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The Smooke Collection


Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg

Monday, November 5, 2001, 7 PM

Sale NY856


Nathan and Marion Smooke

Nathan and Marion Smooke in catalogue photograph


By Carter B. Horsley

This collection of 72 late 19th and early 20th Century paintings and sculptures from the collection of Nathan and Marion Smooke, shown above in a catalogue photograph, will be the most closely watched auction of the 2001 fall season, and not just because it happens to be the first major night sale of the fall auction season.

This group of artworks is extraordinarily high in quality and is one of the finest "single-owner" auctions in decades. The collection was also sought by Sotheby's and Christie's, but Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg won the rights to auction it and according to a November 1, 2001 article in The New York Times by Carol Vogel "people close to the negotiations said the auction house had given the Smooke heirs a $185 million guarantee, far more than the $80 million to $100 million estimate experts at Phillips have now put on the collection.

The sale realized a total of $86,193,700 including buyers' premiums and had a low pre-sale estimate of $80,278,000 and a high estimate of $115,340,000. At a news conference after the sale, Mr. de Pury described published reports of the amount of the guarantee as inaccurate and said that the auction has "absolutely thrilled" with the "fantastic" results. He declined to comment on whether the auction house had made a "profit" on the sale but noted that the sale had tripled the results of last season that had tripled the results of the prior season and he maintained that the auction house was "lean" and noted that only 6 of 45 lots in the forthcoming contemporary art auction had "financial" arrangements.

More than 93 percent of the 72 offered lots in this auction sold, thirty above their high estimates, an extremely good result. "Clearly, we were concerned....there was a question mark for all of us how the market would react," Mr. de Pury remarked, adding that the auction set five world auction records for artists and that the Hoener Collection auction held earlier in the day at Phillips had set seven artists' records.

Not only does Phillips, which has been extremely aggressive recently in the auction business, have a lot at stake, but the art market in general for the nation's economy had been deteriorating prior to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that have further exacerbated the economy and created tremendous uncertainty in many markets.

Although it does not have many "knock-outs" for ambitious collectors seeking popular, crowd-pleasing names regardless of the quality, this collection is mostly "world-class museum" stuff, which is quite remarkable given the fact that it was collected in a relatively short period and not too long ago.

Of the 72 works being offered, more than 25 are exquisite and the envy of most sophisticated connoisseurs, and many of the others are quite excellent. Given the high quality and rarity of many of the works offered, the auction is likely to fare better than those that follow and should be quite successful despite the uncertainties of the market, which may well seriously impact other sales, especially as "single-collector" auctions have generally fared better than general auctions in recent years.

"Neither systematic nor programmatic in character," observed Charles Millard, the retired director of the Ackland Art Museum at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and former chief curator of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., in his introductory catalogue essay on the collection, "the Smooke Collection abounds in challenging and interesting works that only someone with a feeling for intriguing individual objects, as opposed to movements or representative ranges of historical material, could have put together. Not least surprising is that the great majority of the works in it were assembled in roughly a decade, between the mid-1970's and the mid-1980s."

Portrait de Femme, Dans Le Rat Mort by Vlaminck

Lot 5, "Portrait de Femme, Dans Le Rat Mort," by Maurice de Vlaminck, a 24 ½-by17 7/8-inch oil on board, 1905-6

One of the collection's most vibrant works is Lot 5, "Portrait de Femme, Dans Le Rat Mort," by Maurice de Vlaminck (1876-1958). This 24 1/2-by17 7/8-inch oil on board was painted circa 1905-6 and is sensational. Vlaminck tended to create works predominated by one bold color, usually green, but occasionally, as here, bright red. This portrait of a lovely woman with a red coat, white scarf and blue hat is very close to the best work of Vincent Van Gogh. Vlaminck's early work was very good and he was important Fauvist before he fell into a rut of dark green landscapes of little distinction. This painting has a slightly ambitious estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000 given the artist's level of fame, but it is a great picture. It sold for $3,412,500 including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article.

