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
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
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.
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
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."
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
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.
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.
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.
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
. 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
. 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
"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.
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.
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.
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.