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Impressionist & Modern Art

Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg

7 PM, November 4, 2002

Sale NY000202


"Pont Dans Le Jardin de Monet" by Monet

Lot 26, "Pont Dans Le Jardin de Monet," by Claude Monet, "oil on canvas, 34 5/8 by 36 1/8 inches, 1895-1896

By Carter B. Horsley

Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg kicks off the fall's major art auction season with a small evening Impressionist and Modern Art auction that is highlighted by a lovely Claude Monet (1840-1926), an early and flamboyant Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), a very fine Henri Matisse (1869-1954), and a great Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956).

Last spring, the auction house canceled its Impressionist & Modern Art New York auction although it had a good contemporary art auction (see
The City Review article) and a very successful American painting auction (see The City Review article). While its Impressionist and Modern Art offerings this fall are limited several of its lots are among the best to be offered this season and it again promises to have strong showings in Contemporary Art and American Art.

The auction started pretty well with a group of drawings by Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele selling nicely and a great oil painting by Lyonel Feininger at its high estimate and being sold for $2,209,500 including the buyer's premium.

Then the bottom fell out and at the end of the auction only 19 of the 44 offered lots sold, meaning that more than 56 percent of the lots did not sell. Worse, most of the "big-ticket" lots did not sell. The pre-sale low estimate for the auction was $49,313,000 and the pre-sale high estimate was $66,702,000. The auction's sale total, including the buyers' premiums, was only $7,010,360.

One dealer after the sale suggested that estimates were too high, but in fact most were not unreasonable and it was clear from the way Simon de Pury conducted the auction that many of the reserves were reasonably low.

"We did expect it to be difficult," Mr. Pury said after the auction, "but not that difficult. Clearly we are very disappointed with the result."

The main auction room had about 20 vacant seats when the auction started that were not filled up, which is rather unusual for such an important sale.

Some observers were not surprised that the number of passes was high, but this sale seemed to fly in the face of the proverbial recent market wisdom that high quality works were still very much in demand in a more sophisticated market.

The poor showing not only presents problems for Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg, but for the other auction houses as well. The art market held up for a couple of seasons after the 1987 stock market crash before falling on hard times in the early 90s, but even then the fall was not as precipitous as this sale seems to indicate. Many of the attendees mumbled about uncertainty and seemed to hold out hope that the Sotheby's and Christie's sales this week will not be as diastrous.

There were not a lot of smiles in the salesroom.

This was a crash.

Simon de Pury remarked, however, in an interview following the auction house's Contemporary Art evening sale Nov. 11, 2002 that "some works" from this auction had been sold afterwards.

One of the icons of French Impressionism is Claude Monet's series of paintings of a Japanese-style bride in his garden at Giverny and Lot 26, "Pont Dans Le Jardin de Monet," shown above, is one of the loveliest and one of the first, versions. The oil on canvas measures 34 5/8 by 36 1/8 inches and was executed in 1895-6. It was auctioned at Christie's May 12, 1999 with an estimate of $7,000,000 to $10,000,000 and sold for $5,942,500 including the buyer's premium. Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg have now given it a rather a rather modest estimate of $6,500,000 to $8,500,000. Bidding was started at $4.8 million and the lot was passed at $5.6 million.

"As one of the first pictures in this exceptional series, the present painting occupies a position of seminal importance in Monet's oeuvre," the catalogue stated. "In the present example, the play of reflections is especially nuanced and lovely, the gentle arc of the bridge mirrored in the still waters and the reflections of trees and sky assuming independent shapes. The double image of the bridge serves both to organize space and to announce a human presence in this serene aquatic enclave, designating the pond as a site for contemplation and meditation," the catalogue's entry continued, noting that there are more than 40 paintings by Monet showing the bridge.

The auction has an earlier Monet, Lot 28, "Argenteuil, fin d'apres-midi," a 23 5/8-by-31 7/8-inch oil on canvas. Executed in 1872, this pleasant riverscape has an estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000. Bidding started at $3 million and the lot was passed at $3.6 million.

