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Impressionist and Modern Art


7 PM, November 8, 2000

Sale 9516

"Blue Period" Picasso Fetches $55 million, a record for the artist


Large Giacometti sculpture is sold for $14.5 million, a world auction record for sculpture


Auction, however, only sells 58 percent of lots

Femme aux bras croisés by Pablo Picasso

Lot 43, "Femme aux bras croisés," by Pablo Picasso, oil on canvas, 32 by 23 inches, painted 1901-2, was sold for $55 million, an auction record for Picasso.

By Carter B. Horsley

The highly publicized legal travails of Sotheby's and Christie's this year and the downturns of the stock markets have apparently not had much effect on the auction houses' ability to ferret out a good number of important and impressive works for their major sales this fall.

Christie's has by far the best offering in the Impressionist and Modern Art sector this fall and about a third of the 75 lots in this sale are of very strong interest, most notably a couple of superb paintings by Edward Vuillard (1868-1940), a fabulous pastel of a bather by Edgar Degas (1834-1917), a fine Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) portrait of the famous Misia Natanson, a good painting by Claude Monet (1840-1926) from his Poplars series, and a sensational bronze bust of a woman by Pablo Picasso.

The sale also offers a couple of portraits by Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920) and some exquisite small studies by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) of a much higher quality and sensitivity than the many almost wretched examples that were gobbled up by naive buyers over the past couple of decades. Other highlights include a rare Blue Period study of a seated woman by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), a major floral still life by Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904), a major large sculpture of a woman by Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966), a stunning painting by Fernand Léger (1881-1955), and a very fine Max Ernst (1891-1976).

While the sale is not likely to set explosively high new records in an art market that has been rather overheated for the past couple of seasons, this auction abounds in quality by and large.

The sale, in fact, set a few new world records that indicated that the market for major works was still very much alive, but was rather spotty with only 58 percent of the 74 offered lots selling, a quite poor showing. In comments after the sale, Christopher Burge, the auctioneer, remarked "works of top quality in the market are as strong as ever has been, but that the art market remains "highly selective" and that "competitive pressures" in some instances pushed estimates up and that the auction houses will have to "be very careful going forward" in setting estimates. The competitive pressures presumably referred to the fact that Phillips has been very aggressive in going after consignments as well as Sotheby's. Mr. Burge noted that there were no major estate consignments this season and that initially it was a "struggle" to assemble the auction, adding, however, that there was a "rush" at the end and it was in fact a large sale. The sale total for the entire auction was $143 million compared with a pre-sale low estimate of about $163 million and a pre-sale high estimate of about $219 million. Most of the bidding was on the phones although the auction room was packed and Mr. Burge said that 52 percent of the buyers were American, 29 percent European, 10 percent Asian and 9 percent others.

Place Vintimille by Vuillard

Lot 48, "Place Vintimille," by Edouard Vuilllard, peinture à la colle on board, 40 1/2 by 25 1/2 inches, circa 1915

The catalogue's cover illustration, shown above, is Lot 48, "Place Vintimille," a 40 1/2-by-25 1/2-inch peinture à la colle on board, circa 1915, by Vuillard and it is a magnificent example of the artist's interesting work with this type of almost fresco medium and it is of major museum quality.

This work, a detail of which is shown below, has an estimate of $3,000,000 to $4,000,000. It sold for $2,976,000, which includes the buyer's premium as do all sales prices in this article, to a European private collector.

detail of Place Vintimille by Vuillard

Detail of Lot 48, "Place Vintimille," by Edouard Vuilllard, peinture à la colle on board, 40 1/2 by 25 1/2 inches, circa 1915

The catalogue offers the following commentary on the lot:

