FRED EBB COLLECTION OF GERMAN EXPRESSIONIST DRAWINGS BEQUEATHED TO MORGAN LIBRARY
The Morgan Library announced today that legendary Broadway lyricist Fred Ebb (1928–2004) bequeathed to the Morgan his collection of more than forty drawings and watercolors by twenty-two different artists, largely those associated with German expressionism and the secessionist movement in Vienna. The collection includes sheets by German artists Max Beckmann (1884–1950), Otto Dix (1891–1969), George Grosz (1893–1959), Erich Heckel (1883–1970), and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880–1938), as well as Austrian artists Gustav Klimt (1862–1918) and Egon Schiele (1890–1918).
Ebb, along with composer John Kander, his collaborator since 1964, created the musicals Cabaret (1966), Chicago (1975), Woman of the Year (1981), Kiss of the Spiderwoman (1993), and Steel Pier (1997), among others. The duo also composed the song "New York, New York" for Martin Scorsese's 1977 film of the same name; the song, recorded by Liza Minnelli and later made a hit by Frank Sinatra, pays homage to the lyricist's birthplace. Ebb's interest in pre–World War II Germany, evident in the Berlin setting of Cabaret, based on Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories, is further reflected in his drawings collection. Ebb began acquiring drawings in the early 1970s and assembled the majority of his collection by the late 1980s. Most of the drawings have not been publicly exhibited for nearly thirty years.
The bequest comprises primarily drawings and watercolors by artists associated with expressionism who worked in Germany in the 1910s and 1920s, such as Kirchner, Dix, and Grosz. Dix's 1923 drawing Zuhälter und Mädchen (Pimp and Girl) in ink, lithographic crayon, and watercolor on Japan paper conveys an interest in the seamier side of urban life—with its undertones of violence and eroticism—that is characteristic of Dix's work in the 1920s. Grosz's 1925 large-scale watercolor depicting a scene from a cocktail party, Barberina, is a sly satire on sophisticated society and is typical of the artist's caustic social criticism. Two watercolors by Jeanne Mammen (1890–1976) featuring a couple at a café and a pair of lovers seated on a park bench also reflect a keen observation of public life infused with irony. German émigré Beckmann is represented by three postwar works executed while he was in the United States in 1946–47.
A particular strength of the collection is a number of portraits and artists' self-portraits. One of the most powerful is that of Heckel, dated 1912, in which the artist depicted himself seated in a chromatically charged combination of oils, watercolor, and gouache. An unidealized portrait of an old peasant woman by Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876–1907), in charcoal and colored chalks, typifies the artist's focus on female subjects and her early realist style.
Also represented are talented but lesser-known artists who were active in Germany during the first half of the twentieth century, such as Karl Hubbuch (1891–1979), whose A Film Star Spends Two Minutes in Her Parents' Garden is a characteristic example of the artist's broad, fluid draftsmanship and reveals his penchant for narrative subjects exploring themes of human weakness. Rudolf Schlichter (1890–1955) is represented by the watercolor A Fascist Soldier on an Italian Street, 1922, an example of the overtly political aspect of expressionism.
There are no less than eight drawings by Viennese secessionist Egon Schiele, ranging in date from 1908 to 1914. The group includes a pencil and gouache study of Frau Dr. H[orowitz], remarkable for its dramatic and decorative mise-en-page; a provocative pencil study depicting Schiele embracing his wife, Edith; an elegantly linear portrait of the Jewish patron and art collector Erich Lederer; and a haunting watercolor and crayon study on waxed paper of a young boy whose large, rough hands are raised in front of him. Two sheets by Schiele's fellow secessionist and mentor Klimt, ca. 1910–12, depict seated nude women rendered with the artist's typical delicate and sinuous line.
The Ebb bequest constitutes a significant contribution to the Morgan Library's collection of twentieth-century works on paper and establishes the Morgan as an important repository for drawings from this period. The bequest, which will be featured in an exhibition after the Morgan's reopening in spring 2006, further strengthens the institution's commitment to building a representative collection of twentieth-century drawings.