Mela Muter (Melania Mutermilch) (1876 – 1967)

Lot 488. Maria Mela Muter. Mann mit Hut. Oil on canvas. 62.3 x 49.5 cm. Framed. Signed ‘Muter‘ upper right. Handwritten inscription “Retrouvé en 1962” on reverse. – Partly fine craqueleur. Retouchings to the right background. Upper edge with nail holes and isolated minor losses of colour due to former mounting. Estimate 16,000 – 18,000 €.

Provenance: Galerie Gmurzynska, Cologne (two labels on the stretcher).
Exhibitions: Cologne 1967 (Galerie Gmurzynska), Mela Muter. Retrospektiv-Ausstellung, cat. no. 14.

Kunsthaus Lempertz. 30/05/2014.


Mela Muter was the daughter of the Jewish businessman Fabian Klingsland, who had dedicated himself in Warsaw to the patronage of artists and writers. In 1899 she married the critic, writer and activist Michael Mutermilch, with whom she moved to Paris in 1900. Here she continued her studies in the field of painting, which she had begun in Warsaw. As early as 1902, Muter had already begun participating in exhibitions of the “Salon des Indépendants”, the “Salon d’Automne” and the “Salon des Tuileries”. A member of the artistic and intellectual elite, her works quickly found favour among the illustrious Parisian Bohème. Here she developed into a sought-after portrait painter of numerous famous men. She created portraits not only of the important publisher and art dealer Ambroise Vollard, but also of the Mexican painter Diego Rivera, the Impressionist composer Albert Roussel, the politician Georges Clemenceau and the progressive architect Auguste Perret, to name just a few. In addition to these works, there were the images of farmers, gypsies and people from groups marginalised by society. A total of over 20 male portraits are known, painted primarily in bust- or half-length format. Even if there is a certain borrowing from the work of Cézanne, van Gogh and Gauguin in her early work, every one of her paintings is nonetheless of great mastery and originality on account of her unmistakable style as a painter. With the help of her somewhat harsh and vigorous manner of painting, Mela Muter was able to bring out a person’s characteristic features with extreme individuality and sensitivity. The thick and lively brushstroke, which was usually applied to passages of flesh, is particularly typical of her work. The contemplative, sunken gaze as well as the slender hand indicate the portrait of an aging man marked by a certain melancholy. The bluish base tones heightened with white and set in captivating contrast to the ochre-coloured flesh tones and the brown hat are particularly typical in terms of tonality.

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