"Vuilllard's paintings of the Place Vintimille [in Paris] were pivotal works in the artist's career…. With his representations of the Place Vintimille, Vuillard had returned to the world he knew and loved. Because the artist lived near there for much of his life and depicted the area's activities with an intimacy otherwise reserved for his signature domestic interiors, his work in the twentieth century has become closely connected to the small park…. The present painting is outstanding for the luminosity of its brushwork and the intimacy of its viewpoint. The colors resonate with a renewed vibrancy. The contrast between the lavender in the shadows on the pavement and the more striking purples in the women's dress complement the variations of greens within the framing foliage. This play of light and shadow creates a dazzling and delightful rhythm across the composition. Unlike the commissioned examples painted from above, the present painting offers an alternative represented in such close proximity that the artist seems to risk invading the scene. This close-up view forcefully situates the artist as one of the Parisians enjoying a day of leisure, or strolling through the park. Yet, he is clearly an astute observer, whose discerning eye seeks the defining details of the scene, down to the dresses in the window across the square. While Vuillard conveys a sense of immediacy in this image of daily life, he also orchestrates a masterful composition, which almost belies the spontaneity of the scene. By positioning all of his figures in a diagonal line, the artist skillfully implies a movement into depth. At the same time, the richly worked pigment seduces the viewer's attention constantly to the surface. Vuillard's extraordinary skill in composing this canvas recalls a comment made by Aldoph Alphand, the park supervisor under Baron Haussmann, 'A garden should no be an exact copy of nature, because a garden is a work of art. A garden is a melody of forms and colors."…His first representation of the park dates to 1909-1910, shortly after his move to the rue de Calais from the suburb of Passy. Commission by playwright Henry Bernstein for his apartment on the Boulevard Haussmann, this work consists of a triptych of panels providing a panoramic view of the park, with each individual canvas offering a glimpse in to daily life…. The outer two panels are in the collection of the Guggenheim Museum; the center panel is in a private collection. In 1911, Vuillard made a five-panel folding screen for the American singer Marguerite Chapin that repeats the vertical orientation and the plunging perspective of he previous triptych a familiar format which suggests that Vuillard may have used his own photographs as source material…. When Vuillard received another commission, this time from Emile Lévy in 1915, he was already living in the apartment on the second floor. The perspective in Levy's canvas, painted in a horizontal format, correspondents to the artist's new location. In this painting, Vuillard's representation of the subject both recalls Haussmann's reconstruction of the area and the artist's own creative process: the foreground shows an expanse of construction as workers toil to repave the sidewalk around the central garden."

This Vuillard painting is a masterly exercise in creating a surface texture that is exciting and wondrous. Vuillard's treatment of the women's blue jacket, the wrought-iron fence and the show-covered pavement is fabulous. When one examines the details, one observes Vuillard's virtuosic ability to mix fine details with almost abstract flourishes in a manner that transcends many of the Impressionist formulas and freezes his composition in a warm but very bright light that implies the precision of the Cubists but moves beyond it to remain very much in the realist realm while also working with a limited, rather flat and dry palette that is the opposite of his Fauve contemporaries. Vuillard's best works, such as this, are complex and inviting because of the great tensions he creates between the flatness of his colors and the depths of the compositions.

Dining Room at Chateau de Clayes by Vuillard

Lot 39, "La salle à manger au chateau de Clayes," by Edouard Vuillard, a 68 1/4-by-53-inch détrempe and charcoal on paper laid down on canvas, 1938

Lot 39, "La salle à manger au chateau de Clayes," is another great Vuillard, a 68 1/4-by-53-inch détrempe and charcoal on paper laid down on canvas, 1938. Vuillard used the détrempe technique as a theatrical scene painter and appreciated its quick-drying properties and its chalky, unreflective surface. The catalogue notes that this dry, matte, quality was influenced by the works of Puvis de Chavannes and Paul Gauguin. This work, which shows eight people at one end of a large dining table with a large mirror on the fall behind a giant floral display is one of Vuillard's strongest works with bravura brushwork, very strong colors, and an asymmetrical composition. The figures are relatively small in the composition and while they serve as a rather neat and very interesting horizontal component in the composition their simple, gestural sketches capture a conversational moment with warmth and intrigue. The work is conservatively estimated at $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for $688,000.

Apres le bain by Degas

Lot 23, "Apres le Bain," pastel by Degas

Another fine work in the auction is Lot 23, "Après le bain (Femme s'essuyant les cheveux)," a pastel and black chalk on paper laid down on board, 32 5/8 by 28 1/2 inches, circa 1903. While the work clearly shows a naked woman seen from the side drying her long blond hair, a composition that was very popular with Degas, this work differs from the majority of his similar studies in its highly saturated colors and his very vigorous hatching over of much of the voluptuous lady's form which is highlighted against a super bright yellow background of vertical broken lines mingled with bright red strokes. This yellow background and its intensely active representation is startling, stunning and sensational. This is one of the best Degas bathers and an awesome work that sparks a reassessment of Degas's genius for its early date shows that he was on the cusp of compositions that were abstractions in rich, riotous color.

detail of Apres le bain by Degas

Detail of Degas's "Apres le bain"

The painting is very conservatively estimated at only $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It sold for $2,976,000.

