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Impressionist & Modern Art Part II


10:15AM, November 7, 2000

The American Craft Museum

40 West 53rd Street

Sale NY842

Tightrope walkers by Raoul Dufy

Lot 116, "Les Danseurs de Corde," (tightrope walkers), by Raoul Dufy, fine gouache, pen and ink on paper laid down on board, 25 ¼ by 19 ¼ inches, 1922

By Carter B. Horsley

In its first major day Impressionist & Modern auction last spring, Phillips had quite a remarkable group of works by Russian Neo-Primitivist, Suprematist and Constructivist painters and this fall it does too.

Indeed, the overall quality of this auction is better, aesthetically, than the Part I evening sale. It is larger as well with 83 lots as compared to just 29 in the Part I evening sale. One is tempted to wonder if Phillips would be better off combining these two auctions into one evening auction, although the major auction houses have recently been limited their evening auctions to about 70 works so that those who attend can dash off to swank restaurants and parties without too much delay.

Whereas last Spring, the Part II sale did quite well (see The City Review article), this auction was very unsuccessful, despite the fact that it had a great many excellent early 20th Century abstract works with pretty reasonable estimates. Christopher Thomson, the chief executive officer of Phillips, remarked after the sale that many of the quite remarkable Russian early abstracts came from one collection and that Phillips believes it can create a niche for itself in this area. Only 49 percent of the lots sold for a total of $1,054,030. The pre-sale low estimate was $3,842,000 and the pre-sale high-estimate for the sale was $5,186,000.

Portrait of a woman by Georg Tappert

Lot 125, portrait, by Georg Tappert, oil on canvas, 26 7/8 by 24 1/4 inches, circa 1923-1933

The cover illustration, Lot 125, is a wonderful and memorable portrait of a woman smoker by Georg Tappert (1880-1957) who was associated with the German Expressionists. The 26 7/8-by-24 1/4-inch oil on canvas was executed circa 1923-1933 and has an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000. It failed to sell. Tappert's work is not too well-known in this country, but this is a very striking and impressive painting. Another work by the artist, a nude, Lot 128, is a 36 1/4-by-49-inch oil on canvas that was painted in 1913 and has an estimate of $180,000 to $220,000. It failed to sell.

Suprematist composition by Malevich

Lot 142, Suprematist compsosition, by Kasimir Malevich, gouache on buff paper, 12 1/2 by 9 7/8 inches

Last spring, the star of Part I's evening sale was a major oil by Kasimir Malevich (1878-1935), who was known as a Suprematist painter, that sold for a record of more than $17 million. Lot 142 in this sale is a somewhat similar composition by Malevich that has a very conservative estimate of only $100,000 to $150,000. The lower estimate reflects the work's much smaller size, 12 1/2 by 9 7/8 inches, and the fact that it is a gouache on buff paper. It failed to sell.

Suprematist Arkhitkton in Red, Vitebsk, by Ilya Chashnik

Lot 143,"Suprematist Arkhitkton in Red,Vitebsk," by Ilya Chashnik, 7 1/4 by 6 1/4 inches, watercolor, pencil and bank ink on paper, 1922

One of the auction’ most beautiful lots is 143, "Suprematist Arkhitkton in Red, Vitebsk," a 7 ¼-by-6 ¼-inch watercolor, pencil and black ink on paper, executed in 1922 by Ilya Chashnik (1902-1929). It has an estimate of $18,000 to $20,000. It failed to sell. The artist studied art under Malevich at the Vitebsk Institute of Applied Arts and "applied Suprematist aesthetics to industrial subjects, following the dictums imposed by Communism," the catalogue observed.

"In many of Chashnik’s works, warm-toned reds, oranges and yellows collide with cooler-toned blues, purples and greens. He scattered these colors across his surfaces as elongated rectangles and arranged them horizontally and vertically in the forms of crosses. These abstract pictorial compositions, based on geometric figures, were dynamic diagrams organized as rhythmic and sequential arrangements," the catalogue continued.

This is a very jazzy and superb abstraction.

A similar work by Chashnik but one with a horizontal theme is Lot 147, "Suprematist Composition." The 4 ¼-by-7 ¾-inch watercolor and pencil on paper was executed circa 1922 and has an estimate of $12,000 to $16,000. It failed to sell.

Another "Suprematist Composition" is Lot 145, a 32-by-19 3/8-inch oil on canvas by Anna Aleksandrovna Kogan (1902-1974). Anna Kogan was a pupil of Malevich from 1919 to 1922 in Vitebsk and she continued to produce her abstract works into the 1930s despite the emergence of social realist works that were more popular politically. This work was executed circa 1924 and has an estimate of $70,000 to $80,000. Its muted palette of orange, greens and browns make it rather somber and makes it pale in comparison with Lot 143 by Chashnik, but it has a totemic quality that harkens to Neo-Primitivism. It failed to sell.

Proun AII" by El Lissitzky

Lot 141, "Proun AII,"by El Lissitzky, black ink, gouache, watercolor and graphite on tan cardboard, 22 by 17 3/4 inches

In the Russian Constructivist group, the stand-out work is Lot 141, "Proun AII," by El Lissitzky (1890-1941), a black ink, gouache, watercolor and graphite on tan cardboard, 22 by 17 3/4 inches, that has a conservative estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It failed to sell.

