’s work to prominence in America, and also building a number of Midwestern collections, given his close connections to prominent contemporary artists of the day. Several letters to the Friedlanders from Schempp during the 50s and 60s provide a wonderful window into the complexities of a modern ex-pat dealer’s inner workings. There are several receipts of purchase, and yet another letter from Schempp discussing the market for De Stael, the next director of the Contemporary Arts Center, and a future visit to Cincinnati.
After the purchase of “Erwartender”, the work made its way back to New York for an important 1961 exhibit titled “Cincinnati Collects” at M. Knoedler & Company Gallery. A full catalogue accompanied the show, with several hundred works sent to New York, a full catalogue replete with the CAC’s new logo. The show was meant to benefit the endowment fund for the CAC, and was a large undertaking. The Friedlanders were enthusiastic participants, contributing several works from their collection in the show. Twenty-four members were cited as having stripped their homes of their modern works. Allen T. Schoener, then curator of the CAC, says in the catalogue, “although not generally known to be one of the centers for collecting the art of this century, Cincinnati is one of the most active and discriminating.”
Since its purchase from Schempp (April 22, 1956), the Klee has remained in the Friedlander family until today. This work was the focus of considerable scholarly discussion by Zentrum Paul Klee scholar Osamu Okuda in Zwitscher-Machine (Oct. 12, 2017), relating to its time in the possession of the playwright Clifford Odets (1906-1963):
“Erwartender was displayed in a Klee exhibition held at Kunsthalle Basel in Switzerland in 1935. Priced at 700 Swiss francs, it failed to sell. Three years later at the Galerie Roland Balaÿ et Louis Carré in Paris, it was again displayed in an exhibition called “Paul Klee: Tableaux et aquarelles de 1917 à 1937” and was given the French title Dans l’Attente. After the death of Klee and his wife Lily, the painting became part of the Klee Gesellschaft collection and was probably entrusted to the art dealer Kahnweiler on consignment in the first half of 1947. Curt Valentin was traveling through Europe buying Klee artworks that year; sometime around June he wrote a letter to Odets from Paris where he lists seven works that he had purchased, which included Dans l’Attente. In another letter dated September 16 of that year and typed on stationary with a Buchholz Gallery: Curt Valentin letterhead, he writes, “I made a mistake in my list yesterday: Number 8403, ‘Dans l’Attente’, is not Frs. 120,000 but Frs. 84,000. It seems quite certain that Erwartender entered Odets’ collection no later than June 1951. When it was displayed at the Saidenberg Gallery in New York with the title The Child who Waits in a Klee show held in spring of 1954, the catalog did not state that the painting was part of Odets’ personal collection. This seems to indicate that Odets either sold Erwartender to Saidenberg or exchanged it for another work before that exhibition was held.
It’s my conjecture that Odets was charmed by the image of a young man who seems to be either lost in a dream vision or standing stupefied with amazement, especially when coupled with the French title Dans l’Attente [While waiting]. There can be no doubt that the title naturally reminded him of his hit play of 1935 Waiting for Lefty. That work, which centers on a taxi driver strike during the Great Depression, has a protagonist named Lefty, the chairman of the strike committee, who never appears on stage because he’s already been killed. While Lefty symbolizes revolution and socialism, his absence also sounds a warning bell that he is nothing more than an empty ideal. By focusing attention on an offstage character for whom other characters wait, Odets expands the time and space of the drama in a way that arguably prefigures Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Furthermore, Waiting for Lefty is supported by the world created in Erwartender, in which a person depicted seems trapped in a confining space, thereby psychologically broadening the imaginative dimension of viewers by directing it outside the picture itself. In the MoMa exhibition held in 1951, Erwartender was paired with Vogelfänger [Bird catcher] 1930, 47, which brings to mind the character Papageno in Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute. This choice was probably made with the dramatic qualities of both pictures in mind.”
Prior to falling onto Schempp’s hands, a previous custodian of Erwartender was the expansive Pittsburgh collector G. David Thompson (1899-1965). Thompson, by 1950, had amassed among the largest collections of Klee and Giacometti in the world. He is photographed in one of the many galleries in “Stone’s Throw”, his home, with Erwartender in the background. Thomson’s collection was dispersed in a variety of ways — via Park Bernet auction, the Swiss dealer Ernst Beyeler, donation, and a variety of other means. It was likely sold from Thompson’s collection some time in 1955, as it had been included in the 1954 Saidenberg Gallery exhibition.
Lily Klee, Bern (1940-1946)
Klee Gesellschaft, Bern (ab 1946)
Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Galerie Simon, Paris. 1947. Inventory #0987
Curt Valentin: Buchholz Gallery, 1947
Sold to Clifford Odets, New York/Los Angeles, 1951
Saidenberg Gallery, NY, 1954
G. David Thompson, Pittsburgh, 1955
Theodore Schempp, NY, 1956
Sold to Jane and Alfred Friedlander, April 22, 1956 (receipt included)
Descended in the family
Saidenburg Gallery, New York. Paul Klee, An exhibition of paintings and drawings commemorating the 75th anniversary of his birth. 1954.
Museum of Modern Art, New York. Private New York Collections. 1951.
M. Knoedler & Company, New York. Cincinnati Collects: An exhibition of selected 20th century works of art from private collection presented for the benefit of the Endowment Fund of the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center. November 3-25, 1961.
Paul Klee: Catalogue Raisonne. Bern, 2000. Two entries address the work, one listed as untitled. Entry 6762a. Another with full information, but lacking image. Entry 6688.
Klee goes to Hollywood: Clifford Odets and his favorit artists. Okuda, Osamu. For the Journal Zwitscher-Maschine. October 12, 2017.
Exhibited at MOMA
“Erwartender” was shown as part of a special exhibition that included pieces from Clifford Odets, an American scriptwriter and fervent collector of Klee works.See the MOMA Gallery