quite strong evening sale of Impressionist & Modern Art at
Christie's is highlighted by a beautiful waterlily painting by
Claude Monet (1840-1926), two excellent works by Fernand Léger
(1881-1955), three very good portraits by Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920),
superb works by Paul Klee (1879-1940), Julio González (1876-1942),
Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894), and Georges Braque (1882-1963)
and some nice works by Paul Cézanne (1939-1906), Paul Gauguin
(1848-1903), Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941) Marc Chagall (1887-1985),
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Henri Matisse (1869-1954) and Joan
The Monet, Lot 19, "Le bassin aux nymphéas,"
is an oil on canvas that measures 51 1/8 by 78 3/4 inches and
was executed 1917-9. It has an estimate of $10,000,000 to $15,000,000.
This large and impressive work, shown above, has a softer and
more subtle palette than other examples in this famous series
of waterlily paintings. This work was auctioned in November, 1979
at Christie's for $715,000. It failed to sell and was passed
at $8,500,000. Although its failure to sell was a major disappointment,
this was a reasonably successful auction with 40 of the 54 offered
lots selling, or 74 percent, considerably better than the 56 percent
showing the night before at Sotheby's, and the 43.8 percent showing
at Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg Monday night. The sale totaled
$67,513,000 and had had a pre-sale low estimate of $87.3 million
and a pre-sale high estimate of $122 million. The surprisingly
weak Phillips auction set shock waves throughout the art market
that it the boom times might be over. The Sotheby's sale, however,
indicated that the market had not collapsed but with many lots
selling below their low estimates there was no doubt that the
market had softened.
auction, however, was much healthier. While many lots did not
reach their low estimates, some did very well and four records
were set. While some observers argued that some estimates were
too high, the market now has a fair bit of uncertainty as evidenced
by the fact that extremely beautiful waterlily paintings by Monet
at both Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg and Christie's failed
to sell and really did not have outragegous estimates. Sotheby's
also had a beautiful waterlily Monet that did sell, but for several
million dollars less than it had been auctioned a few years ago.
No one is suggesting that Monet has fallen out of favor, but perhaps
the puzzling results reflect the fact that there were three gorgeous
waterlily paintings to choose from.
"Les Deux Acrobates," shown above, is a very fine work
by Léger that was painted in 1918. The oil on canvas, which
is illustrated on the auction catalogue's cover, measures 35 1/4
by 23 inches and comes from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Norman
Granz. It has an estimate of $6,000,000 to $8,000,000. It failed
to sell when it was offered at Sotheby's in 1995. It sold for
$5,509,500 including the buyer's premium as do all the results
mentioned in this article.
The catalogue provides the following commentary on this lot:
"Léger's interest in the figure, even if expressed
in partly mechanical forms and barely distinguishable from the
architecture of its surroundings, remained central to his vision
of modern life. Moreover, while Picasso was growing increasingly
preoccupied with the extensive upper class milieu that dominated
the theatrical world in which he now spent much of his time, Léger
continued to cultivate an egalitarian and inclusive social outlook.
He enjoyed a ringing affirmation of the life-force that was the
ultimate antedote to the destruction and negativity of the war
years. In a series of seven paintings done in 1918, including
the present work, Léger featured the circus as a symbol
of modern spectacle and urban leisure. The artist intended the
series to celebrate the end of the war and to mark a return to
the enjoyment of ordinary peacetime entertainments. In taking
the circus as his theme, Léger was referring to a popular
Parisian tradition[and] in choosing as his setting the Cirque
Médrano, Léger was following the example of a line
of great modern painters, including Degas, Renoir, Seurat, and
Lautrec, and more recently, Picasso and von Dongen, in whose work
the site had become a local shrine for the avant-garde. The Cirque
Médrano opened in 1873 as a traveling circus. At that time
it was known as the Cirque Fernando, named after its proprietor
Ferdinand Beert (a bareback rider), who built a permanent structure
for the troupe in 1875 at the corner of the boulevard Rochechuoart
and the avenue des Martyrs in Montmartre. Several years later
it was refurbished to attract a better clientele, and within a
decade Beert was charging the same price for the house's best
seats as the huge upscale Hippodrome near the Champs-Elysées.