"Das Rathaus von Swinemunde" by Lyonel Feininger

Lot 26, "Das Rathaus von Swinemünde," a 28 ¾-by-23 ¼-inch oil on canvas, by Lyonel Feininger, 1912

Perhaps the finest work is Lot 26, "Das Rathaus von Swinemünde," a 28 3/4-by-23 1/4-inch oil on canvas by Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956). One of his early masterpieces, it is notable for its interesting distortions and bold palette. Feininger's work has long been overlooked and in this work he demonstrates the same dreamlike quality of Marc Chagall, both of whom predate the wild imaginations of the Surrealists. Feininger is best known for his delicate abstractions of marine scenes and urban landscapes, but his early works are extremely vibrant with wonderful exaggerations.

Mr. Millard notes that the Feininger painting, shown above, which was executed in 1912, is "an astringent, unexpected and entirely impressive work from relatively early in the artist's career, rather than the more superficially attractive, somewhat etiolated later painting or watercolor many would have chosen."

It had an estimate of $1,800,000 to $2,500,000 and sold for $3,302,500.

This auction and another held earlier the same day at Phillips abound in excellent examples of German Expressionist art. The earlier auction (see The City Review article) is also a "single-owner" sale and has 49 works from the collection of Diethelm Hoerner, a German investment banker who died this year. Mr. Smooke was the president of Wellman Properties, an industrial real estate company, and a founding board member of the Los Angeles County Museum, which showed his collection in 1987. Mr. Smooke died in 1991.

Both the Smooke and Hoerner collections are likely to provide rich fodder for the Neue Gallerie of German Expressionist Art, the new museum founded by Serge Sabarsky and Ronald Lauder that will open later this month at 1048 Fifth Avenue on the southeast corner at 86th Street. Indeed, that museum bought Max Beckmann's "Self Portrait with Horn" last May 19 for $22,555,750, a world record price for the artist and for German Expressionist art.

According to Mr. de Pury, the Neue Gallerie acquired two works from the Hoener sale and Daniella Luxembourg of Phillips said that it bought one lot at the Smooke auction, Lot 38, an exquisite gold-plated silver sculpture by Oskar Schlemmer (1888-1943), that had an estimateof $50,000 to $70,000 and sold for $96,000. The lot, entitled "Groteske," is an exquisite, 21 ¼-inch high sculpture that was executed in wood in 1923 and then cast in bronze in 1964. It was was formerly in the collections of Serge Sabarsky Gallery and Saul P. Steinberg.

The Smooke Collection has many fine German Expressionist works and a superb Beckman, shown below.

"Austernesserinnen" by Max Beckmann

Lot 27, "Austernesserinnen," by Max Beckmann, a 37 1/2-by-21 7/8-inch oil on canvas, 1943

Indeed, one could argue that Lot 27, "Austernesserinnen," a 37 1/2-by-21 7/8-inch oil on canvas, painted in 1943 is a more enjoyable Beckmann than the one sold last spring at Sotheby's (see The City Review article), and it has a quite modest estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. It sold for $3,522,500.

The catalogue provides the following commentary on this lot:

"Austernesserinnen presents an ambiguous scene of bourgeois leisure that was typical of Beckmann's work during World War II.Ostensibly an image of pleasure, this potentially buoyant subject is undermined by the shadowy profile that lurks in the rear doorway. As a possible self-portrait, this marginalized figure may present Beckmann's war-time exile from a life of leisure. Regardless of the figure's precise identity, this dark presence also lends an air of menace to the entire painting, and insinuates the persistent threat of violence under which Beckmann was currently living.The present work is also distinguished by a palpable sexual tension. The artist has painted a prominent still-life of oyster and a bottle of cognac into the immediate foreground. The erotic import of this symbol is only heightened by the gesture of the woman on the right. She raises an oyster to her open, painted lips while gazing at the viewer from beneath a gauzy veil. Exuding the mysterious sensuality of a femme fatale, the is contrasted against the female figures in the background, who appear alternately resistant and responsive to her charms."

"Fehmarntee" by Kirchner

Lot 31, "Fehmarntee," by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, oil on canvas, 47 ¼ by 35 ½ inches, 1914-1920

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938) is represented by two splendid paintings, Lots 31 and 33, "Fehmarntee" and "Negertanzerin", respectively.

The former, shown above, is a 47 1/4-by-35 1/2-inch oil on canvas, that was painted between 1914 and 1920. It has a modest estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It sold for $2,532,500.

