By Carter B. Horsley
Still shrouded by the unsettled investigation
into its fee-fixing policies that has led to the resignation of
its president, Diane Brooks, and its chairman, Alfred Taubman,
Sothebys first major auction of the fall season has some
pleasant works but is lacking in blockbusters.
Its star lot is a large painting of a girl
reading in a garden by Edouard Manet (1832-1883). Painted in 1880,
this 60 1/2-by-46-inch oil on canvas has a very ambitious estimate
of $20,000,000 to $30,000,000. It sold for $20,905,750 including
the buyer's premium as do all sales prices in this article. The
womans collar is very nicely painted but the rest of the
large painting, including her face, is quite sketchy and while
impressionistic it is not a masterpiece.
The catalogue notes that Berthe Morisot identified
the woman in the painting as Mademoiselle Marguerite, an American
who was the sister-in-law of Manets friend Jules Guillemet,
the owner of a fashionable shop at 19, rue du Faubourg-St. Honoré.
The setting is a garden of a house in Bellevue near Paris that
Manet rented in 1880.
The following commentary on the painting comes
from the catalogue:
"The spirited technique of Jeune Fille
dans un Jardin contributes significantly o the appeal of the
painting. In certain areas, especially the background, the open,
rapidly executed brushwork creates a decorative, quasi-abstract
effect that is extremely effective as a foil or the comparatively
unbroken rich fields of dark blue created b the figures
hat an clothing. As in many of Manets greatest paintings,
the artist blurs the distinction between the illusionistic purposes
of his brushstrokes and the pure visual delight of paint manipulated
primarily for the pleasure of the eye. Jeune Fille dans un
Jardin is simultaneously a large and monumental composition,
and a work of great immediacy and spontaneity. It takes its place
at the end of a significant sequence of variations on the theme
of women in gardens or rural settings that were treated by Monet
., and Manet in the 1860s, 1870s, and 1990s. Many
of these paintings, particularly the present work, offer images
that are both portraits of individuals and subjects from modern
life. Moreover, this exceptional canvas is indisputable confirmation
of the assessment of Manets work offered by Mallarmé
in 1876: Now Manet and his school use simple colour, fresh,
or lightly laid on, and their results appear to have been attained
a the first stroke, that the ever-present light blends with and
vivifies all things. As t the details of the picture, nothing
should be absolutely fixed in order that we may feel that the
bright gleam which lights the picture, or the diaphanous shadow
which veils it, are only seen in passing, and just when the spectator
beholds the represented subject, which being composed of a harmony
of reflected and ever-changing lights, cannot be supposed always
to look the same, but palpitates with movement, light and life."
Mallarmés comments are apropos
for this work, whose brushwork does in many passages palpitate
"with movement, light and life," and the notion of a
woman in a dark blue dress with bright white collar in a dense
garden setting is fine, but this is not a supreme Impressionist
work, especially when compared with lot 32, "Cache-cache,"
by Berthe Morisot (1841-1895).
Lot 32 is one of several works consigned to
this auction by the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art, "a state-of-the-art
exhibition venue located in the heart of the prestigious and elegant
Bellagio in Las Vegas," the catalogue notes. The Bellagio,
of course, is a relatively new casino created by Steven Wynn,
who became a major art buyer in the 1990s and acquired this work
at the May 10, 1999 auction at Sothebys where it had been
consigned by the estate of Mr. And Mrs. John Hay Whitney.
The exquisite oil on canvas, 19 ¼ by
21 ¾ inches, whose title means "hide-and-seek,"
was painted in 1873 and has an estimate of $3,250,000 to $5,000,000.
It sold for $4,405,750, a world auction record for the artist,
and Charles S. Moffet of Sotheby's remarked that it was quite
remarkable for a work to reappear at auction so soon and do better,
adding that "quality rules." It is a supreme Impressionist
Another very fine work from the same consignor
is Lot 33, "Le Jardin dEssai à Alger,"
a 31 ½-by-25 ½-inch oil on canvas, executed in 1881
by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919). This explosively and colorful
work exudes heat with its vibrant brushwork and long brushstrokes,
and is an excellent indication of why an major exhibition should
be mounted on Renoirs landscapes as they are in many cases
more interesting than his nudes and portraits. This work has an
estimate of $4,500,000 to $6,000,000, which probably reflects
the fact that this is quite an aggressive work that might not
suit all Renoir lovers. It was passed at $3,500,000. The
work was once in the collection of George Vanderbilt of New York
and as acquired by Bellagio from the Acquavella Galleries, Inc.
of New York.
