By Carter B. Horsley
Although Phllips de Pury & Luxembourg garned
enormous attention when it was consigned the Smooke Collection
of more than 70 Impressionist and Modern Art paintings and sculptures
(see The City Review article) for
this fall season, Christie's won the consignment of the smaller
but no less impressive collection of Surrealist and Modern Art
of René Gaffé, a Belgium perfume magnate who died
in 1966 and whose widow, xxxxx, who died in 2000, put the collection
up for auction to benefit the United Nations Children's Relief
The Gaffé collection comprised the first
25 lots of the 64 offering at this evening auction. The Gaffé
works had a pre-sale high estimate of about $40 million. All the
Gaffé lots sold for an astounding total of $73,325,775!
The remaining 39 lots in the auction fared less well with 15 not
being sold. The sales total for the entire auction was $108,900,000,
not too far below its pre-sale high estimate of $118,000,000.
The auction was one of the liveliest in many
years with many active bidders both in the packed room and on
the telephone. Lot 9, "Le Moteur," by Fernand Léger
(1881-1955), shown above, set a world record for the artist of
$16,726,000, including the buyer's premium as do all prices mentioned
in this article, more than four times its low estimate. The crowd
burst into applause when Christopher Burge finally knocked his
gavel down after recognizing more than 10 different bidders willing
to pay millions of dollars for this very fine, impressive and
colorful work. The 54 by 46 1/2-inch oil on canvas was painted
The highlight of the auction, however, came
a few lots later when "Danseuse Espagnole," Lot 16,
shown above, by Joan Miró (1893-1983) sold after a very
protracted bidding battle for $8,916,000 in what had to be the
funniest performance by an auctioneer ever. Mr. Burge has long
been a grand master at this high-stakes game with a fine and beguiling
wit, but here for once he was flummoxed by the dogged determination
of a couple of bidders who tested the patience of the attendees
and Mr. Burge to the limits in what was probably the longest auction
of an individual lot in the memory of those present.
A great auctioneer is able to finesse and cajole
his audience to bid, but Mr. Burgee's exasperation in extracting
bids from the two major telephone bidders was hilarious. "Slow,
but effective," he murmured early in the bidding war. "What
can you be talking about?" he soon demanded of one of the
auction house staff who was standing to his right speaking on
the phone with a bidder. The staff member had his right hand place
on the edge of the dais he was standing behind along with a couple
of offer staffers also working the phones. As the bidding proceeding,
his hand would slide forward, towards Mr. Burge, along the edge
of the dais making him begin to crouch and bend forward a bit.
His hand would then rise slightly and slowly off the dais, attracting
Mr. Burge's attention, but its motion was tentative and cautious
and uncertain while the staffer kept talking with the bidder.
"Come on," Mr. Burge insisted. The staffer's hand would
then move upwards a bit but then be pulled in towards his chest
and then the fingers would be raised in a plea for more time.
Mr. Burge stared him down and finally the staffer would extend
his arm outwards and signal a bid and Mr. Burge would then instantly
turn to the other telephone bank where the other contestant was
much quicker to respond with yet another bid. "We have a
few lots to do," Mr. Burge blurted out, almost at a loss
of words after incanting several times the most recent bid. In
the mid-millions, the bidding rose only $100,000 at a time, but
at one point the recalcitrant bidder permitted the staffer to
"jump" the bid a couple of hundred of thousand dollars,
which brought forth a burst of applause from the curious and fascinated
audience. "Give me 8 million," Mr. Burgee demanded a
few minutes later hoping to move the bids along at bigger jumps,
but the bidders reverted back to smaller increments. "I'm
going to sell it," Mr. Burge said with resignation, and eventually
the lot sold for $8,916,000, but not to the agonized staffer whose
gesturing while not balletic was highly theatrical. At the news
conference after the auction, Mr. Burge announced that he thought
he must have won "the Guinness record for selling the longest
lot." The charcoal, colored crayon, pastel, sanguine, white
chalk and pencil on primed (blanc de Meudon) canvas, 94 1/4 by
58 5/8 inches, was executed in 1924 and had an estimate of $5,000,000
Lot 16 was one of three major Mirós
in the Gaffé collection and proved to be the "cheapest."
