Theodor Poppmeier Collection: Our Second Sale on 23rd March 2019

“Art before craftsmanship and quality before condition” was the principle which guided Theodor Poppmeier when he compiled his important collection of antique textiles. With expert advice from experienced specialists like Konzett, Hirsch and Reinisch, he purchased certain types of kilim at an early stage, before most collectors had become aware of their superior significance in terms of art history. Another great collector, Heinrich Kirchheim liked to quote a Chinese proverb: “He who wants to reach the source must swim against the stream“. This is an insight also embraced by Theodor Poppmeier. The great success of our “Poppmeier Collection I” special sale proves the soundness of his approach. The auction sold 83 of the 88 lots offered, a success rate of 94 percent. Now part two of the collection is up for sale.

Then as now, the focus is on antique Anatolian kilims. Their bold compositions of abstract effect, their expressive colours derived from natural dyes, often in exotic combinations, and their mysterious ancient designs held a particular fascination for the collector. Poppmeier came to appreciate them as a result of his long-standing collecting activities in the field of abstract modern art. He realised that in terms of expressiveness and beauty, the kilims of anonymous Oriental weavers were equal to the works of renowned Western artists. Poppmeier developed a deep understanding of this particular art form. The textile pictures created by Anatolian women reflect a foreign world and are based on wholly different premises, but for him they ranked equal to the paintings of our Western culture. Similar to the collector Ignazio Vok, ethnological aspects were of secondary importance to him; he was primarily interested in artistic expression. He knew that kilims would only be recognised, experienced and acknowledged as works of art once they were taken out of their original cultural context.

The kilims selected by Theodor Poppmeier had to fulfil certain requirements defined by himself which can be described by the following key phrases: reduction to essentials, abstraction, empty space, archaic presence, superb quality of drawing, the finest colours. Only early examples meet these criteria. In his search for authentic kilims, Poppmeier therefore preferred to collect very old examples which, by definition, often survive in fragmented form only. The trained eye of the accomplished collector will supply what is missing. Or, to quote Lawrence Durrell: “The act of life is an act of the imagination”. Poppmeier soon realised that the best colours were found in the oldest kilims. Only in early pieces did he encounter purely abstract compositions featuring large empty colour spaces. The meaning of such kilims left a lasting impression on him because they transmit silent messages, conceal the unseen and offer scope for individual interpretation; in terms of design, he admired their bold division of space. Then again, he also appreciated richly decorated examples where dense networks of abstract, geometric motifs appropriate the surfaces. Poppmeier loved the abstract, the monumental, simple clarity as much as playfulness, subtlety and the lyrical. One kilim that represents a successful synthesis of these two preferences shown by the collector is the Erzerum saf, the most important example of the group and the collector’s pride and joy.

When asked in an interview with Manuela Schlossinger about the significance of his collection compared to others, Poppmeier gave the following reply: “Without trying to judge, I believe my collection holds quite a number of objects which are missing in important collections or would complement them. Let me put it this way: anyone interested in kilims and not interested in this collection has no real interest in Anatolian kilims“.

Detlef Maltzahn
February 2019

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