A more conventional Renoir is Lot 26, "La
Jeune Fille Au Cygne," a 30-by-24-inch oil on canvas, executed
in 1886. With its yellow and while palette, this is a superb and
lyrical Renoir. The young girls face is finely detailed
but Renoir has quite boldly painted her dress and the heron in
the background. The work was once in the collection of Mr. and
Mrs. Dunbar W. Bostwick of New York. It has an estimate of 5,000,000
to $7,000,000. It was passed at $4,200,000 and had sold at
Christie's Nov. 13, 1997 for $5,100,000.
Lot 34 is a very strong portrait of Paul Guillaume
by Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920) that was acquired by Bellagio
at a Christies auction Nov. 13, 1996 and had formerly been
in the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Harold Uris of New York. The
20 ¾-by-14 5/8-inch oil on canvas was painted in 1916 and
has an estimate of $3,500,000 to $5,000,000. It sold for $4,625,000.
It had last sold at Christie's Nov. 13, 1996 for $3,100,000.
Another Modigliani being offered by the Bellagio is Lot 35, "Paysage
du Midi," a 24-by-1 1/8-inch oil on canvas, executed in 1919,
that is quite interesting and has a conservative estimate of $1,500,000
to $2,000,000. It sold for $1,655,750.
Lot 38, "Fillette Assise en Robe,"
is a 36 1/2-by-23 7/8-inch oil on canvas painted by 1918 by Modigliani
that has a quite ambitious estimate of $8,000,000 to $12,000,000
and is not terribly exciting. It sold for $15,625,750, not
far from the world's auction record for the artist of $16,777,500.
The painting had sold at Sotheby's in 1988 for $8,100,000. A
bit more appealing is another Modigliani, "Tête de
Jeune Fille," Lot 44, a 26 1/8-by-19 7/8-inch oil on canvas,
executed in 1916, which carries a $4,000,000 to $6,000,000 estimate.
It passed at $3,400,000 and had sold for $4,300,000 at Christie's
June 21, 1993.
Lot 30, on the other hand, is a magnificent
portrait by Edgar Degas (1834-1917) that is extremely compelling.
The 15 3/8-inch square pastel laid down on the artists board
was executed circa 1885 and has an estimate of $4,000,000 to $5,000,000.
It was passed at $3,400,000. In 1990, the painting sold for
$2,300,000 at Sotheby's.
The catalogue provides the following commentary:
"In this work Degas deftly orchestrated
the relationship between figure and space, eliminating all background
referents and forcing the viewer to focus on the subject, Zacharie
Zacharian, an Armenian artist who exhibited at the Salons and
was known as a still-life painter. Writing on this work, Jean
Sutherland Boggs has commented: In this pastel in which
Degas has drawn Zacharians bowler hat as wonderfully dapper,
his bushy brows raised with a certain distinction, his nostrils
dilated with a certain hauteur, his beard and mustache as exquisitely
barbered, all giving an impression of an aristocratic security,
exposes some weaknesses
in the unfocused eyes,
the worn Malacca cane with its silver top and in particular in
the short, ashy cigarette butt between his fingers
Degas had drawn loose strokes of a blue pastel or a background,
giving no indication of a specific setting, he seems to have used
a brush to indicate a horizontal whiff of smoke to the left of
Zacharians head, just brushing over a contour of his cheek,
and appearing again to the right of his ear and carried vertically
to the top of the sheet
.Although the color is controlled
and isolated in large patches in most of this pastel, Degas does
break out into the most superb bravura performance in the head
itself. Using stokes of many colors in a network of hatching,
he models its distinguished planes with great refinement, making
us able to feel the structure of the nose or the temple, see the
faint blue shadow by an eye, respond to the vitality of copper-colored
hairs in his beard. He just have done with pure, dry pastel, whereas
in some of the other areas he could have moistened the pastel
with water or some other medium.
Absinthe, perhaps, if they were seated with
Or with Pierre-Auguste Renoirs
older brother, Pierre-Henri Renoir, whose portrait by Renoir is
very strong. This portrait, Lot 25, is a 31 7/8-by-25 ¼-inch
oil on canvas, executed in 1870. It has an estimate of $3,000,000
to $4,000,000. It was passed at $2,400,000. While it is
more conventional than the Degas portrait, it is interesting in
the casual pose of the brother who is seated with one hand in
his pants pocket.