In contrast, Lot 34, a more conventional Degas pastel of ballet dancers, a 32-by-22 1/4-inch oil on canvas, painted circa 1885, has an ambitious estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000 and is a much inferior work, indeed, a rather boring and poor example of his work. It was passed at $3,600,000.

Misia Natanson by Henri de Toulouse Lautrec

Lot 41, "Madame Misia Natanson," by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

A good companion piece for both the Vuillard "Place Vintimille" and the Degas bather is Lot 41, "Madame Misia Natanson," a huile à l'essence on board, 21 by 16 3/8 inches, by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. It was painted in 1897 and has a very conservative estimate of only $3,000,000 to $4,000,000, possibly reflecting the fact that the composition is a bit awkward in that while Misia is centered in the painting her dress extends off the right as if she had her legs propped up, but cut off in the picture. It was passed at $2,800,000.

Misia Natanson, the catalogue notes, "was the daughter of a successful Polish sculptor named Cyprien Godebski and the granddaughter of the well-known cellist Frantz Gervais." "Raised by wealthy relatives in Ixelles, near Brussels, the young Misia was a gifted pianist and student of Gabriel Fauré; Franz Liszt is said to have held out great hopes for her future as well. Enrolled by her father in a Prison convent at the age seventeen, she rebelled and moved to London, renting a small apartment and supporting himself by giving piano lessons. In 1891, she returned to Paris and settled on her own in the fashionable district near the Place de Clichy. At that time, she was re-introduced to the brothers, Alexandre, Thadée and Alfred Natanson, second cousins by marriage whom she had not seen since childhood. Thadée was immediately captivated by her vivacity, impetuousness, and intelligence; the two married on 25 April 1893. Thadée Natanson was editor of the influential and progressive periodical La Revue Blanche , voice of the Parisian intellectual community from its establishment in 1891 until its collapse twelve years later. The magazine was host to some of the era's most important articles on modern thinking, with contributors including André Gide, Paul Valéry, Tristan Bernard, Alfred Jarry, Romain Coolus, and the young Marcel Proust, who used her as one of his models for the music-loving Mme Verdurin in A la recherche du temps perdu …. So synonymous with the spirit of La Revue Blanche was the active, independent Misia that Lautrec, when commissioned to make a poster for the periodical in 1895, chose her portrait as its emblem…. The present portrait of Misia was executed in the summer of 1897, while Lautrec was staying at Villeneuve. Lautrec painting Misia at least six other times, but she claimed that this picture was her favorite…. She and Lautrec spent hours in the garden that summer, indulging in a favorite pastime: she would sit in the grass reading or pretending to read, while Lautrec tickled her bare feet with a paintbrush, discovering 'imaginary landscapes.'…. With its fresh, pastel palette and loose, exuberant brushwork, the painting masterfully captures both the breezy warmth of a summer's day and the nourishing intimacy that existed between Lautrec and Misia. At the same time, Misia's solemn expression and Lautrec's choice of the hieratic profile format impart to the sitter an air of imposing dignity, recalling early Renaissance portraits like Baldovinetti's Portrait of a Lady in Yellow (circa 1450; National Gallery of Art, London), a painting that Lautrec is known to have deeply admired."

The catalogue's entry reproduces two photographs of Misia, although it does not discuss her close associates with many other famous artists and her subsequent career and life, which were very interesting. She was the woman of Paris at the turn of the century when Paris was the center of the world.

Another fine Lautrec work in the auction is Lot 49, "Le cotier de la compagnie des omnibus," a 31 1/2-by-20 1/8-inch oil on board, executed in 1888. The painting was originally owned by Aristide Bruant and the catalogue notes that the painting "appears to allude to a contemporary song by Aristide Bruant of the same title." "Bruant's song makes a comparison between 'two outcasts: the ancient horse who can only climb the hill with great difficulty, and the old driver who cannot spend his last days in peace, in spite of a life of toil." The painting has a limited palette of whites, blacks, grays and browns and is a rather unusual vertical composition for Lautrec and it is illustrative rather than painterly. It is a strong work of a minor subject by a very great artist, although it cannot compare at all with the far superior "Misia" picture. It has an ambitious estimate of $2,400,000 to $2,800,000. It sold for $2,316,000.