A label on the back of the work indicates it was executed in 1920. The work bears the following inscription on its reverse: "AII To understand the infinity of the world which surrounds us, we enclose it in the space of the circle, in which all the elements are in a state of balanced rotating motion."

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"As a colleague of Malevich at the Vitebsk Practical Art Institute, El Lissitzky experimented with the geometric possibilities of Suprematism. He became more interested in utilitarian design and concentrated his creative energies in that direction. Feeling that traditional media had become redundant Lissitzky set up a graphic workshop at the Popular School and created his first Proun in 1919.

The catalogue provides the following excerpt from a lecture by Lissitzky at Inkhuk in Moscow on October 23, 1924:

"Proun is the name we have given to the station on the road towards constructing a new form. It grows on earth fertilized by the corpses of the painting and its artist…When we saw that the content of our canvas was no longer a pictorial one, that it had now begun to rotate…we decided to give it an appropriate name. We called it PROUN….The forms with which the Proun makes its assault on space are constructed not from aesthetics, but from material. In the initial stations of the Prouns this material is colour. It is taken as the purest aspect of the energetic state of matter in its material embodiement…The Proun advances towards the creation of a new space, and, by dividing it into the elements of its first, second and third dimensions passing through time, it (the Proun) constructs a polyhedral, but uniform image of nature."

Lot 132 is another Lissitzky, "Proun with cut 4-sided pyramid," a 9 3/4-by-9-inch watercolor over pencil on paper, executed circa 1920, which has a conservative estimate of $18,000 to $20,000. It failed to sell. The catalogue notes that the artist created Prouns as "the interchange station between painting and architecture."

Lot 139 is the design by Lissitzky for the cover of a Proun exhibition catalogue in Hanover, executed in 1923. The 11 3/8-by-9-inch gouache, black ink, pencil and collage on thin gray cardboard, has a conservative estimate of $25,000 to $30,000. It failed to sell.

Dyanamic City by Gustav Klucis

Lot 134, "Dynamic City," by Gustav Klucis, gouache, watercolor and pencil laid down on board, 14 3/4 by 20 7/8 inches, 1920

Lot 134 is a work by Gustav Klucis (1895-1944) in a style not dissimilar to Lissitzky's. Entitled "Dynamic City," it is a 14 3/4-by-20 7/8-inch gouache, watercolor and pencil on paper laid down on board and was executed in 1920. "Klucis," the catalogue notes, "studied art at the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts in Petrograd before moving to Moscow where he joined the Ninth Latvian Infantry in 1918. Following his military service he joined Konstantin Korovin and Anton Pevsner at Vkhutemas and came into contact with Malevich; it was at this time that Klucis began to work on architectural and typographical designs. In 1920…, the artist studied under El Lissitzky who influenced Klucis to look to a new medium to accompany the revolutionary society: typography. Klucis' works from the this period show a close affinity with Suprematism, where three-dimensional geometric figures float in the absolute space of the Suprematist picture plane."

This very lovely work has an estimate of $30,000 to $40,000. It failed to sell.

Another strong Klucis in the auction is Lot 148, an 11 1/2-by-9 1/8-inch watercolor and ink on paper that has an estimate of $8,000 to $10,000. It failed to sell.

Lot 133, "Mother and Child," is an impressive study by Vladimir Tatlin (1885-1953). Executed circa 1912-3, it is a 13 1/2-by-11 7/8-inch oil on canvas and has an estimate of $225,000 to $300,000. It failed to sell.

Tatlin was a Neo-Primitivist in the early years of the century and became one of the founders of Constructivism in Russia.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Tatlin's paintings of this period combined an awareness of Western avant-garde developments with a strong interest in native Russian traditions. He sought to place his work in the context of Russian, not Western, art and did so by integrating native sources of inspiration such as the lubok, the Russian woodcut, and the icon into his paintings. In the present work the image is characteristic of a devotional subject, The Virgin and child. Tatlin has treated the figures in Mother and Child as curvilinear masses, pressed closely to the picture plane clearly reminiscent of icon paintings. His choice of palette also connects him to the spiritual imagery with the subtle gradations of primary colors heightened by white and black, which give the figures substance….Tatlin completed this work prior to his first visit to Paris in either late 1913 or early 1914 where he was introduced to Picasso and Cubism. His work from that point forward evolved into a Constructivist style and he moved away from easel painting choosing instead to construct three-dimensional painterly reliefs."

Lot 129 is an untitled watercolor on paper, 12 1/8 by 8 5/8 inches, executed circa 1920, by Samil Yakovlevich Adlivankin (1897-1966), a student of Tatlin’s.

The catalogue notes the following:

"He briefly adopted a non-objective approach in his own work following the examples of Rodchenko and Popova, but by the 1920s he was fully integrating the neo-primitive style into his creative output which included paintings and graphic designs. His paintings became as known for their crudeness of handling as they did for their directness in message."