Perhaps both sitters were contemplating a day
at the races such as depicted in Lot 7, "Les Entraineurs,"
a 15 1/8-by-34 7/8-inch pastel on paper laid down on card affixed
to canvas. Executed circa 1892-4, this Degas pastel has an estimate
of $6,000,000 to $8,000,000 and is one of a series of three pastels
in a frieze format. It passed at $3,500,000. One of the
others is known as "Jockeys" and is in the collection
of the Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, Conn., and the other is
"Chevaux de courses" and is in the Pushkin Museum in
Moscow. The three pictures do not seem to have identical dimensions
and also do not seem to form a complete composition.
The catalogue notes that "in his depictions
of equestrian subjects as in his many scenes from the world of
ballet and opera, Degas moved from the precise delineation of
complex arrangements of figure in space to a much broader, more
atmospheric approach." Indeed, in this and many of his ballet
figures, Degass compositions are quite interesting in their
lack of symmetry and unusual angles.
In temperament, Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947)
shares much with the aesthetic of Degas as can be observed in
Lot 50, "Le Col Vert Ou Jeune Femme Au Paravent," a
17 5/8-by-20 1/8-inch oil on canvas, executed circa 1920.
The catalogue provides the following description
of this absorbing portrait:
"Le Col Vert
stands apart from many
of the related works in the very modern and abstract approach
to the composition. The screen to the right and the wall behind
form a colored field of vertical and horizontal bands, which,
though freely painted, divide the canvas into areas of related
proportions. The figure is contained within the right two-thirds
of the composition and her form crosses over the three horizontal
bands of the background. Without the figure, the composition is
two-dimensional and the space between the screen and wall non-existent.
Her presence creates the perception of depth behind her. This
highly subtle play of color, form and geometry, makes of this
simple subject a composition of unexpected complexity and richness."
The lot has a conservative estimate of $400,000
to $600,000. It sold for $401,750.
Pablo Picassos "Le Repos,"
Lot 37, is a very striking, simple and strong portrait of Marie-Thérèse
Walter with her head facing upwards, at rest, or asleep. The 18-inch-square
oil on canvas was done in 1932 and has an estimate of $3,000,000
to $4,000,000. It sold for $7,925,750 and had previously sold
at Christie's in London in 1991 for $2.4 million.
While Lot 37 has considerable sweetness, Lot
40, "Femme à La Collerette," is a 1938 portrait
of the same woman that has an estimate of $4,500,000 to $6,500,000
and is Picasso at his more extreme and less sympathetic. It
sold for $4,995,750. Its angular aggressive is considered
softened however by the womans pale pink blouse and the
bright yellows of her large hat. The catalogue describes this
work as "one of the most appealing and alluring of Picassos
many portraits of Marie-Thérèse Walter."
One of the sales highlights is Lot 39,
"La Robe Persane," a 32-by-25 5/8-inch oil on canvas
executed in 1940 by Henri Matisse (1869-1954), a very classic
Matisse of bright colors, strong brushwork and lively composition.
It has a conservative estimate of $9,000,000 to $12,000,000. It
sold for $17,055,750, far exceeding the previous world auction
record for the artist of $14,852,500. David Norman of Sotheby's
remarked after the auction that this painting sold at Sotheby's
in 1991 for $4.5 million.
Lot 9, "En Bateau, Le Bain," is a
32-by-25 ½-inch oil on canvas by Mary Cassatt (1845-1926)
that has a much richer and more saturated palette than most of
her works and is very nicely painted, but is nowhere near as exciting
as some of her better works. It has an ambitious estimate of $2,500,000
to $3,500,000. It sold for $1,985,750.
Despite the presence of so many portraits,
the auction has an interesting selection of landscapes.
Lot 2, for example, is a very fine and unusual
landscape by Camille Pissarro (1830-1929). Entitled "Chaumieres
à Auvers, pres de Pontoise," it is a 23 5/8-by-28
5/8-inch pastel and gouache on paper laid down on two sheets of
paper supported by a blind canvas. Pissarros pastels generally
are much freer in their brushwork than his oils and this is a
fine example and the asymmetrical composition gives the work a
great deal of vitality. It has a conservative estimate of $700,000
to $900,000. It sold for $1,930,750.
