Chapter 36. The Case of Fritz Stehwien
I first became aware of the paintings of German-Canadian artist Fritz Stehwien (1914-2008) when a friend of mine purchased the River in Winter at an auction several years ago. She later confessed she didnt know anything about the artist or his work, but liked the painting very much, especially its traditional mode of composition, use of colour and subject matter.
I did some research on her behalf and became familiar with Fritz Stehwien. Trained at the Hansische Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Hamburg, Germany, he served as a soldier in France and Russia from 1939 to 1946. He resumed his studies after the war, taking advanced classes at the Kunstschule Burg Giebichenstein in Halle and participating in art shows in Dresden, Berlin and Halle. In 1958 he and his family escaped from Communist-ruled East Germany and settled in Doffingen, West Germany, and in 1968 they immigrated to Canada and settled in Saskatchewan. The date on this painting is also 1968 and may have been one of the very first paintings Stehwien completed in Canada.
During the course of his 40-year painting career in Canada, Stehwien painted mostly views of Saskatchewan and had many exhibitions including one at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.
Stylistically, his work is typical of the works associated with the Group of Seven and their contemporaries. So why have Stehwiens works not shown up at fine art auctions?
Are views of the landscape of Northern Ontario more representative of authentic Canadian painting than landscape views of Saskatchewan? It would appear that Stehwiens works conform to the national ideal of what a Canadian landscape painting should look like, yet his works have not appeared in the Canadian fine art auction market.
As most frequent attendees of Canadian fine art auctions held by the major art houses in Vancouver and Toronto will no doubt attest to, by far the large majority of artworks for sale are by a select group of well-known Canadian artists who have a prior history of sales at auction. The membership has remained substantially unchanged over the last 50 years and includes members of the Group of Seven and their contemporaries.
Only recently have Canadian fine art auction houses included more contemporary Canadian artists such as members of Painters Eleven, the Regina Five, Les Plasticiens and Les Automatistes, all well documented and academically sanctioned within the art history community as representative of the best in period Canadian art. One would suspect the reason for this anomaly is partly due to the shortage of traditional investment-quality work and also a desire on the part of auction houses to create another market. People like my friend who purchased Stehwiens painting because the artwork reminded her of the long winters of her youth seem to be unique.
Next: The Case of Resale Royalties