It was taken over and renamed in 1897 by the clown Médrano,
whose family ran it until 1943. Therefore known as the Cirque
de Montmartre, it finally closed in 1963.The most famous work
set in the building is Seurat's final masterpiece, Le cirque
[Musée d'Orsay, Paris], 1890-91.The paintings in Léger's
series are heavily indebted to Seurat's, Le cirque; they
share with it an interest in integrating the figure within a grid-like
architectural setting, and they similarly contrast the movement
of curvilinear forms against the static geometry of emphatic vertical
and horizontal lines. Both artists juxtapose a random, unpredictable
human element - the spontaneous activity of the acrobats and riders
- with the timeless rigidity of their settings, and impose upon
the figure a mechanical aspect which places it in a larger, timeless,
more ordered and rationalistic universe. The primary impetus for
Léger's circus paintings, however, were contemporary developments
in the avant-garde and were in fact literary in origin. Léger
was interested in the concept of simultaneity, the presentation
of multiple and often disparate layers of information, in which
time and place were rendered discontinuous, in order to represent
the experience of modern urban life."
fine work by Léger is Lot 46, "Les femmes à
la toilette," an oil on canvas that measures 36 1/4 by 28
3/4 inches and was painted in 1920. It has an estimate of $3,500,000
to $4,500,000. It sold for $3,419,500.
notes that "In 1920, under mounting pressure from Ozenfant,
Le Corbusier, and other members of the Parisian avant-garde to
classicize his art, Léger began to create calmer and more
rigorously ordered compositions, depicting monumental figures
within a stable architecture of flat planes."
is represented in this auction by three good works, Lots 38, 35
and 13. Lot 38, entitled "La Robe Noire," is an oil
on canvas that measures 36 3/8 by 23 1/2 inches and was executed
in 1918. The catalogue states that "this elegant and sophisticated
portrait of an anonymous sitter is a masterpiece of Modigliani's
mature period." "It powerfully synthesizes all the characteristic
traits of the distinctive figurative type that the artist developed
after 1916: the elongated face, the graceful swan-like neck, the
sensuous pursed lips, and the impenetrable almond eyes.The present
painting serves as a compendium of the key sources that Modigliani
fused to create this unique and imitable style. Foremost among
these is the art of the Italian Mannerists, notably Parmigianino
and Pontormo, whose figures are distinguished by the same sinuous
neck, elongated hands, and fluid contours as the present portrait.
Modigliani was also influenced by the art of modern masters, particularly
Cézanne. Another important source for Modigiliani's distinctive
figural style was the sculpture of Constantin Brancusi.Finally,
the present portrait reflects the inspiration of African sculpture.
Paul Guillaume, Modigliani's dealer until June 1916, was also
the most important dealer of tribal art in Paris."
This lot has a somewhat ambitious estimate of $9,000,000 to $12,000,000.
While it certainly is very representative of his style and has
an interested if limited palette, the woman's face is a bit too
pretty and her hand and dress are not particularly well handled
and the overall effect is rather sketchy. It failed to sell
and was passed at $7,500,000.
Modigliani that is a bit more satisfying because of the alluring
expression of the sitter's face is Lot 35, "Beatrice Hastings
devant une porte." An oil on canvas, it measures 32 by 18
1/4 inches and was painted in 1915. It has a modest estimate of
$3,000,000 to $4,000,000. It sold or $4,189,500. The sitter,
an English writer, was the artist's mistress. According to the
catalogue, she had "gained notoriety for attending a Quat'z'
Arts ball wearing a trompe l'oeil dress that Modigliani had painted
on her naked body, and was rumored to make notches in her headboard
to keep tally of her numerous lovers."
strong and compelling Modigliani is Lot 13, "Le typographe
(Pedro), a 21 5/8-by-18 1/4-inch oil on canvas that was painted
circa 1909. This is one of several works in this auction that
was formerly in the collection of Dr. and Mrs. Freddy Homburger.
The sitter in this portrait is painted with considerably more
detail than in the artist's later works and the artist's palette
here is much more saturated, resulting in a very intense work
that has quite a modest estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It
sold for 471,500.
whimsicality is one of the delights of 20th Century art and Lot
47, "Hauptszene aus dem Ballet "Der falsche Schwur,'"
is a superb example that amply demonstrates his delicate line
and luscious palette and his abiding love of music. A watercolor
and pencil on paper laid down by the artist on board, it measures
18 7/8 by 12 3/8 inches, and was painted in 1922. It has a modest
estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for $449,500.