Pissarro is perhaps best known for his impressionistic
scenes of Paris, but Lot 4, "Paysage avec rochers, Montfoucault,"
is an extremely fine landscape that is one of the artists
finest works. The 25 ¾-by-36 3/8-inch oil on canvas was
executed in 1874 and has a conservative estimate of $2,000,000
to $3,000,000. It sold for $3,305,750. The limited palette
and dense composition are atypical of much of Pissarros
oeuvre, but give the work a fine "overcast" atmosphere,
but one in which each tree and rock seem to stand out.
Another Pissarro, Lot 8, "La Prairie de
Berneval, Matin," is a wonderful composition that is full
of morning light and an excellent landscape composition that has
a fine sense of depth. The 25 ¾-by-32-inch oil on canvas
was executed in 1900 and has a conservative estimate of $800,000
to $1,000,000. It was passed for $450,000.
One cannot these days have a major Impressionist
sale without a Monet and this auction has a couple. Lot 10, "Antibes
vue de la Salis," is a 26-by-34 ¼-inch oil on canvas,
dated 88. It is one of several lots consigned by the Ronne and
Joseph S. Wohl Collection and it was at one time in the collection
of the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a bequest from Mrs. Julia
W. Emmons of Rhode Island and was subsequently acquired by Sam
Salz, Inc. The painting is one in a series of four that Monet
executed from the Garden of La Salis, on the edge of the Plateau
de la Garoupe and in the distance is the tower of the Grimaldi
Castle. This is the earliest in the series and the dawn light
has not yet illuminated the trees. A typical, but not great Monet,
this attractive work has an ambitious estimate of $5,000,000 to
$7,000,000. It sold for $5,065,750.
Lot 24, which is the catalogue covers
illustration, is another Monet. Entitled "Matinee sur La
Seine," the 35 3/8-by-36 ½-inch oil on canvas is dated
96 and has an ambitious estimate of $7,000,000 to $9,000,000.
It sold for $5,725,750. The catalogue maintains that this
Monet series "is one of his most sublime and refined groups
of paintings. Moreover, the strong interest in reflection imagery,
light effects, rhythms, and tonal harmonies identifies it as a
harbinger of the first of the Water Lilies series that followed
only a few years later." It added that this series of paintings
"were started in a flat-bottomed boat that Monet had adapted
as a floating studio, but they were finished in the studio."
The catalogue reproduces more other versions including ones in
the Art Institute of Chicago, another n the Museum of Fine Arts
in Boston and one in the Hiroshima [Japan] Museum of Art.
A more interesting work is Lot 27, a landscape
by Paul Cézanne, painted circa 1991. The 18-by-21 ¾-inch
oil on canvas has a conservative estimate of $1,250,000 to $1,750,000.
It was passed at $750,000. The catalogue notes that "A
careful examination of the upper portion of the canvas, suggests
that Cézanne painted this picture on top of another work"
that shows through faintly. The traces of the original work, however,
give the painting a rather fascinating and ghostly air, especially
since the middle section of houses are painted quite strongly
and Cézanne had begun to cover up the sky with blue-gray
strokes. The overall impact of the existing work is very strong.
Only 36 of the 60 offered lots sold for
a total of $123,055,000. While a few works such as the Matisse,
the Morisot, one of the Modigliani and one of the Picassos did
very well, this was the third consecutive major Impressionist
& Modern Art sale this season that had a very high number
of unsold lots, including many that were quite fine paintings
and not unreasonably priced. Executives at all the auction houses,
Sotheby's, Christie's and Phillips, tried to explain the pretty
poor showing by arguing that the highest quality lots continued
to have a very strong market but that the marketplace was becoming
much more selective in works of lesser quality and that high estimates,
influenced by "competitive pressures," need to be reviewed
more carefully in the future. The estimates, however, were not
especially high in comparison with the past couple of seasons.
At the post-sale press conference, David
Norman of Sotheby's said there was a lot of "post-sale interest
and we feel we will have a lot of activity, a second life."
Mr. Moffett noted that there was "a little bit of nervousness"
in the market, but defended the estimates as "reasonable"
and said that the market was "very well informed."
This auction seemed to have a bit more active
bidding in the auction room than the Christie's sale, but the
number of buy-ins remains unsettling and an indication that the
market, which has been on a torrid ride upwards, may not only
be slowing down but may also have peaked despite the few major