Life and Works of Mela Muter
An in-depth look at the artist, Mela Muter, whose painting is featured in the Spring Gallery Auction (4.16.2022) at Selkirk.
Under her now well-known pseudonym of Mela Muter, Maria Melania Kingsland created a career for herself as the first noted female Jewish painter to hail from Poland. She took on her title gracefully, going on to create an evolving variety of works throughout her life. Although she moved to Paris at 25 and acquired French citizenship, living out her life in France, she remained fiercely proud of her Polish roots.
Just a year after moving to France with her husband Michal Mutermilch and their child, Muter’s first solo exhibition took place in Warsaw, Poland in 1902. She made history as only the second woman to exhibit at the Society for Promotion of Fine Arts. Meanwhile, her portrait work gained immense popularity back in France, where she became a sought-after artist commissioned to do portraiture for the area’s elite. On the other hand, her personal work was more relatable, covering themes of nature and beauty, highlighting the regularity of everyday human situations with an especially intimate focus on motherhood. These collections more defined her legacy and were heavily reflective of her artistic influences. Throughout her career Muter had three further solo exhibitions during her life, again in Warsaw in 1907, in Barcelona in 1911 and in Gerona in 1914.
Although raised in an affluent community, Muter was pulled away from aristocratic portrait work and instead drawn to the depiction of common people and their environment. Through the Second World War, Muter continued to paint her preferred subjects and further demonstrated her opposition to the war and fascist policies despite having to flee to southern France. She even did illustrations for the French magazine Clarte, which posed humanist interest and left-leaning politics.
Muter’s individual style became pretty well evolved by 1905, in the sense of its lasting themes and cohesive compositions. Through her career, her representation of these themes evolved, shifting with the precarious social/political environment and her growing exposure to different artists of the time. She worked alongside and was inspired by many of her peers, including Albert Gleizes, Auguste Peret, Diego Rivera, and Rainer Maria Rilke. Muter also pulled from artists from the turn of the century such as Vincent Van Gogh, who was a very evident muse, seen in her expressive layering of color and bold palette. Her travels also played perhaps the largest role as inspiration to her work, namely her escapades to Spain.
Through her many trips and gained acquaintances, Muter’s style shifted away from the purer Naturalism of her first works. Early in her career she began working in expressive, Impressionist-inspired brush strokes, applying color in patches, but still not veering too far from naturalistic representation. After meeting Gleizes in 1919, Muter took an interest to Cubism, adopting noticeable Cubist characteristics in her work. Although she did write that she took much away from Cubist practices, she later criticized the style as being “artificially constructed.” Regardless, the “geometrization and rhythmization of composition” seen in her works remained from the 1920s through her career.
Noted for her unique expressiveness of individuality in her portrait works, Muter honed her characteristic use of color and application of paint throughout her career. She translated her method of portrait work to her colorful landscapes and vice versa, quoted as stating “[I] represent them [portrait subjects] just as I do in the case of a flower, tomato or tree; to feel myself into their essence[.]” Although briefly overlooked by the artistic community in Poland towards the end of her career and following her death, interest in Muter’s works has since been reignited, with her work being exhibited across Europe and scholars continuing to be explore and study her legacy.
Condition report for Lot 69:
Very good original condition, light oxidization to surface. Very minor craquelure throughout and most notable to the taupe coloring at the zenith of mount Avignon. Lastly, three small linen patches to the back and very insignificant in-painting.