The catalogue entry for this lot notes that it shows the artist to the right side of the composition "along with his common-law wife Erna Schilling." It also observes that it has virtually no parallel or vertical lines and quotes Donald Gordon that in this and another Kirchner painting of the same period "shapes, colors and space are handled with extremes of distortion never previously encountered in this combination in Western painting," adding that "Simultaneously, the happy balance between angular diagonal and rhythmically curvilinear arcs creates a charged equilibrium, of admittedly great centrifugal energy, but of harmonious stasis as well."

Lot 33, is a wonderful composition that was formerly in the collections of Larry Aldrich and Henry Ford II. It is an oil on canvas, 67 by 37 inches, which was painted circa 1909-1911 and completed by 1920. It has an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,500,000. It failed to sell, perhaps because it was a fairly dark picture with quite a rough surface. It shows an "exotic dancer" and is painted in a fresco-like style.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"In his diary Kirchner records that his interest in the art of the Palau Islands and the Oceanic art he studied in the Dresden Ethnographic Museum were important to him, but were not entirely satisfactory. His discovery of Indian fresco art from the Ajanta region marked his moment of epiphany."

Despite their often somber palettes and tortured poses, Kirchner's works have wonderful, frenetic dynamics and frenzied compositions. They appear rarely on the market.

"Masken II" by Emil Nolde

Lot 32, "Masken II," by Emil Nolde, oil on canvas, 29 by35 inches, 1920

Emil Nolde (1867-1956) is perhaps the most famous German Expressionist artist and Lots 32 and 34 are fabulous examples of his very bold work. The former, shown above, "Masken II," is a 29-by-35-inch oil on canvas executed in 1920. It has a very conservative estimate of $600,000 to $800,000. It sold for $530,500.

"In addition to generating lively formal rhythms, Nolde composed his mask paintings with their narrative potential in mind. Perhaps taking a cue from [James] Ensor's canvases, Nolde exploited the inherent theatricality of the mask motif to endow these still-lifes with the same expressive drama he had formerly achieved in his figure paintings. Thus, in the present work, one notices how the frontally exposed masks slightly obscure two masks hung in profile. The wide eyes and toothy grins of the prominent pair are contrasted against the more sinister facial expressions in the rear, and contrive an open-ended narrative concerning trust and deceit," the catalogue's entry stated.

"Frauenprofil" by Emil Nolde

Lot 34, "Frauenprofil," by Emil Nolde, oil on canvas, 29 by 22 inches, 1913

The latter lot, shown above, "Frauenprofil," is a 29-by-22 1/4-inch oil on canvas that was executed in 1913 and has a modest estimate of $300,000 to $500,000. It sold for $222,500. This very strong and startling picture would probably have made Clyfford Still sit up and take notice at the quite abstract background at the left and perhaps to have also appreciate the catalogue's noting that Nolde's "fiery pigments lend a palpable spiritual zeal to this canvasEspecially when contrasted to the surrounding shades of black and cobalt blue, the woman's neck and face seem aflame with internally generated passions."

"With Nolde, as with Feininger, Nate and Marion chose 'difficult' works. Rather than a typical flower subject, the two nobles are craggy to the point of aggressiveness, adding considerable grit and substance to the collection," Mr. Millard wrote in his catalogue essay.

"Haus Mit Trocknender Wasche" by Egon Schiele

Lot 28, "Haus Mit Trocknender Wäsche," by Egon Schiele, a 43 1/4-by-55 1/4-inch oil on canvas, 1917

Egon Schiele (1890-1918), on the other hand, is best known for his highly expressionist and agonized figure studies, but he also did so very interesting cityscapes and Lot 28, "Haus Mit Trocknender Wäsche," a 43 1/4-by-55 1/4-inch oil on canvas, 1917, shown above, is a major example.