Lot 14, shown above, "Portrait of Mme. K," is a similar
work of art painted the same year as Lot 16 but only 45 3/4 by
35 7/8 inches. It had once been in the collection of Max Ernst
and had an estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000. It sold for $12,656,00,
a world auction record for the artist. "Wow," exclaimed
Mr. Burge after bringing down his gavel on the lot.
Lot 18, the third Miró, sold for $11,006,000,
apparently to the frustrated bidder on Lot 14 who also had battled
for Lot 16. Entitled "Paysage sur les bords du fleuve Amour,"
it was a more "conventional work by this founder of Surrealism
and much less complex than the other two works. It was an oil
and encaustic on canvas that measured 51 1/8 by 77 inches and
was executed in 1927 and was more colorful and a bit more lyrical
and less intellectual than the other two Mirós. It had
an estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000.
One of the most beautiful works in the Gaffé
Collection was Lot 6, "Femme au Chapeau Rose et Collier de
Perles," shown above, by Jean Metzinger (1883-1956). The
painting is an oil on canvas that measures 36 1/4 by 25 5/8 inches
and was executed in 1912. It is one of the most accessible Cubist
paintings with its bright palette and the flourish of gray feathers
in the woman's hat. It had a most estimate of $300,000 to $400,000
and sold for $644,000.
While the Léger was clearly the most
attractive lot in the auction and the two early Mirós the
most intellectual, the most important painting in the auction
was Lot 5, shown above, "Etude pour 'Nu dans une foret"
or "Etude pour 'La Dryade,' a 1908 work by Pablo Picasso
(1881-1973). The 24 1/8-by-14 1/2-inch gouache, black ink and
pencil on paper laid down on board laid down on cradled panel
was executed a year after Picasso completed his famous "Les
Demoiselles d'Avignon" and is study for work in the Hermitage
Museum in St. Petersburg. This is an extremely powerful work and
it was estimated for $4,000,000 to $6,000,000 and sold for $6,826,000
and was once in the collection of Gertrude Stein.
Another very important Gaffé Picasso
is Lot 7, "Tête de femme (Fernande)," a 16 1/8-inch
high bronze sculpture. The original clay model was executed in1909
and this version was cast in a small edition for Ambroise Vollard
shortly afterwards, according to the catalogue. It had an estimate
of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000 and sold for $4,956,000, a world auction
record for a sculpture by the artist.
Lot 11, "Buste de femme a La Chemise,"
is a nice oil on canvas, 21 3/4 by 18 1/8 inches, by Picasso that
was executed in 1922. It had an estimate of $3,000,000 to $5,000,000
and sold for $6,826,000.
A very fine, small, neo-Classical-style Picasso
is Lot 50, "Trois Femmes a La Fontaine," an oil on canvas,
7 5/8 by 9 1/2 inches, that was painted in 1921 and is not part
of the Gaffé Collection. It had an estimate of $1,400,000
to $1,800,000. This handsome work, which is shown above, was once
in the collection of the Norton Simon Foundation in Pasadena,
California, and it was not sold and "passed" at $850,000.
An earlier and very sweet, small Picasso oil
on canvas, "Germaine," Lot 46, shown above, had an estimate
of $400,000 to $600,000. The 8 1/2-by-6-inch oil was painted in
1900 and was once in the collection of Justin K. Thannhauser and
sold for $831,000.
The most important non-Gaffé work in
the auction was Lot 26, "Deux Negresses," a superb,
18 1/4-inch bronze sculpture by Henri Matisse (1869-1954), number
7 of an edition of 10, that was conceived in 1907 and completed
in 1908 and this bronze version was cast circa 1930. It had an
estimate of $8,000,000 to $10,000,000 and sold for $7,596,000.
