Lot 63: Gertrud and Otto Natzler
Signed "Natzler" and retains paper inventory label "C323"
1.5" x 4.25" diameter (3.5 cm x 11 cm diameter)
Provenance: Property from the Leopold and Patricia Hirschfeldt Collection (gift from Gertrud and Otto Natzler);
Thence by descent
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On Sunday morning, July 30, 1933, Otto Natzler (1908-2007) prayed for rain. Two days prior, his friend Hans Amon had brought his sister Gertrud (1908-1971) to Otto's apartment for a few minutes before going out for the night. Gertrud had mentioned that if it rained on Sunday, she would like to go to her parents' summerhouse to relax with the family. She left a few minutes later, and according to Otto, "Though I had hardly exchanged a word with Gertrud, I was terribly interested in seeing her again." He accepted a longstanding invitation from Hans to join them at the summerhouse. Come Sunday, the rain fell, and Otto was off to the countryside. The young Austrians enjoyed each other's company, and on their train ride back to the city, Gertrud told Otto about the pottery courses she started a few weeks prior. Three days later, Gertrud brought Otto a 20-pound slab of clay. Intrigued, and eager for any excuse to see Gertrud again, he made a few sculptures and a mask. Gertrud's teacher was impressed enough to invite him to take classes at his studio. Otto quickly realized that his weakness was Gertrud's gift: forming the clay. She displayed incredible prowess, a harmony of hands and material. Otto remembers the first bowl she gave him: "That bowl had no resemblance to any ceramic I had known before – I love that pot and Gertrud gave it to me." Fortunately, Otto was fascinated with the liquid compounds that formed a glaze once fired. Beginners in ceramics, their relationship blossomed as they discovered their separate skills could be combined. They rented their own studio, spent a year experimenting with forms and glazes, and started selling their ceramics in Vienna shops, eventually becoming successful enough to support themselves financially. They won the Silver Medal at the 1937 World Exposition in Paris, and even had their first solo exhibition in Vienna. One year later, as Nazi tanks rolled into Vienna, the Natzlers immigrated to Los Angeles with nothing but their wheel and kiln.
Upon their arrival in Los Angeles, the Natzlers were embraced by the community and instantly recognized as masters in their field. Throughout the 1950s and 60s, Gertrud and Otto honed their craft, innovating forms and glazes, constantly inching closer to perfection. The introduction to their 1966 Los Angeles County Museum of Art retrospective exhibition catalogue, "The Ceramic Work of Gertrud and Otto Natzler," reads, "They appeared with us each of the first five years they worked here, in the Museum exhibitions of 1939-43. And in 1944 we presented a one-man, or one-family show of Natzler ceramics." Additional career retrospectives followed, including "The Ceramic Work of Gertrud and Otto Natzler" at the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco in 1971 and "Form and Fire: Natzler Ceramics 1939-1972" at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution in 1973. Close friends of the Natzlers, Leopold and Patricia Hirschfeldt lent their impressive collection of ceramics to each of these retrospectives.
In 1947 while vacationing in Switzerland with his brother, the young Swede Leo Hirschfeldt met a beautiful Canadian girl named Patricia, who had been traveling in Europe for the past six months. They had an instant connection, and three years later they were married in Los Angeles. With the money from Leo's successful seismic engineering firm, the couple bought their home – a bungalow with hand-carved ceilings designed by a Mexican architect – on South Carmelina Avenue in Brentwood in 1955. During numerous trips to the desert, they became interested in Navaho and Zuni pottery, and Leo would return from family visits in Stockholm with sets of miniature pottery. As their enthusiasm for ceramics grew, the Hirschfeldts became good friends with the Natzlers. Through this friendship, the couple amassed an impressive collection of bowls and pots, including a group of rare miniatures that Gertrud could only form with her fingertips when she developed an elbow inflammation. She produced these miniatures for only one year, from 1965-66. In addition to "Form and Fire," these miniatures were featured in "Masterpieces on a Small Scale" at Bullock's Gallery on Wilshire in 1966. This diverse collection of Natzler ceramics includes brilliant glazes and delicate forms, and spans one of the most productive and successful decades of the Natzlers' career.
Natzler, Gertrud and Otto. Form and Fire: Natzler Ceramics 1939-1972. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1973. Print.
Natzler, Gertrud and Otto. The Ceramic Work of Gertrud and Otto Natzler: A Retrospective Exhibition. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1966. Print.
Natzler, Otto. Gertrud and Otto Natzler Ceramics: Catalog of the Collection of Mrs. Leonard M. Sperry. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1968. Print.