The auction abounds with interesting portraits.

Lot 14, "Etude de femme," a 24 1/4-by-17 7/8-inch pastel on paper mounted at the edges on board, by Renoir is a wonderfully sketchy and colorful portrait of a very beautiful woman, whose elegance is rather atypical for Renoir. It has a conservative estimate of $900,000 to $1,200,000 and was owned by members of the family of Mary Cassatt, the fine American Impressionist painter. It sold for $1,326,000.

Portrait of Young Woman by Renoir

Lot 20, portrait of young woman by Renoir

Lot 20, is another lovely Renoir portrait of a pretty young woman. The 18-by-15-inch pastel on paper, shown above, has an estimate of $600,000 to $700,000. While its yellows and light blues make it a brighter work than Lot 14 and the girl's face is rendered with grace and affection, the handling of her body is rather clumsy, which explains its lower estimate. It was passed at $350,000.

Lot 10, "Tête d'enfant," is a pleasant Renoir oil study of a young girl putting on a hand as seen from behind, and the 12 -by-9 1/4 inch oil on canvas has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for $1,546,000.

Lot 24, on the other hand, is a very fine "Portrait of Pierre Renoir en costume marin," a 16 1/4-by-12 3/4 inch oil on canvas, 1890, which is very rosy and lush and pleasant. It has an estimate of $800,000 to $1,000,000, but it is not as refreshing of Lot 14. It sold for $1,766,000.

Lot 15, "Jeune fille assise en costume orientale," has a much larger, and much more ambitious estimate of $6,000,000 to $8,000,000. It sold for $5,726,000. The 31 7/8-by-25 3/4-inch oil on canvas was painted in 1905 and depicts Gabrielle Renard, whom Renoir had hired to help his wife and who remained with the family for 20 years and became the artist's favorite model. Gabrielle is shown with a shirt that barely covers her breasts and in his many paintings of her Renoir was depicting his "classical ideal of voluptuous femininity," that also reflected his admiration of Titian and Rubens. The shirt is painted very nicely but despite the artist's enthusiasm these pictures are not Renoir's best, despite the very, very high price tags.

Portrait of Young Woman with Sparrow by Berthe Morisot

Lot 38, portrait of young woman with sparrow by Berthe Morisot

Renoir was very friendly with Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) and would be named as one of two guardians for her daughter Julie. Lot 38 is a lovely portrait of one of Julie's friends sitting and looking at a tame sparrow. The 26-by-21 5/8-inch oil on canvas is less sketchy than some of the artist's most dazzling works, but it is very beautiful and its lushness reflects the work of Renoir. It has a slightly conservative estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It was passed at $800,000.

Young Girl Playing with Dog by Pierre Bonnard

Lot 30, Young Girl Playing with Dog by Pierre Bonnard

A nice companion piece to the Morisot is Lot 30, "La Jeune Fille" or "Jeune Fille Jouant Avec Un Chien," a 29 1/2-by-31 1/2-nch oil on canvas by Pierre Bonnard, painted in 1913, that is quite a dynamic composition and full of Bonnard's typical warmth. It is somewhat ambitiously estimated at $1,800,000 to $2,500,000. It was passed at $1,100,000.

Portrait of Young Girl by Modigliani

Lot 40, portrait of young girl by Amedeo Modigliani

For only slightly less than the high estimate for Lot 15, one could acquire a far more appealing and interesting portrait of a seated girl by Modigliani. Lot 40 is a 23 7/8-by-18 1/4-inch oil on canvas that was executed in 1918. The catalogue notes that "it is remarkable above all for its sensitive characterization of the period between childhood and adulthood," adding that "The girl's face is more heavily worked than the remainder of the painting, serving to focus the viewer's attention upon her inscrutable features and suggesting the richness of feeling they mask.' This quite "pretty" Modigliani has an estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000. It sold for $5,286,000.

