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Seller Story

A Josef Albers Painting from the Paul Chidlaw Estate


EBTH Art Cataloguer Sarah Miller was sorting through a pile of artwork from artist Paul Chidlaw’s estate when one piece caught her eye. The collection was a vast one — left to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital by Chidlaw’s wife, Madge Smith, in honor of the doctors who treated him for macular degeneration. Through a partnership with EBTH the estate, which includes thousands of works on paper, marker sketches, and oil paintings, is gradually being auctioned off to benefit the hospital. Miller was sorting through one such pile when she noticed a small oil painting composition of concentric squares. “I recognized that it looked like an iconic Albers piece,” she recalls, “But it was only signed with a little “A.”

A consult with the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation revealed that the work was a part of one of Albers’ most famous series: “Study for Homage to the Square.” Thanks to Miller’s eye, the work — previously unknown to the estate — has been added to the the artist’s catalogue raisonné.

The composition — one Albers painted over and over — was for him an exercise in the interaction of color. “He would try to make shapes and color recede and come forward and vibrate against each other,” explains Miller, of the square series. “Because he wanted that pure color — he didn’t mix them – he’d use paint straight from the tube. And he wouldn’t layer. He started with a center square, and then painted a square around it, so that the colors never overlapped. He did the same composition but changed the colors to study how they could interact.”

Seller Story: A Josef Albers Painting from the Paul Chidlaw Estate
Seller Story: A Josef Albers Painting from the Paul Chidlaw Estate
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Seller Story: A Josef Albers Painting from the Paul Chidlaw Estate

An influential modernist painter, German-born Albers taught at the Bauhaus, where he developed extensive theories on color theory. When the Nazis closed the institution, he emigrated to the United States and toured the country teaching, including posts at Yale and the Black Mountain Folk School. “He spent a semester teaching at the Art Academy of Cincinnati in 1949, which is where he met Chidlaw,” explains Miller, “He was kind of a catalyst between the old ways of working in art and the new Modernism of the mid-20th century. Chidlaw, the Cincinnati native who was then known for romantic, realist paintings, was interested in Modernism, which hadn’t yet taken hold in the region. “He was excited to meet Albers,” notes Miller, “It was right around the time the Cincinnati Art Museum acquired one of his works.” Albers brought with him new teaching methods. “He was interested in more expressionistic study: breaking down the elements of art individually instead of trying to recreate landscapes,” says Miller. “He influenced many notable artists after him, including Jim Dine, whose work is also in this sale.”“

Other pieces in this sale that are part of Chidlaw’s collection include Cincinnati artists T.C. Lindsey, Edward Pothast, Anni Albers (Josef’s wife), and Martin Rettig.

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