Picture of the Month

Picture of the Month – June 2019


André Kertész
Melancholic Tulip

Nikolaus Kratzer


My picture of the month from the SpallArt Collection is a flower still life by André Kertész. It refers to a crucial work phase of the Hungarian artist and turns out to be a portrait when you take a closer look at it.


André Kertész
"Melancholic Tulip", 1939/1960
Gelatinesilberabzug, 24,7 x 18 cm



André Kertész's still life shows a tulip bending down towards the floor. The light, which comes from the right, divides the dangling tulip head into a lighted segment and another that is kept black; the shadow cast by the vase is parallel to the bottom edge of the picture, while vase and stem are matched to the lateral edges. The background design is also marked by the play of light and shadow, but in the center of the picture the precision of the composition is interrupted with a blurry curve. Kertesz had already been working with distorting effects of that kind since 1917, when he photographed a man diving. In 1933 he made a famous series of abstract female nudes, shot in front of curved mirrors and later published as Distortions.[1]

In addition to this reference to Kertesis experiments with the theme of perspective, Melancholic Tulip also relates to the artist's life story. In 1936 he left his adopted home in France for New York, but for a long time he was unable to connect with his successes in Paris. Such themes as loneliness and isolation (as an immigrant), thoughtfulness and longing (melancholic feelings about home) are again reflected in the flower still life of 1939. For the allegorical representation of feelings, Kertesz also went back to other subjects: clouds lost in the urban landscape of New York, doves taking off for flight, a weathercock photographed in front of a rainy background. In this sense Michel Frizot describes the artist's work as "thoughtful photography": "[Kertesz's] photography `speaks'; it is poetic, sentimental, sensitive and ultimately 'thoughtful, meaning that it 'inspires thought'"[2]


[1] Michel Frizot, Annie-Laure Wanaverbecq (ed.), André Kertész, Ostfildern 2010, 157.

[2] Ibid., 19.




Nikolaus Kratzer is a Vienna based art historian working for the State Collections of Lower Austria. He is a researcher at the Center for Museum Collections Management at the Danube University Krems. Since several years, he has also been working for the SpallArt Collection. He is a profound expert of the Austrian photography, especially of Elfriede Mejchar and Heinz Cibulka. Currently he writes his dissertation in the field of photography and impressionism. The selection of the picture and the text were published in the Eikon magazine issue 100, "A Work in Profile" in November 2017.