The painting depicts a scene in the village of Krumau in Bohemia. The catalogue provides the following 1960 commentary about this work by Peter Selz:

"During a time when the mainstream of painting turned toward the abstract, Schiele continued to be absorbed in his surroundings. Theories of abstract painting held no meaning for him; instead he developed his own linear rhythms. Observing an old house with laundry hanging out to dry, he outlined the bright colored shirts and stockings, napkins and trousers, with hard, angular, graphic contours, evocative in their lively shapes of the human forms usually filling them. The geometric color-pattern is till reminiscent of Klimt, and at first glance his cityscapes frequently look like illustrations for fairy tales; indeed a fairy tale imagination is at work here. The ramshackle windowpanes beneath the weathered roofs create a charming variety of geometric shapes; underneath them the odd, wooden panels oblong shapes of rich brown, pink and yellow made the viewer aware of the visual beauty of an old wall decades before the variegated wall-surface became a tiresome visual cliché. The freshness of Schiele's approach has in it the true delight of first discovery."

It has an estimate of $8,000,000 to $12,000,000 and sold for $9,902,500.

Other rare works by artists not often seen at auction include Lot 58, "Vertical Construction No. 1" by Naum Gabo (1890-1977), Lot 56, "Surface Developpable," by Antoine Pevsner (1886-1962), and Lots 37 and 38, "Begegnung im Raum" and "Groteske," respectively, by Oskar Schlemmer (1888-1943).

The Gabo is a 38 ¾-inch high bronze sculpture with stainless steel spring wire on a wood base with bronze plate and was executed in 1964-5. "While many of his earlier sculptures," the catalogue stated, "were constructed from simple, geometric shapes, the intricate weave of the present work creates a series of gentle folds and arabesques. As they scale the height of the sculpture, these fluid contours generate a strong sense of vertical movement. Yet this dynamism is contained, paradoxically, within the highly controlled matrix of wires." It has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for $233,500.

The Pevsner sculpture is quite similar aesthetically to the Gabo though only 26 ¼ inches high. The artists were brothers and when they returned to their native Russia in 1917 they became members of the Constructivist movement and three years later published their Realistic Manifesto that outlined their desire to produce art that express motion and time and dynamism of their times. At one time in the Frederick and Marcia Weisman Family Collection, this work was created in 1938, and has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for $266,500.


"Begegnung im Raum" by Oskar Schlemmer

Lot 37, "Begegnung im Raum," by Oskar Schlemmer, a 33 7/8-by-20 ¼-inch watercolor and pencil on paper mounted on board, 1928

Lot 37, "Begegnung im Raum," shown above, is a 33 7/8-by-20 ¼-inch watercolor and pencil on paper mounted on board that was executed by Schlemmer in 1928. It sold for $464,500.

After World War I, Schlemmer decided to abandon the Cubist style and began to create his own peculiar "anthropomorphic constructivism," to quote the catalogue's entry. In 1920, he became director of the sculpture department at the Bauhaus in Weimar and when the school relocated in 1925 to Dessau he gave up painting and focused on the theater and produced the very famous "Triadic Ballet." He resumed painting in 1928, the year this work was executed, and his subsequent work reflected his enthusiasm for the theater.

"In the present work, for example," the catalogue states, "one notices the deep spatial recession to a blank wall and a red door. Utterly devoid of domestic furnishings, this titular `room' seems more like a stage. Also notable are the carefully orchestrated movemens of the figures. The three women lean forward at the same angle, and carry their arms in the same precise gesture. As their forms intersect along the painting's central vertical axis, they appear caught in a highly choreographed moment. The theatrical space and movement in Schlemmer's later paintings was of course deliberate, and a means of relating the individual figure to a larger environment and community."

It has an estimate of $300,000 to $500,000. It sold for $464,500.

Lot 39, "Fruit Préadamite," is a very fine marble sculpture by Jean (Hans) Arp (1877-1966) that is 23 inches high and was executed in 1962. This beautiful, organic work has an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000. It sold for $398,500. It was later cast in a bronze edition of three. "Fruit Préadamite" clearly makes reference to the biblical Garden of Eden, and implies a time prior to even the presence of Adam and Eve. The sculpture itself corroborates this title, as its vaguely vegetal form suggest a seed emerging from its pod, and struggling to assume yet another shape. Arp's ability to convey this sort of continual metamorphosis reached a peak in his late work, when great financial success allowed to artist to work with more precious materials," the catalogue noted.

Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957) and Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920) are other important artists who are better known that those mentioned above, but share kindred temperaments in their powerful focus on individuality and their strong and consistent style.