Portrait of Dilewski by Modigliani

Lot 50, "Portrait du photographe Dilewski," by Modigliani

An even stronger Modigliani, albeit with a much more conservative estimate of only $2,000,000 to $3,000,000 is Lot 50, "Portrait du photographe Dilewski," a 28 3/4-by-19 3/4-inch oil on canvas that was executed in 1916. Here, the composition is a bit more complex with an angled door in the background and a more stylized face on the bearded photographer and the overall composition is more richly colored than in Lot 40. It sold for $1,986,000.

Woman with Muff by Egon Schiele

Lot 42, Egon Schiele gouache and pencil

Modigliani's signature style is very recognizable as is the work of Egon Schiele (1890-1918), who is represented in the auction by Lot 42, a 19 1/4-by-12-inch gouache and pencil on paper laid down on card of "Frau in gruner Bluse mit Muff. It is a very strong work that is almost too tame and conventional for this great master, but the bright red dashes about the face of the attractive women with a muff are unexpected and draw attention immediately to her face. This is conservatively estimated at $800,000 to $1,200,000. It sold for $1,381,000.

Detail of Woman with Crossed Arms by Picasso

Detail of Lot 43, "Woman with Crossed Arms," by Picasso, sold for $55 million, world auction record for the artist

Lot 43 is an austere Blue Period portrait by Picasso of a woman seated with crossed arms that was executed in 1901-2 and has an "estimate on request" that is likely to be in the ambitious range of $25 million. The Blue period, according to the catalogue, represents the artist's "most extensive experimentation with monochromes, and the present painting, one of the most outstanding works in this group, offers and extraordinary poignant portrayal of soulful introspection," adding that the artist acknowledged that his Blue period "was precipitated by his confrontation with and contemplation of death."

While the Picasso Blue Period painting is likely to fetch a very high price because of Picasso's immense popularity, it is a difficult work that is of more historical than aesthetic interest. Mr. Burge said after the auction that it had been telling some people the day of the auction that it was expected to fetch $32,000,000 to $33,000,000.

Bronze bust of a woman by Picasso

Lot 62, bronze bust of woman by Picasso

A much greater Picasso creation, at least aesthetically, is Lot 62, "Tête de Femme (Fernande)," a 16 1/8-inch-high bronze of tremendous power. The original bust was made in plaster in 1909 and this bronze version was cast in a small edition for Ambroise Vollard shortly thereafter according to the catalogue. This lot has a conservative estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000, but the catalogue does not indicate how many casts were made and now exist. It was passed at $3,200,000.

The catalogue provides the following commentary on this very major work:

"Picasso's Tête de Femme (Fernande) is one of the great moments in the history of modernist sculpture…. One of the very first works executed in the fall of 1909 upon his return from a sojourn in Horta, Spain, Tête de Femme (Fernande) reveals that Picasso's efforts in three-dimensional volume had matured to an unprecedented level of audacity and complexity. This trip to Horta, taken with his companion Fernande Olivier, held a critical importance for the development of the artist's career and has been regarded by many critics and historians as Picasso's arch-cubist moment. Picasso had known Fernande since 1904…. In the summer of 1909 (shortly before the present sculpture was executed), Fernande fell ill with a kidney disorder. Picasso, albeit grumpily, stayed by Fernande's bedside throughout her ordeal. The particular intensity of the physical features, and the furrows that seem to have been chiseled into the flesh of the model (and in Tête de Femme [Fernande]) can be read as indications of the strains imposed on Fernande during this period. The intense physical presence of the sculpture betrays the equally intense interchange between the artist and his model that was at the source of this work…. Tête de Femme (Fernande) harbors continuously haunting qualities: an enumeration of strong emotional and physical marks seem to have been engraved, etched into the flesh-turned-into-clay of this sculpture, just before it was cast into bronze. There is an excess of emotions that seem to ooze from the pores and relief of this face - through the very rich, and almost moist surface of the bronze. The particularly unusual sharpness of this very early cast makes, of course, all these observations all the more powerful"

Lot 44 is a lovely drawing by Picasso of Madame Eugenia Erraruiz, who was born in Chile and married to José Tomás Erraruiz, a painter, and who became a major patron of the arts and Serge Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes. The charcoal drawing on gessoed paper, 41 3/8 by 29 1/8 inches, was executed January 10, 1921 and is a fine portrait of this beautiful woman, and has a conservative estimate of $1,200,000 to $1,600,000. It was withdrawn from the auction.

