A pastel and chalk drawing of Albert Einstein by Danish artist Ivan Opffer (1897-1980) was estimated at just £50-80 at Stamford Auction Rooms (20% buyer’s premium) in Lincolnshire on January 28.
Opffer is remembered for his portraits of writers and other notable figures. Although born in Denmark, he moved first to Mexico, then to New York where he studied at the National Academy of Design, and finally to Paris sketching James Joyce, Edgar Lee Masters, Siegfried Sassoon, George Bernard Shaw and Carl Sandburg among others.
This characterful portrait, measuring 21 x 15½in (53 x 39cm), is signed and dated 1933 and dedicated For Louba Hambourg with Kindest Regards Ivan Opffer. Hambourg appears to be a member of the German-Jewish family that included her brothers, the musicians Boris, Jan and Mark.
Einstein connection counts
The year 1933 was momentous for all German Jews. While visiting the US, Einstein learned that Hitler had come to power, and he began the process of becoming an American citizen.
The personal connection to the great scientist, as well as the fact that works by the artist are rare on the market, meant the sketch drew significant competition.
It was eventually knocked down at £4800 with the winning bid coming online via thesaleroom.com. No higher price for a drawing by Opffer is recorded on Artprice.
Sparking similar interest at the back end of last year was a Middle Eastern street scene by the Dutch Orientalist Marius Bauer (1867-1932).
Estimated at £200-300, the work appeared at Keys (22% buyer’s premium) of Aylsham in Norfolk on December 9.
The 23½in x 2ft 9in (60 x 83cm) watercolour depicted figures and camels and was fairly typical of Bauer’s work.
The painter and draughtsman made numerous trips to north Africa, India and the Dutch East Indies, sketching and collecting items for his agent, the art dealer Van Wisselingh & Co who financed his trips.
Many of his works were based on photographs he acquired on his travels and often his prints and drawings showed the influence of his studies of Rembrandt’s famous etchings, as was the case here.
With the artist retaining a good following in his homeland as well as elsewhere (his works on paper have made over £10,000 on a number of occasions), this example looked always likely to command competition against such an appealing estimate.
Selling to an online buyer at £3000, the price was a decent mid-range sum for the artist.