"Prometheus" by Brancusi

Lot 16, "Prometheus," by Constantin Brancusi, gilded bronze, 5 by 6 by 5 inches, 1911

The auction's most sublime work is Lot 16, "Prometheus," a 5-by-6-by-5-inch gilded bronze that was cast by Brancusi in 1911 and was once in the collection of Juliana Force. It has a quite conservative estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000. It sold for $1,762,000. The catalogue notes that there are three other bronze casts of this work that are located in the Musée National d'Arte Moderne in paris, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., and a private collection, two in plaster located in the Musée National d'Arte Moderne in Paris and Muzeul de Artà al R.S.R. in Bucharest, and two in cement located at the Kettle's Yard at the University of Cambridge in England and a private collection. In addition, a marble version is in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Subtle suggestions of a nose and mouth and very shallow indentations for the eyes "barely interrupt the sculpture's [ovoid] surface," the catalogue noted, adding that the piece is unusual in its brief but distinct treatment of a neck.

The Smooke Collection boasts three Modiglianis: Lots 13, 14 and 46.

"Alamisa" by Modigliani

Lot 14, '"Alamïsa," by Amedeo Modigliani, a 36 5/8-by-21 1/8-inch oil on canvas, 1916

Lot 14, 'Alamïsa," is a 36 5/8-by-21 1/8-inch oil on canvas that was painted in 1916 and has a somewhat ambitious estimate of $6,000,000 to $8,000,000 since there have been quite a few other good works by the artist on the auction block in recent years. It sold for $7,152,500. This is a very good, typical work, but it is not as exciting as some of his nudes and other character studies. The face is a bit too fleshy, the hands are not well defined and intrigue is absent from the sitter's expression. The sitter's name is drawn on the smoky mirror or window at the upper right.

The catalogue provides the following commentary on this lot:

"Distinguished by an unusually rich palette and the striking beauty of its female subject, the present work may be counted among Amedeo Modigliani's most provocative portraits. Indeed, the same sitter would later pose nude for the artist, prompting the long series of reclining nudes that occupied Modigliani throughout 1917. Here, however, she sits in a pose derived from Modigliani's youthful study of Italian Renaissance painting. While working within this tradition, Modigliani used certain modernist pictorial devices to enhance the sitter's exotic allure, and thus achieved an exquisite balance of composure and seduction.. The background of the present work maybe favorably compared to those found in Bronzino's portraiture. Like his compatriot, Modigliani usually framed his sitters with fragmentary glimpses of domestic architecture and furniture. In Modigliani's hands however, this compositional device ultimately announces the modernity of his portraits. As the present work demonstrates, the artist frequently treated these background elements in a Cubist fashion.. At the top of the painting a dark brown panel and the corner of a mirror certainly establish a shallow interior space. Yet their rigid geometries and planar treatment the mirror shimmers without reflecting depth) impose a grid-like structure on the entire painting and assert the essential flatness of the picture plane."

Lot 13, "Tete de Femme (Au Chignon)," is a 22 1/2-inch-high sandstone sculpture of a women's head that Modigliani carved in 1911-2. The catalogue entry notes that the artist considered sculpture "his true calling" and that "his twenty-five extant sculptures represent some of the purest statements of his aesthetic intent, and number among the undisputed masterpieces of his career." Modigliani devoted himself almost exclusively to sculpture between 1909 and 1914, the catalogue continued, adding that "while poor health and financial difficulties forced the artist to abandon stone-carving in the last five years of his life, the distinctive character of his sculpted works - their elongated proportions, architectonic elegance, and enigmatic aloofness - remained crucial to the development of his later, trademark painting style."

"Among the most highly finished of his known sculptures," the entry continued, "the work possesses the paradoxical combination of structural clarity and emotional inscrutability that is characteristic of Modigliani's finest creations." The entry also provides the following interesting commentary on Modigliani by Jacques Lipchitz, who met Modigliani in 1912:

"Modigliani, like some others at the time, was very taken with the notion that sculpture was sick, that it had become very sick with Rodin and his influence. There was too much modeling in clay, too much 'mud.' The only way to save sculpture was to begin carving again, directly in stone. We had many very heated discussions about thisbut Modigliani could not be budged; he held firmly to his deep conviction. He had been seeing a good deal of Brancusi, who lived nearby, and he had come under his influence. When we talked of different kinds of stone - hard and soft - Modigliani said that the stone itself made very little difference; the important thing was to give the carved stone the feeling of hardness, and that came from within the sculptor himself."