The lot has an estimate of $8,000 to $12,000. It sold for $13,800, which includes the buyer’s premium as do all sales results mentioned in this article.

"Forest, Rayonist Composition" by Natalia Goncharova

Lot 136, "Forest, Rayonist Composition," oil on canvas, 23 3/8 by 19 3/4 inches, by Natalia Goncharova

Lot 136 is a work from the same period as the Tatlin, "Forest, Rayonist Composition," a 23 3/8-by-19 3/4-inch oil on canvas by Natalia Goncharova (1881-1962). The quite vigorous composition, which is the back cover illustration of the catalogue, has a conservative estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It failed to sell.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Goncharova was heavily influenced by the writings of Mikhail Larionov. The two together were strong proponents of Neo-primitivism and stressed the importance of denouncing Western art traditions in favor of embracing their Russian national heritage. They sought a more expressive and genuine artistic sensibility. Larionov developed an abstract style of painting that synthesized rhythm, motion and light with Primitivist tendencies and called it Rayism, referring to the result of intersecting light rays that formed when they were independently reflected from the surface of an object. The rays created a powerfully expressive force that shattered the picture plane. An offshoot of Cubism, Futurism and Orphism, Rayism was one of the first non-objective styles of painting in Russia and Goncharova quickly adopted the style. In a speech that she gave in 1913 the artist spoke of her new path: 'To set myself no confines or limitations in the sense of artistic achievements…To fight against the debased and decomposing doctrine of individualism…To draw my artistic inspiration from my country and from the East, so lose to us….' The present work is a fine and rare example of Goncharova's Rayist style. The brilliant colors explode off of the canvas and the barrier between the picture's surface and nature has been eradicated."

An ideal companion piece for the Goncharova painting is Lot 116, "Les Danseurs de Corde," (tightrope walkers), by Raoul Dufy (1877-1953), shown at the top of this article. This is a stunning and very fine gouache, pen and ink on paper laid down on board, 25 ¼ by 19 ¼ inches. Executed in 1922, it has an ambitious but deserved estimate of $200,000 to $300,000 and the great curved lines of the tightrope walkers’ umbrellas create a very dynamic composition that will come as a great surprise to aficionados of Dufy. It failed to sell.

Another fine surprise is Lot 119, "Children at Play," a 17 ¾-by-24 3/8-inch watercolor and black chalk on paper by Edvard Munch (1863-1944). The work has been exhibited widely in major museums in a 1957-8 traveling exhibition. An asymmetrical composition, its subject matter is much more low-keyed than the artist’s normal dramatic works, but this work has a delightful fluidity and a modest estimate of $100,000 to $150,000 given the artist’s stature and importance. It failed to sell.

This auction is also highlighted by a lovely group of small sculptures by Alexander Archipenko (1887-1964). Lot 131, for example, is a fine 13 ½-inch high bronze sculpture with green patina of a woman combing her hair, done in the artist’s fine, soft Cubist style. The catalogue states that the work was "conceived in 1914." It has an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. It failed to sell.

"Geometric Statuette" by Archipenko

Lot 171, "Geometric Statuette," bronze, 26 3/4 inches high, 1914, by Archipenko

Lot 135 is a lyrical chromium-plated bronze, 20 inches long, signed and dated "Archipenko 1935, and it has an estimate of only $40,000 to $50,000. It failed to sell. Lot 140 is a similar, but vertical piece, 14 ¼ inches high, signed and dated "Archipenko 1914" and it has an estimate of $30,000 to $40,000. It failed to sell. Lot 151, "Egyptian Motif," is a 13 ¼-inch high bronze with dark green patina that is signed and dated "Archipenko 1917 and has an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. It failed to sell. Lot 171, "Geometric Statuette," is a 26 ¾-inch high bronze statue, signed and dated "Archipenko Paris 1914" and has an estimate of $30,000 to $40,000. It failed to sell.

This cluster of five luscious and quite fine statuettes by Archipenko look fabulous as a group. Archipenko did many larger works, but they have seldom appeared on the auction block in recent years.

"Ghosties" by Lyonel Feininger

Lot 164, "Ghosties," by Lyonel Feininger

Another major artist who has a delightful group of four small works in this auction is Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956), a superbly consistent and fine artist. The works are Lots 163-6 and they all have modest estimates and have been consigned by Erica Feininger. Lot 164, "Ghosties," shown above, has an estimate of only $5,000 to $7,000. It sold for $4,600.

The catalogue notes at its back that the auction house has "a financial interest, which may be an advance, a price guarantee and/or ownership interest in the following lots: 127, 11, 35, 140, 151, 168, 171, 173, 174, 175 and 176. Some press reports have noted that Christie’s and Sotheby’s indicate similar interests with a symbol on the same page as the lot, rather than a short paragraph in the back. The short paragraph in the back is of more use as the symbols used by the other auction houses are too discrete and they do not have an overall list as Phillips does of such lots.

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

See The City Review article on the Nov. 8, 2000 evening auction of Impressionist & Modern Art at Christie's

See The City Review Article on the Nov. 9, 2000 evening auction of Impressionist & Modern Art at Sotheby's


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