sculpture has been soaring in value in recent years at auctions,
which may explain the somewhat ambitious estimate of $1,500,000
to $2,000,000 for Lot 39, "Homme gothique," by Julio
Gonzalez. That estimate, however, is not unjustified for this
is a very strong work that also happens to be unique unlike the
many popular multiple casts of other popular sculptors like Matisse
and Rodin. It sold for $3,419,500, breaking the artist's former
auction record of $3,203,051 set at Christie's in London June
30, 1999. "Today, sixty years after his death, Julio
González is justly acclaimed as the father of modern metal
sculpture," the catalogue noted. "The term 'Gothic'
was coined by Renaissance Italian humanists as a derogatory reference
to the medieval buildings in France and northern Europe who, in
their view, seemed possessed by an insane and barbaric taste for
soaring heights and sharp, arching forms, so unlike the more rounded
and temperately proportioned structures of the classically-derived
Mediterannean style. Shorn of its negative connotations, the term
once again came into use among historians of the 18th Century
Enlightenment, who recognized the age of cathedrals as one of
the great flowerings of the human spirit," the catalogue's
entry stated, also describing the artist's collaboration with
Gustave Caillebotte have also soared in recent years at auction
and Lot 26, "Le pont de l'Europe," is a highly finished
study for his most famous work that the artist executed in two
different versions,, one of which is in the collection of the
Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth and the other in the Petit Palais
in Geneva. The catalogue notes that there are at least five other
oil sketches for the composition but the present picture is the
only known study for the painting in the Kimbell. The Kimbell
version is tightly cropped and has a predominantly blue and gray
palette while the Geneva painting has a different perspective
and golden palette. An oil on canvas, this lot measures 25 1/2
by 31 7/8 inches and was executed in 1876. It has an estimate
of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. It sold for $4,409,500. "What
the two paintings share," the catalogue noted, "is an
unabashed focus on the Pont de l'Europe's modernity. Wheras Manet
and Monet had chosen to temper the industrial severity of the
bridge's iron trellises by cloaking them in vapor, Caillebotte
instead depicts the structure in sharp focus, exploiting its ruthless
geometry to organize his composition.The top-hatted figure at
the center of the Pont de l'Europe is traditionally said
to represent Caillebotte himself, and his placement alongside
a member of the working class may be intended to evoke the artist's
own dual social identification."
"Balustre et crâne," is a very fine still life
with a skull by Georges Braque. The 17 3/4-by-21 5/8-inch oil
on canvas, shown above, was executed in 1938 and has a modest
estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for $449,500.
four works by Paul Cézanne in the auction, the best of
which is Lot 16, shown above, "L'Estaque vu à travers
les arbres," an oil on canvas that measures 17 5/8 by 21
inches and was executed in 1878-9. Once in the collection of Paul
Cassirer of Amsterdam, this landscape study has a strong composition
and is a good example of the artist's blue and green palette and
brushwork. It has a relatively modest estimate of $4,000,000 to
$6,000,000. It sold for $4,409,500.
Lot 6, "La
faience italienne," is a still life by Cézanne that
was executed in 1872-3 and has a nicely painted vase on a table
with some fruit. An oil on canvas that measures 16 3/8 by 21 3/4
inches, it was once in the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Charles
Englehard of New Jersey and has a modest estimate of $600,000
to $800,000 reflecting the fact that it is an early work that
embodies little of the artist's later famed brushwork. It sold
Lot 1, "Baigneur, vu de dos," is another Cézanne.
A view from the back of a naked man in a country setting, it is
an oil on canvas that measures 9 1/2 by 7 5/8 inches and was painted
1877-8. This small study has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000.
It sold for $427,500.
A far more lively Cézanne is Lot 15, "Portrait d'Archille
Emperaire," a 16 7/8-by-16 1/8-inch oil on canvas that was
executed 1867-8. The sitter was a fellow painter from Aix and
one of the artist's close companions. It has a modest estimate
of $400,000 to $600,000. It sold for $317,500.
Lot 9, "Cabane
sous les arbres," is a very good Tahitian landscape by Paul
Gauguin. An oil on canvas that measures 28 3/8 by 17 1/8 inches,
it was executed in 1892 and has an estimate of $3,500,000 to $5,500,000.
The painting is highlighted by several blue trees similar to those
in the very fine landscape in the Odrupgaard Collection in Copenhagen
City Review article). It sold for $4,629,500.