The Lovers by Picasso

Lot 45, "The Lovers," by Picasso

Another very fine Picasso is Lot 45, "The Lovers," a delightful, colorful and lively oil on canvas, 38 5/8 by 51 5/8 inches, painted in 1932. The work was formerly in the collection of Elise Sackler and has a conservative estimate of $6,000,000 to $8,000,000. It sold for $6,331,000.

Poplars by Monet

Lot 9, "Poplars," by Monet

Among the landscape paintings in the auction, the standouts are a scene of Poplars by Monet, Lot 9, a good Gauguin landscape, Lot 25, and a nice Cézanne, Lot 27.

The Monet "Poplars" is a 45 7/8-by-28 5/8-inch oil on canvas from the collection of Elise Sackler that was executed in 1891 and has an estimate of $7,000,000 to $10,000,000. It sold for $7,046,000. Monet did a series of 24 paintings of this scene of Poplar trees and this example is pleasant and soft but not as dramatic as some of the others.

Voiliers by Monet

Lot 13, "Voiliers," by Monet

A far stronger and attractive Monet is Lot 13, "Voiliers," a 17 3/8-by-26-inch oil on canvas that was painted in the mid-1860s and was owned by members of the family of Mary Cassatt, the painter. This harbor scene is particularly violent and freely painted and has a very conservative estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It sold for $1,106,000.

Pourville marine by Monet

Lot 22, "Barques de peche devant la plage and les falaises de Pourville," by Monet

A pleasant companion to Lot 13 is Lot 22, "Barques de pêche devant la plage et les falaises de Pourville," a 23 5/8-by-32 7/8-inch oil on canvas painted in 1882. It has a nice sketchy quality and a good composition and has an estimate of only $800,000 to $1,200,000. It was passed at $820,000.

Another Monet scene of trees is Lot 18, "Pins, cap d'Antibes," a 29-by-36 3/5-inch oil on canvas that was painted in 1888. It is not an exciting Monet but carries a very ambitious estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000. It was passed at $4,200,000.

Yet another Monet is Lot 26, "Iris," a 47 1/2-by-39 1/2-inch oil on canvas that was painted between 1914 and 1917 and is pleasantly decorative and has an estimate of only $600,000 to $800,000. It sold for $1,646,000. It is much more attractive than the busy and bland "Chrysanthèmes," Lot 36, also by Monet, a 47 ½-by-31 3/4-inch oil on canvas that was painted in 1897 and has an ambitious estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. It was passed at $1,800,000. Lot 36 was formerly in the collection of Mrs. Leigh B. Block of Chicago and Mrs. Enid A. Haupt of New York.

The Gauguin landscape, Lot 25, is a pleasant oil on canvas, 23 5/8 by 36 3/4 inches, painted in 1892. It has a very ambitious estimate of $12,000,000 to $16,000,000 especially since it is not as good as two other major Gauguin landscapes that came up for auction last year. Those, however, were French scenes and this is a Tahitian landscape. It was passed at $10,000,000.

Similarly, Lot 27, the Cézanne landscape, is quite attractive and good but not as interesting as one being offered this season at Phillips. This work was painted circa 1888 and measures 25 5/8 by 32 inches and has an ambitious estimate of $7,000,000 to $10,000,000. It was formerly in the Auguste Pellerin Collection. It was passed at $5,500,000.

Another, better, Cézanne from the Pellerin Collection is Lot 28, depicts two flower vases with flowers and it is a very handsome and strong oil on canvas, 22 1/8 by 18 3/8 inches. Painted circa 1877, it has a conservative estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. It sold for $3,086,000. "Dated by John Rewald circa 1877, the present painting represents a pivotal time in Cézanne's stylistic evolution; the transition from the Impressionist works of the earlier part of the decade to the innovative 'constructivist' style of later years," the catalogue stated.

Standing woman by Giacometti

Lot 63, "Grande femme debout I," by Alberto Giacometti, sold for $14,306,000, a world auction record for sculpture

There are numerous sculptures by Degas and Rodin in the auction and Lot 63, "Grande femme debout I," by Alberto Giacometti, a 105 1/2-inch-high bronze, has a very ambitious estimate of $10,000,000 to $15,000,000. It sold for $14,306,000, a world auction record for sculpture.

