Max Oppenheimer (1885–1954), also known as MOPP, started his career in Vienna in the early 20th century, making portraits of prominent artists and writers. In 1914, he relocated to Zurich, where he shifted his attention primarily to music. This would remain his focus for the rest of his life.

An accomplished violinist and music expert, Oppenheimer frequented concerts, counted many of Europe’s leading musicians among his close friends, and was a regular at Zurich’s Cabaret Voltaire, the unofficial headquarters of the avant-garde during World War I. This exposed him to many new artistic idioms. Futurism, with its focus on simultaneity, speed, motion, and mechanization, particularly took hold of his imagination.

Max Oppenheimer (MOPP) (1885–1954)

Streichquartett (String Quartet), c. 1941

Gouache, watercolor, and pencil on paper

Sheet: 12 7/8 x 15 in. (32.7 x 38)
Image: 10 3/16 x 11 1/2 in. (26 x 29.3 cm) (oval) 

Signed lower right: MOPP.

Inscribed lower right: 2" AtN(?) / 2 1/2 " bottom / light yellow gesso mat / #2754 (underlined) / 1" ...

Max Oppenheimer (MOPP) (1885–1954)

Streichquartett (String Quartet), c. 1941

Gouache, watercolor, and pencil on paper

Sheet: 12 7/8 x 15 in. (32.7 x 38)
Image: 10 3/16 x 11 1/2 in. (26 x 29.3 cm) (oval) 

Signed lower right: MOPP.

Inscribed lower right: 2" AtN(?) / 2 1/2 " bottom / light yellow gesso mat / #2754 (underlined) / 1" ...

In his gouache, Streichquartett (String Quartet), c. 1941, Oppenheimer represents the hands of four musicians. Luminous and bold, the composition is a dynamic interplay of form and color: the musicians’ white hands match their white sheet music, their black suits accentuate their glowing, honey-colored instruments, and their bows and strings form rhythmic right angles. The work’s tondo format enhances its intensity.

(left to right): Max Oppenheimer (MOPP) (1885–1954) | Portrait of Ferruccio Busoni, 1916 | Etching on paper | Sheet: 12 1/2 x 11 in. (31.8 x 28 cm) | Image: 10 1/2 x 10 1/2 in. (26.7 x 26.7 cm)  // Portrait of Joseph Szigeti, 1919 | Etching on paper | Sheet: 9 3/10 x 7 1/2 in. (23.6 x 19 cm) | Image: 7 x 6 in. (17.8 x 15.2 cm)

(left to right): Max Oppenheimer (MOPP) (1885–1954) | Portrait of Ferruccio Busoni, 1916 | Etching on paper | Sheet: 12 1/2 x 11 in. (31.8 x 28 cm) | Image: 10 1/2 x 10 1/2 in. (26.7 x 26.7 cm)  // Portrait of Joseph Szigeti, 1919 | Etching on paper | Sheet: 9 3/10 x 7 1/2 in. (23.6 x 19 cm) | Image: 7 x 6 in. (17.8 x 15.2 cm)

In his depictions of orchestras, ensembles, and performers, Oppenheimer sought to translate live music and acoustic experience into visual form. In Streichquartett (String Quartet), he captured the cumulative energy generated by the musicians over the length of their concert, their hands and bows moving vigorously. The artist also strove to convey the intimate connection between musicians and their instruments, as in Portrait of Ferruccio Busoni, 1916, and Portrait of Joseph Szigeti, 1919. These etchings feature acquaintances of Oppenheimer’s, the Italian virtuoso composer and pianist Ferruccio Busoni and Hungarian violinist Joseph Szigeti. In both portraits, Oppenheimer practically merges the men and their instruments.

(left to right): Max Oppenheimer (MOPP) (1885–1954) | Das Klingler-Quartett (The Klingler Quartet), 1917 | Oil on canvas | 31 1/2 x 27 5/8 in. (80 x 70 cm) | Galerie im Belvedere, Vienna // Streichquartett (String Quartett), 1941 | Oil on canvas | 29 7/8 x 29 5/8 in. (76.5 x 75 cm) | Private colllection

(left to right): Max Oppenheimer (MOPP) (1885–1954) | Das Klingler-Quartett (The Klingler Quartet), 1917 | Oil on canvas | 31 1/2 x 27 5/8 in. (80 x 70 cm) | Galerie im Belvedere, Vienna // Streichquartett (String Quartett), 1941 | Oil on canvas | 29 7/8 x 29 5/8 in. (76.5 x 75 cm) | Private colllection

Facing persecution from the Nazis for his Judaism and his sexuality, Oppenheimer fled Europe in 1938, and settled in New York. Perhaps as a way to maintain his connection to the life he was forced to leave, he revisited many of his old works in these years. It was in this period that he made the gouache Streichquartett (String Quartet) and a related painting, Streichquartett (String Quartet), also from 1941. Both the gouache and the painting closely reference Das Klingler-Quartett (The Klingler Quartet), a painting he made in 1917, now in Vienna’s Belvedere Gallery. Oppenheimer quoted the composition of Das Klingler-Quartett (The Klingler Quartet) in numerous other works, as well as in commissioned promotional material for many chamber music ensembles. He undoubtedly considered it to be among his most accomplished images.

Characterizing the unique quality of Oppenheimer’s works, Thomas Mann—a subject of one of the artist’s portraits—observed of one of his large-scale orchestra paintings that “it urges me to testify to the incredible acoustic effect of the picture."

Max Oppenheimer (MOPP) in his studio, n.d.

Max Oppenheimer (MOPP) in his studio, n.d.

Chronology

Painter, printmaker. Studied painting in Vienna and Prague from 1900 to 1906. Included in 1908 and 1909 Kunstschau exhibitions of contemporary art, organized by Gustav Klimt and others in Vienna. Shared a studio with Egon Schiele in 1910. In 1912 moved to Berlin and by then was signing works "MOPP." Contributed many drawings to Franz Pfemfert's left-wing periodical Die Aktion. Early work primarily consisted of nervously energetic portraits of Austrian and German literary and cultural elite; after 1914 the depiction of music became his foremost theme, presented in a style increasingly influenced by Cubism and Futurism. Declared medically unfit for military service. In spring 1915 settled in Switzerland, where he lived until 1920s; returned to Berlin, then Vienna in 1930s.

Made approximately one hundred prints. First lithograph, a poster made in 1911 for his exhibition at Galerie Thannhauser in Munich, was banned by police for indecency and brought accusation of plagiarism from Oskar Kokoschka. Relationship then soured with critic Arthur Roessler, formerly his most important patron. In 1912 began etching, which became his preferred printmaking medium; used it for finely detailed portraits and musical scenes.

A homosexual and a Jew, faced persecution from Nazis, who removed his works from German museums in 1937. Emigrated to New York, via Switzerland, in 1938.

Source: The Museum of Modern Art, New York

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