"Buste de femme souriante" by Picasso

Lot 31, "Buste de femme souriante," by Pablo Picasso, oil on board laid down on panel, 30 1/4 by 22 1/2 inches, 1901

Early works by Picasso are marked by lively brushwork and considerable vivacity. Lot 31, "Buste de femme souriante," is a very painterly and quite stunning portrait of a smiling woman that is mischievous and flirtatious, qualities that would stay with the artist during his long and fabled career. While the sitter is not particularly ravishing, the painting is.

The catalogue provides the following commentary about this work which is illustrated on the catalogue's cover:

"This resplendent painting belongs to an important group of works executed in a Post-Impressionist manner, all of which capture Picasso's excitement at the discovery of the avant-garde in Paris at the turn of the century. Three other masterpieces of the same year share stylistic features and similar subject matter ["L'Attente," collection of the Museo Picasso in Barcelona, and "Vieille femme parée," Philadelphia Museum of Art, Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection].'Proto-Fauve' provides an apt description of these pictures. The highly animated brushwork evident here anticipates several of the most memorable Fauve portraits by Vlaminck and Derain. The subject matter and overall painterly treatment predates Matisse's scandalous portrait of his wife, and much of Van Dongen's work before 1910. More importantly, the confident and riveting gaze of the sitter reminds the viewer of the posture that Picasso strikes in the celebrated self-portrait Yo Picasso, which was also painted during the Spring of 1901. What distinguishes this striking series of early Picassos from Fauve art is their technical mastery based on Picasso's knowledge of earlier artists such as Goya and Velasquez. Picasso's training as a portraitist was considerable, unmatched by any of the Fauves, who tended to create more generalized images of human features. Picasso's innate virtuosity would attract him to other prodigiously gifted draftsmen like Steinlen and Toulouse-Lautrec when he came to Paris. This heady mix of artistic influences on the dynamic young Picasso, barely out of his teens, when he painted Buste de femme souriante, would become positively explosive once he encountered Van Gogh's exalted art."

This painting, which certainly shows Goya's influence and is a far better painting than "Yo Picasso," has a conservative estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000. Bidding started at $3 million and the lot was passed at $4.2 million.

"Arbre en fleur (Mural Scroll No. 11)" by Matisse

Lot 36, "Arbre en fleur (Mural Scroll, No. 11), by Henri Matisse, paper painted with gouache color, cut and pasted on paper board support, 20 1/2 by 25 1/2 inches, 1947-9

Henri Matisse began working with paper cut-outs in the early 1930's, but they would become his main focus when he was beset with illness later. Lot 36, "Arbre en fleur (Mural Scroll, No. 11), is a very fine example and served as the maquette for a silk screen commissioned and printed by Katzenbach & Warren, Inc., in 1949 for their Mural Scroll project in which designs by Matisse, Miró, Matta and Calder were reproduced in editions of 200 as five by six-and-a-half foot long silk screen murals. This lovely lot measures 20 1/2 by 25 1/2 inches and is paper painted with gouache color, cut and pasted on paper board support. It has an estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000. Bidding started at $2 million and the lot was passed at $2.6 million.

"Die Zeitungsleser (The Newspaper Readers)" by Feininger

Lot 16, "Die Zeitungsleser (The Newspaper Readers)," by Lyonel Feininger, oil on canvas, 19 3/4 by 24 7/8 inches, 1909

Lyonel Feininger describes his early paintings, which have a cartoonish style in which figures seemed to reside in a fantasy world, as "mummery pictures." They preceeded his involved with Cubism and reflect a familiarity with the wild palettes of the Fauves, but they are full of animation and intrigue. Lot 16, "Die Zeitungsleser (The Newspaper Readers)," shown above, is a wonderful example of his "mummery" work. An oil on canvas, it measures 19 3/4 by 24 7/8 inches. It was executed in 1909 and has a conservative estimate of $1,700,000 to $2,000,000. It sold for $2,209,500 including the buyer's premium.