The work has an interesting history as it was part of a plan by the artist to create a monumental sculptural group for the plaza of the newly erected Chase Manhattan Bank building in Lower Manhattan. He and Alexander Calder had been selected to submit designs for the large plaza of the 60-story skyscraper that was designed by Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Then bank's initial proposal, according to the catalogue, was for the artist to make "a colossal enlargement of the Trois hommes qui marchent of 1948-1949." "Upon receiving the scale model, however, the artist decided instead to embark on a new multi-figure composition, comprised of an over-life-size standing woman, a life-size striding man, and a monumental head. He first made small maquettes of the three sculptures, then began to model the full-size plasters…. The plasters were completed in 1960, and shortly thereafter, the six figures and one of the two heads were cast in bronze. The artists was dissatisfied with the sculptures as a group and decided not to send them to Chase Manhattan, explaining later '…the initial idea of the composition took second place…I had practically no feelings about how they should be grouped….' He was pleased with the seven works individually, however, and exhibited them during the early 1960s in various combinations…. In October 1965, Giacometti traveled to New York to attend the retrospective of his work at the Museum of Modern Art, and finally had occasion to see the Chase Manhattan Bank building in person. The plaza was still empty, and Giacometti was thrilled by the aesthetic possibilities that it presented. He now felt sure that the plaza demanded not a multi-figure composition but a single female figure - a colossal version of the Grand femme debout . Upon his return to Paris, Giacometti ordered the construction of an enormous armature for the proposed sculpture. He died a few months later, however, before work could advance beyond this preparatory stage. Eventually, the Chase Manhattan Bank plaza was filled with a large aluminum sculpture by Jean Dubuffet, Four Trees ."

"During the 1950s and 1960s, Giacometti linked the distinctive proportions of his figures to his effort to sculpt the human body not as he knew it to be but as he actually saw it - that is, at a distance. A figure viewed from afar, he explained, appears pronouncedly thin, and as a consequence relatively tall; he criticized both Rodin and Houdin for sculpting life-size figures,' the catalogue noted.

Rene Magritte painting

Lot 52, "Le Chateau des Pyrénées," by René Magritte

Among the auction's other highlights are two strong works by Paul Signac (1863-1935): Lot 47, a very good harbor scene of Marseille, which has a conservative estimate of $900,000 to $1,200,000, and Lot 51, a river scene near the Chateau Gaillard that has the same estimate. There are also two excellent works by René Magritte: Lot 52, "Le Chateau des Pyrénées," shown above, and Lot 59, "La Naissance de l'idole." They are conservatively estimated at $600,000 to $800,000 and $800,000 to $1,200,000, respectively. Lot 52 sold for $776,000 and Lot 59 sold for $886,000.

Femme se coiffant by Picasso

Lot 69, "Femme se coiffant," by Pablo Picasso, oil on canvas, 21 1/8 by 18 3/4 inches, 1935

Lot 69, "Femme se coiffant," by Pablo Picasso, oil on canvas, 21 1/8 by 18 3/4 inches, 1935, has an estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000 and is a particularly simple and strong Picasso. It sold for $866,000.

Gypsy Rose Lee by Max Ernst

Lot 54, "Gypsy Rose Lee," a 17 7/8-by-23 3/4-inch oil on canvas that was painted in 1943 by Max Ernst

A superb Max Ernst work, Lot 54, "Gypsy Rose Lee," a 17 7/8-by-23 3/4-inch oil on canvas that was painted in 1943 is quite awesome and lyrical and has an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,500,000. It sold for $1,436,000.

It was hard to interpret the sale since the Blue Period Picasso and tall Giacometti sculpture achieved such very stratrospheric heights while many good works that were not unreasonably estimated were not only not sold, but often solicited no bidding. While auction officials remarked that the market is not in the speculative mold of 1974 or the late 1980s, it would appear that the number of active buyers is not growing, if not declining, a reflection perhaps that the market may have peaked. While not every lot in this auction was of stellar quality, there were many paintings that were of quite high quality, although some were a bit esoteric. While the market may not be on the verge of a crash, it certainly seems to have lost some of the euphoria of the past couple of seasons. Certainly this and the first two Phillips sales were shaky in terms of the high number of buy-ins, which is always of concern to the market. Nonetheless, the number of great paintings being offered, as opposed to merely good, or representative, is not high and the season is still young.

See The City Review article on the Nov. 6, 2000 evening auction of Impressionist and Modern Art at Phillips Auctioneers


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