The work was influenced by Gauguin and was most likely based on
a photograph in an ethnological magazine.
The auction had two very fine floral still
lifes by Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904), Lots 28 and 41. The
former, shown above, was formerly in the collection of William
S. Paley and is a 18 1/4-by-15 3/4-inch oil on canvas that was
painted in 1883. An unusually bright and exquisite work by this
superb painter, the painting, entitled "Roses," had
an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000 and sold for $611,000.
The latter, show above, Lot
41, is entitled "Nature morte (Dahlias dans un vase vert)"
and is a 20 1/4-by-19 1/4-inch oil on canvas that was executed
in 1868. It had an estimate of $1,200,000 to $1,800,000 and was
unsold and "passed" at $950,000.
Works by Edvard Munch (1863-1944) are very
rare at auction and Lot 47 is a large and very beautiful "Madonna,"
an oil on canvas, 39 5/8 by 27 3/4 inches, that was executed circa
1895. The catalogue's entry provides the following commentary:
"Munch's images of the Madonna are among
the most haunting and evocative female icons in the history of
European art. Originally conceived in Berlin between 1893 and
1894, the figure of Munch's Madonna stands aat the crossroads
between the symbolist art of the late nineteenth century and the
modernism of the early twentieth century. The Madonna encapsulates
all of the ambivalence that exists between fear and desire in
a single instantly memorable and resonant image. Munch's Madonna
is an embodiment of the mystic nature of life and an evocation
of the miracle of existence infused with love and expressive emotion..
Munch's intent was to present "Woman" from the point
of view of her lover at the moment she conceives a new life within."
The are four other versions of this work, which had an estimate
of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000 and sold for $2,866,000.
Another equally rare and important artist is
Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) and Lot 48, shown above, is one of his
landscapes and was painted in 1900. Entitled "Baernhaus mit
Kirkin," it is a 31 5/8-inch square canvas and had and estimate
of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000. It failed to sell and was "passed"
at $4,600,000. The painting hung for many years at the Austrian
Belvedere in Vienna and was seized by the Nazis and later returned
to the heirs of its rightful owners.
Another highlight of the auction was Lot 43,
"Ma Mere a Normandie," a large and brightpainting of
the artist's mother seweing beside a tall window in Normandy,
by Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940). The painting had an estimate
of $900,000 to $1,200,000 and was "passed" at $650,000.
Lot 38, shown above, "Danseuse au Tambouri,"
is a pleasant small oil by Edgar Degas (18834-1917) that measures
13 by 16 1/8 inches. Executed circa 1897, it had an estimate of
$800,000 to $1,200,000, but sold for only $611,000.
The auction had two excellent examples of the
work of Paul Signac (1863-1935), Lots 37 and 45. Signac is currently
the subject of a major exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of
Art and both these lots compare very favorably with many of the
best in that show.
Lot 37, shown above, is entitled "Moulin
d'Edam," and is a 25 3/4-by-32-inch oil on canvas that was
painted in 1896. It had an estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000
and sold for $633,000.
The other Signac, Lot 45, "Le Pont de
Viviers," shown above, is a 28 3/4-by-36 1/4-inch oil on
canvas. Executed in 1928, it had an estimate of $700,000 to $900,000
and was "passed" at $550,000!
Given the remarkably strong showing of the
Gaffé pictures, the rest of the auction was suprisingly
soft. Certainly the auction must be considered a resounding success.
Fifteen paintings sold for more than a million dollars each and
28 sold for more than their high estimates. Geographically, 49
percent of the buyers were American, 42 percent were European,
2 percent were Asian, and 6 were "other."
Mr. Burge explained the "extraordinary"
and "thrilling" results as a reflection of the great
quality of many of the works that were "fresh to the market,"
adding that "there is an enormous hunger for top quality
works. "It's very hard to say what effect if any September
11, 2001 had," he said, adding that "the appetite of
collectors for quality has not changed."