The catalogue provides the following commentary on this marvelous painting:

"Die Zeitungsleser, with its ravishing color sense, inventive treatment of landscape and highly characteristic figuration, is one of Feininger's first fully mature works. The artist's excitement at having discovered his vocation is quite evident in the palpable energy of this canvas. It depicts the distinctive Peter and Paul Stadtkirche in Weimar, a motif that would fascinate the artist for the remainder of his career. The optimistic note of the present work and others of a similar date are especially distinguished for their brilliant, Fauve-like palette. Indeed, the daring coloration in this painting bears comparison with the contemporaneous works being produced by the Brücke artists, Kirchner, Heckel, Schmidt-Rottluff and Pechstein. 1909 marked the flowering of the Brücke movement, and it is in our version of Die Zeitungsleser that Feininger comes closest to the pure Expressionism of this movement."

An interesting companion for the Feininger would be Lot 18, "Untitled (L'Amazone bleue)," a watercolor and Indian ink on paper, 12 1/2 by 9 3/4 inches, by Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944). Executed in 1918, it is an uncharacteristically realistic work by Kandinksy and belongs to a series of 14 watercolors known as "bagatelles" that the artist executed during the war years. "The present work," the catalogue noted, "captures, in delicate tracings and jewel-like color, the gallant pose of a lady rider on horseback and the dreamy reverie of a romantic dandy kneeling opposite. The spare landscape, punctuated by puffy clouds, flowers and sunbeams, belongs to fantasy, while the domes and minarets of the illustrious city in the near-distance recall the scenes of Russian folklore that Kandinsky had produced over a decade earlier."

The lot has an estimate of $225,000 to $275,000. Bidding started at $140,000 and the lot was passed at $180,000.

"Portrait" by Miró

Lot 33, "Portrait" by Joan Miró, oil on canvas, 57 1/2 by 44 7/8 inches, 1927

Lot 33, "Portrait," by Joan Miró, is an oil on canvas, 57 1/2 by 44 7/8 inches. Executed in 1927, it is an abstract work that once belonged to Helena Rubenstein. It has an estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000 that is a bit ambitious given the work's rather somber palette. Bidding started at $1.4 million and the lot was passed at $1.8 million.

The auction starts with 14 drawings by Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) and Egon Schiele (1980-1918) from a private American collection. Lot 8, "Sitzende dame in Profil nach Rechts (Profile of a Seated Woman from the Right), is a very delicate red pencil on paper drawn in 1907-8 by Klimt and has an estimate of $30,000 to $40,000. It sold for $28,000 not including the buyer's premium. Lot 11, "Akt (Nude)," is a fine watercolor and black crayon drawing executed in 1913 by Schiele and has an estimate of $350,000 to $450,000. It sold for $339,500 including the buyer's premium.

Still Life by Beckmann

Lot 21, still life by Max Beckmann, oil on canvas, 30 7/8 by 29 3/4 inches, 1935

The auction has two good still life paintings by Max Beckman (1884-1950). Lot 19 is an oil on canvas that measures 21 3/4 by 18 inches and was painted in 1924. It has an estimate of $850,000 to $1,200,000. It sold for $911,500 including the buyer's premium. Lot 21 is an oil on canvas that measures 30 7/8 by 29 3/4 inches and was painted in 1935 and has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for $581,500 including the buyer's premium.

Lot 20 is a very good double-sided work in oil, 29 7/8 by 26 1/8 inches, by Georg Tappert (1880-1957). It was painted in 1915-7 and has an estimate of $200,000 to $250,000. It was passed at $170,000.

 

See The City Review article on the Spring 2002 Impressionist & Modern Art day auction at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Spring 2002 Impressionist Art evening auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Spring 2002 Impressionist Art Part Two day auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Nov. 5, 2001 auction of the Smooke Collection at Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg

See The City Review article on the Nov. 5, 2001 auction of the Hoener Collection at Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg

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

See The City Review article on the November 9, 2001 Impressionist & Modern Art auction at Sotheby's

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


 

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