Spotlight on Mela Muter

03/29/2018     News and Film

In honor of Women 's History Month, Freeman 's is highlighting important women artists whose work has shaped their field.Mela Muter, née Maria Melania Klingsland, was born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1876. The daughter of a prominent Jewish merchant, Muter was raised in an environment which fostered creativity and nurtured the arts; her father supported a Nobel Laureate author, and her brother became a well-known literary critic. She initially took private painting lessons, before enrolling in 1899 in the School of Drawing and Painting for Women. The same year, she married Michal Mutermilch, himself from a literary Jewish family, at the Great Synangogue in Warsaw. It was from her married name, shortened along with her given middle name, that the artist derived the name she would use professionally.The couple moved to Paris in 1901 with their young son, feeling the pull of the creative scene in the French capital. In Paris, Muter enrolled at the Académie Colarossi as well as the Académie de la Grande Chaumière to further her artistic education.In 1902, Muter had her first solo exhibition at the Warsaw Society for the Promotion for Fine Arts, becoming only the second woman in the institution 's history to do so. Around the same time, she began to exhibit frequently in Paris, at the Paris Salon, the Salon des Indépendants, and the Societé Nationale des Beaux Arts. Muter exhibited her work in seven one-woman shows in Paris between 1918 and 1930, and served on the prestigious Salon d 'Automne jury in 1921.Her first years in Paris saw the definition of her style as an artist. Muter elevated portraiture by capturing not only the physical attributes of her sitters, but their intellectual and invisible character traits as well. Less interested with classical techniques, Muter employed short, quick brustrokes in varying directions, adding depth and dimension to the already raw canvas surfaces on which she preferred to work. Among her famous portrait subjects are the artist Diego Rivera, architect Auguste Perret, and François Pompon, a sculptor and Rodin 's studio assistant. Muter frequently painted intimate depictions of women, often mothers, as well as the landscapes and quotidien surroundings of the places she lived.With the break-out of WWII, both her native country and adopted home were under siege. The synagogue in Warsaw where she was married was bombed in 1943 by the SS. While no longer a practicing Jew—she had converted to Catholicism in 1923, after the back-to-back deaths of her mother and sister—she nevertheless fled German-occupied Paris for the relative safety of the French countryside. Despite the instability brought on by the war, Muter remained a highly sought-after artist, known for her portraiture. While in Avignon, she began teaching art at College Sainte Marie, and it was here that the artist produced some of her most important works, of the sharp hills of the Provençal landscape, and the winding river and streets in the town. Muter kept her home in Avignon even after the end of the war, when she resumed her life in Paris, and even rented the space to Jean Dubuffet through the 1950s.In 1953, a retrospective of Muter 's work was held in Paris at the Cercle Volney, featuring more than 120 paintings. The artist exhibited in New York, as well as Germany, and across the southern part of France, before her death in 1967 at the age of 91.This spring, Freeman 's will bring to auction “Walk in the Woods,” (estimate $30,000-50,000) executed by Muter circa 1925, in the relative calm between the wars. A verdant landscape, the present piece depicts two female figures walking along a winding wooded path, a tall canopy of slim trees dominating the scene. The painting comes from a private collection from Missoula, Montana, having previously been exhibited by the Maxwell Galleries in San Fransisco, who purchased the painting directly from the artist in 1960.