Emile Lahner painted portraits and landscapes in the first decades of his work, often in the cubist fashion. He had an exhibition at the prestigious Galerie Jeanne Castel in 1950, sponsored by the French writer Marcel Sauvage. In the preface to the catalog, Sauvage compared Lahner’s work to stained glass. This was prescient: Just a few years later, Lahner was asked to design a chapel in a small Algerian city. As part of that project, Lahner designed the chapel’s stained glass windows. (Interestingly, there was at that time a sort of mania over chapel construction: Picasso at Vallauris; Matisse at the Dominican Chapelle du Rosaire at Vence; Jean Cocteau for frescoes in Villefranche; Rouault for the church windows in Plateau d’Assy; Léger for the windows in Sacre-Coeur, Audincourt; and Chagall for stained glass in the cathedrals of Metz, Reims, and Rouen.) That work marked an important stop on Lahner’s journey to abstraction and it is impossible to look at “Harpsichord” without thinking of stained glass.
“Harpsichord” marries together the Cubism which is found in Lahner’s earliest works with the look of the stained glass chapel windows that he made in Algiers in the middle years of his career. It is from a portfolio of Emile Lahner’s abstractions published by Lahner’s long-time dealer, Laszlo Laky. (Lahner met Laky in Paris when he had a job working as a Hungarian-language guide for Laky; Laky was there looking—but not finding—Parisian artists whose work he could sell in his Carmel gallery. At long last, Lahner confessed to Laky that he was a painter and after seeing Lahner’s work Laky became Lahner’s sole American dealer. Lahner enjoyed great economic and critical success in the American market thanks to Laky’s efforts.)