One of the
auction's highlights is Lot 29, "Junges Madchen mit den grünen
Augen," by Alexej von Jawlensky, an oil on board, 21 1/8
by 19 1/2 inches, circa 1910. This very strong work differs from
the artist's many portraits of women that are more stylized and
formulaic. This one has a particularly vibrant palette. The catalogue
notes that "with its jewel-like colors and powerful stylizations,
the present painting is redolent with Jawlensky's memory of traditional
Russian icons." It has an estimate of $1,200,000 to $1,600,000.
It sold for $3,309,500, breaking the artist's former auction
record of $2,426,650 set at Sotheby's in London Oct. 8, 2002.
prolific dream-like works often seem a bit too repetitive but
a small portion of his oeuvre includes some interesting cityscapes
and interiors and Lot 36, "La grand roue," shown above
is quite striking. An oil on canvas that measures 23 3/4 by 35
inches, it was executed in 1911-2 and depicts a large ferris wheel
against a yellow sky with the Eiffel Tower in the background.
It has an estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000 and was once in
the collection of Charles Clore of London. It sold for $2,539,500.
The catalogue provides the following commentary on this lot:
"Like Delaunay's paintings of the Parisian landscape, La
grande roue depicts the capital as pulsating and dynamic.
The tension between the sweeping curve of the Ferris wheel and
the sharp peak of the Eiffel Tower lends the composition an unusual
vitality, which is accentuated by the arresting palette of acid
lemon and green. Moreover, the box-cars of the Ferris wheeel are
depicted in fractured planes that express their rotation through
space.The liberated and emotive palette of the picture is indebted
both to Van Gogh and the Fauves, while the prismatic diffraction
of space represents the influence of the Cubists."
lot from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Norman Granz is Lot 42,
"La Guenon et son petit," a 21 1/4-inch high bronze
sculpture of a monkey cradling her baby. This work was once in
the collection of G. David Thompson of Pittsburgh and has an estimate
of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000. It failed to sell when it was offered
at Sotheby's in 1995. It sold for $6,719,500, breaking the
previous auction record for a sculpture by the artist of $4,956,000
set at Christie's Nov. 6, 2001.
The catalogue provides a long quotation from Francoise Gilot about
the sculpture in which she wrote that for their son, Claude, "toys
were not somethig to play with, but something to break,"
and that Claude was not happy when Picasso decided to use two
small automobile models that dealer Kahnweiler had brought for
Claude in an assemblage.
The catalogue describes the artist's original assemblage that
eventually was executed in bronze:
"A model of a Panhard auto became the top of the ape's head
with the windshield framing its eyes. The hood of the car became
the baboon's nose, and the grillwork formed the upper part of
the animal's mouth. Picasso placed the second model car, a Renault,
upside down, and in reverse, so that its trunk and rear fender
became the baboon's lower jaw. The torso of the ape was composed
from a large pottery jar, which he incised with a knife to outline
the breast and nipple. The animal's ears were made from the handles
of pitchers Picasso found in a scrap heap near his studio. The
shoulders were fashioned from handles detached from a large bowl.The
legs were fabricated from pieces of wood, and the ape's tail was
made from a discarded automobile spring."
Lot 31, "Le repos (Marie-Thérèse Walter), is
a very pleasant oil on canvas, 10 3/4 by 18 1/8 inches that Picasso
painted in 1932. It has an estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000.
It sold for $3,089,500.
"Palmette," is a simple but very graceful work by Henri
Matisse that was executed about 1947. The gouache, graphite and
paper collage laid down on paperboard measures 25 1/4 by 17 3/4
inches and has an estimate of $1,200,000 to $1,800,000. It
failed to sell and was passed at $700,000.
A fine companion
for the Matisse is Lot 54, "Oiseaux dans l'espace,"
by Joan Miró. The 45 3/8-by-35-inch oil on canvas was executed
in 1960 and has a modest estimate of $450,000 to $650,000. It
is also simple but very strong and pleasing. It sold for $537,500.
Lot 28, "Le Port d'Anvers," is an excellent riverscape
by Emile-Othon Friez (1879-1949). An oil on canvas that measures
31 7/8 by 39 3/8 inches, it was painted in 1906 and has an estimate
of $900,000 to $1,200,000. It failed to sell and was passed
Lot 30, "Blue Dancer," is a 41 5/8-inch high bronze
statue by Alexander Archipenko (1887-1964) that was conceived
in 1913 and cast during the artist's lifetime. It has an ambitious
estimate of $700,000 to $1,000,000. It sold for $999,500, breaking
the auction record for the artist of $974,491 that was set at
Sotheby's in London June 30, 1998.