African art influenced Modigliani and he reportedly would occasionally light candles atop his stone heads and allegedly even embrace them while under the influence of drugs, the catalogue also noted.

This lot has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It sold for $3,852,500.

Lot 46 is a Modigliani portrait of artist Chaim Soutine. Painted in 1917, it is an oil on a 31-by-22 ¼-inch door panel. It has an estimate of $600,000 to $800,000. It sold for $662,500.

The portrait was done on the door that separated the two artists' studios in the apartment of their dealer, Léopold Zborowski and the catalogue contains a photograph of the dealer seated in front of the door. The photograph indicates that Modigliani's painting went beyond the panel that is being auctioned.

The Smooke Collection is not without 'big names" - it has works by Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Georges Braque (1882-1963), Henri Matisse (1869-1954), Fernand Léger (1881-1955), among others, but they are generally fine examples rather than masterpieces and the collection demonstrates that the obvious but often ignored truth that often the best work of second-tier artists can surpass the second-rate work of the "masters."

There are several very good sculptures by Degas including Lot 65, "Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans." The original wax model for this was executed circa 1879-1881 and this was cast in bronze in 1922. The 38 ½-inch high sculpture has a muslin skirt, a satin hair ribbon and a wooden base. It was once in the collection of Walter P. Chrysler Jr., and has an estimate of $8,000,000 to $12,000,000. It failed to sell and was passed at $6,000,000.

"Executed in the wake of Les Demoiselles d'Avignon., this powerful gouache is among the most monumentally conceived and most strikingly simplified images of the male head executed by the artist at this crucial time in his development. This work combines the lessons of Iberian and African statuary with the palette and brushwork of Paul Cézanne to achieve a striking sense of monumentality," the catalogue noted. The work is related to "L'Offrande," one of the artist's masterpieces, which is in the Von der Heydt Museum in Wuppertal.

Braque is represented with two wonderful works, Lots 6 and 52.

"Le Port d'Anvers, Le Mat" by Braque

Lot 6, "Le Port d'Anvers, Le Mat," by Georges Braque, oil on canvas, 18 1/4 by 15 1/8 inches, 1906

Lot 6, "Le Port d'Anvers, Le Mât," is a stunning Fauve harbor scene that was executed by Braque in 1906. An oil on canvas, it measures 18 ¼ by 15 1/8 inches and has a modest estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It sold for $1,212,500. The catalogue notes that Braque destroyed some of his early Fauve paintings because he was not satisfied with them and that his "deliberate" style tempered somewhat the wild Fauve palette of some of his contemporaries but nonetheless "offered its own opalescent lyricism."

Lot 52, "Verre et Compotier," is a 1931 still life by Braque that is small but very elegant and fine. It is an oil on canvas that measures 15 1/8 by 18 ¼ inches and has a very modest estimate of $150,000 to $200,000. It sold for $332,500. It once was in the collection of Sir Roland Penrose.

"Etude de Nu, Atelier Carriere" by Matisse

Lot 9, "Etude de Nu, Atelier Carriére (Portrait of Bevilaqua)," by Henri Matisse, a 20 3/4-by-22 3/4-inch oil on canvas, 1900

The work of most interest perhaps for many connoisseurs is Lot 9, "Etude de Nu, Atelier Carriére (Portrait of Bevilaqua)," a 20 3/4-by-22 3/4-inch oil on canvas executed in 1900 by Henry Matisse (1869-1954). This work, which is shown above, is very closely related to similar studies by Paul Cézanne. A naked man stands with arms crossed looking to the side, proud, defiant, forceful. Matisse's bravura brushwork here is superb and he has framed the dark composition tightly with rectilinear forms contrasting with the sinuous shape of the figure. This is not the typical "flat" Matisse of simplified, bold color, but a very painterly study of great quality.

