Photography Classics and Avant-garde (results)

4 April 2019, 19:00
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Karol Hiller
(1891 - 1939)

Heliographic composition (XXIV), 1938

heliography, vintage print/baryta paper, 39.6 x 29.6 cm

signed l.r.: 'K.H./38'

other copies of the object are located at the Muzeum Sztuki in Lodz (inv. No. MS / SN / GR / 121) and at the Center Pompidou in Paris (inv. AM 1992-85)

Hammer price: 80 000 PLN 18 639 EUR
Estimate: 90 000 - 120 000 PLN 20 969 - 27 958 EUR
- Dormant capital. 20th century Photography from the Collection of Cezary Pieczynski, Warsaw 2010
- Karol Hiller 1891-1939. New vision: painting, heliography, drawing, graphics, Muzeum Sztuki in Lodz, Lodz, 2002
- Collages and Reliefs 1910-1945 and Hiller - Heliographs, Annely Juda Fine Art, London 1982
- L'avanguardia Polacca 1910-1978. Costruttivismo, artisti contemporanei, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome, 1979
- Karol Hiller 1891-1939, Muzeum Sztuki w Lodz, Lodz, 1967
- Karol Hiller 1891-1939. The Catalog of Exhibition, ed. by M. Rubczynska, Muzeum Sztuki in Lodz, Lodz 1967, item cat. No 91
- Collages and Reliefs 1910-1945 and Hiller - Heliographs, Annely Juda Fine Art, London 1982, p. 119
- Karol Hiller 1891-1939. New vision: painting, heliography, drawing, graphics, ed. by M. Bauer, J. Ojrzynski, Muzeum Sztuki in Lodz, Lodz 2002, il. p. 157, item cat. 94
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‘Looking at the mysteries of the matter, observed and recorded in various fields of science and micro photography, it is hard for a modern artist to resist the willingness to absorb these phenomena into the sphere of conscious artistic formation.’


Karol Hiller was among the leading representatives of the interwar artistic avant-garde. He was a part of the circle of Lodz artists and maintained contacts with people such as Wladyslaw Strzeminski and Katarzyna Kobro. He was interested in formal experiments and socially engaged art. He worked with a variety of media, such as painting, graphics, drawing and stage design, but he went down in the history of Polish art mainly as the creator of heliographic technique.
Heliography is a hybrid medium at the intersection of graphics and photography. It may be considered as a sort of photogram - that is, an image created using exposure, but without a camera (the so-called non-camera technique). On the other hand, Hiller’s heliographic compositions contained a clear graphic element, as the name suggests, consisting in manual creation of compositions on a base, which then served as something between a photographic negative and a graphic matrix. The graphic nature of heliography was also emphasized by the title of the article written by Hiller and published in the Lodz magazine “Forma”: ‘Heliography as a New Type of Graphic Technique’. Aiming to develop a new technique and experiment with the use of knowledge in the field of science, Hiller became known as an avant-garde artist-constructor. Important for his interest in the use of light-sensitive materials were definitely the chemistry studies which he took at the Technical University of Darmstadt - the place where another famous artist-engineer, El Lissitzky, also studied. Therefore, Hiller’s attitude was consistent with the Constructivist ideas of art that employed scientific achievements and was mainly an intellectual and research activity.
Hiller was aware of the innovative artistic explorations in the area of photogram, carried out by artists such as Man Ray or Lászlo Moholy Nagy. However, he did not share the enthusiasm for incident in the creative process; he even claimed that the randomness of results achieved by using the photogram technique stripped it of any attributes of art. Hiller appreciated capability to control artistic activity, which he gained thanks to the technique of heliography; moreover, an important thing to him was the ability to reproduce images and create further prints from a single film. ‘In a word, we deal here with a technique offering unlimited graphic possibilities, absolutely dependent on the artist’s awareness, extremely simple and quick to capture. In heliography, everything depends on creativity, and the ease of this creativity predestines this technique to be the least dependent on the inertia of material factors, because any part that goes against the will can be easily removed during work with a stroke of a cloth or finger’, claimed the artist (Karol Hiller ‘Heliography as a New Type of Graphic Technique’ - “Forma” 1934, issue no. 2, p. 22). Due to the graphic manner of film development, the artist made preparatory drawings in pencil, based on which he later worked on the surface of celluloid. The Art Museum in Lodz collection contains several series of sketches for Hiller’s heliographic compositions, including the composition presented in this catalogue.
In his heliographic works, the artist used a colourless celluloid base, which he covered with white tempera paint. In this way he would create a film, which he later developed on light-sensitive paper, using the contact method by means of exposure. ‘After obtaining the first print, the film needs to be corrected in the manner known from photography techniques. This action can be repeated until the copies are completely satisfactory for us’ (Karol Hiller, op. cit.). Based on his knowledge of chemistry and physics, Hiller advocated experiments on the surface of celluloid: ‘(...) we can recreate the natural conditions on the film by using electricity, mutual rejection of immiscible liquid substances, emulsification of liquids right on the surface, formation of sediment between chemically active liquids, tilting the film, etc.’ (op. cit., p. 23). Therefore, the creative process was intended to resemble laboratory work, whereas artistic experiment, as performed by Hiller, was not only a metaphor, but also the actual examination of technical possibilities, based on experiences from the area of science.
‘Heliographic Composition (XXIV)’ from 1938 is an abstract presentation consisting of the systems of wheels and beams of parallel lines. Like in all heliography, the basic means of expression is the contrast between black and white, as well as shading effects of various nature, in which the artist used both cross hatching and smooth transitions, probably achieved by adequate use of paint. The work is characterised by its asymmetrical, dynamic layout. The sections of parallel lines which connect with the wheels resemble the image of a mechanism. Such machinist aesthetics is a part of the avant-garde explorations in geometric abstraction.
The image of artist-engineer corresponded to the Constructivists’ notion of the desired way to practise art. Hiller can also be regarded as one of the Constructivists; however, his work is not easily categorised and definitely cannot be reduced to Constructivist values only. Due to the specific artistic education that the artist received, including the apprenticeship in the studio of the Ukrainian painter Mykhailo Boychuk in Kiev, who was familiar with icon painting, Hiller’s works are frequently also characterised by their symbolic aspect.

ID: 68954

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