The catalogue provides the following commentary on this lot:

"This strikingly powerful composition, which bears the influences of both Cézanne and Rodin, is one of Matisse's most resolved pre-Fauve works and illustrates the artist's constant dialogue between differing media. It is interesting to note that a cast of the sculpture most closely related to the present work, Le Serf, is also part of the Smooke Collection. Matisse painted other important canvases depicting Bevilaqua at this time, perhsaps the most famous being the celebrated picture in New York's Museum of Modern Art, L'Homme Nu, 1900.The archives of Galerie Bernheim-Jeune record another, more frontal view painted at the same time. While the Smooke picture differs from The Museum of Modern Art's in several ways, the two works share a similar feeling of raw physical power. The color scheme of MoMA's picture is cooler, whereas in the present work Matisse employed bright tones, for example the mauves, oranges and pinks in the background. Furthermore, the brushwork in the upper chest of the present work goes far beyond description of form and anticipates Matisse's movement towards Fauvism."

It has a very conservative estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It sold for $662,500. It is interesting to note that the work was once in the collection of Georges Roualt (1871-1958), an artist whose palette and brushwork are very, very similar to this work.

Roualt is represented in this collection by Lot 49, "Passion (Christ et Docteur)," a 10 ¼-by-10 ½-inch oil on paper mounted on panel that has a modest estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. It sold for $57,000.

Lot 17, "Anémones Dans Un Vase," is a nice floral still life painting by Matisse that was painted in 1917-8 and has an estimate of $3,000,000 to $4,000,000. It failed to sell. An oil on canvas, it measures 28 ¾ by 23 ¾ inches.

Lot 8, "Le Serf," is a 36 3/8-inch high bronze sculpture that was conceived by Matisse between 1900 and 1903 and cast circa 1912 and is one of 10 numbered casts and has an estimate of $3,000,000 to $4,000,000. It sold for $3,412,500.

Lot 21, "Madeleine II," is another fine Matisse bronze sculpture, 22 ¾ inches high, that was conceived in 1903 and cast in 1951 and has a modest estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000. It sold for $1,047,500.

 

"Variation de Formes" by Léger

Lot 20, "Variation de Formes" by Fernand Léger, oil on canvas, 23 1/2 by 28 3/4 inches, 1913

The cover of the catalogue is Lot 20, "Variation de Formes," by Fernand Léger (see The City Review article on this artist). This very fine work is a 23 1/2 by-28 ¾-inch oil on canvas that was painted in 1913 and has an estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000. It sold for $4,072,500.

The catalogue entry notes that this work is one of less than a dozen of the artist's works in his "Contrastes de Formes" series. "Largely unprecedented in the annals of early modern art, these canvases explored the realm of complete abstraction with both daring and confidence. Reducing his formal vocabulary to cubes, cones and cylinders, Léger placed these pictorial building blocks in excitable contrast, and manged to express the modern machine age in wholly non-objective terms," the catalogue noted.

Another very good work by this artist is Lot 30, "Les Quatre Constructeurs Sur Fond Jaune," a 1950 oil on canvas that measures 67 ½ by 75 ½ inches. Part of the artist's popular series of construction workers, it has an estimate of $3,000,000 to $4,000,000. It sold for $5,722,500.

Lot 19, "Homme Assis a La Clarinette I," is a very fine 31-inch high limestone sculpture by Jacques Lipchitz (1891-1973). It was carved in 1919 and has a modest estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It sold for $717,500.

A fine companion for the Lipchitz is Lot 50, "La Femme a L'Eventail," a 33 ¼-inch high bronze sculpture by Ossip Zadkine (1890-1967). This very excellent work was conceived in 1914 and cast in 1920. It has a modest estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. It sold for $134,500.

The Smooke Collection also contains four wonderful and charming, small bronze sculptures by Honoré Daumier (1808-1879) that were originally executed in terracotta circa 1849-1852 and cast in bronze in the 20th century. The figures comprise Lot 59 and are about 7 ½ inches high and the group of four has an estimate of only $30,000 to $40,000. It sold for $77,300.

See The City Review article on Phillips May 7, 2001 Impressionist & Modern Art auction

See The City Review article on Phillips Fall 2000 Impressionist & Modern Art auction

 

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