By Carter B. Horsley
The kick-off to the Fall 2004 art auction season
begins with this evening auction of Impressionist and Modern Art
at Christie's November 3, 2004, which is highlighted by a great
painting by Joan Miró (1893-1983), an impressive river
scene by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), a good version of the Houses
of Parliament in London and a wonderful sunset riverscape by Claude
Monet (1840-1926), an impressive "Four Seasons" suite
of paintings by Camille Pissarro (1830-1903), a very lovely small
landscape by Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), and a delightful
painting by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973).
Normally, such a cache would be most impressive,
but this year it pales a bit in comparison with the offering the
next night at Sotheby's, which has several blockbusters with very
Of course, connoisseurs know that high estimates
are not a guarantee of excellence, to say nothing of a collector's
The Miró, Lot 11, "La Caresse des
étoiles," is as good a Miró as one can imagine
for its size, richly colorful and dynamically full of energy.
An oil on canvas that measures 22 ½ by 28 ½ inches,
it was executed in 1938 and has been consigned from the Collection
of Nathan L. Halpern.
The auction house claims that it is "a
discovery of remarkable importance," adding that "The
painting is the most significant addition to the artist's oeuvre
in recent years, painted when the artist was at the peak of his
powers." "It is moreover a 20th Century masterwork in
the fullest sense, one that offer the most profound insights into
the crucible of modern history in which it was created
painting has remained out of sight since it was painted in 1938.
During the Occupation of Paris, it was hidden away by Pierre Loeb,
Miró's dealer, to save it from confiscation by the Nazis.
While stationed in Paris, Halpern acquired this painting from
Loeb and after he returned with it to New York in 1945, the Miró
became one of the few works in the collection that Halpern did
not exhibit, and so has remained unpublished."
The catalogue entry continues :"La
caresse des étoiles had its genesis in the Spanish
Civil War, which began in July 1936, when General Francisco Franco
led an uprising of fascist and other right-wing elements against
the nation's left-wing government."
It sold for $11,767,500 including the buyer's
premium as do all results mentioned in this article.
The sale was quite successful with 81 percent
of the 58 offered lots selling for a total of $128,222,150, which
was, according to Christopher Burge, the evening's auctioneer,
"comfortably" within the pre-sale total estimates of
$111,700,000 to $157,900,000.
A less vibrant but still marvelous Miró,
Lot 43, "Personnage, oiseau, étoiles," a pastel,
watercolor and black chalk on paper, had an estimate of $700,000
to $900,000 and sold for $1,071,500. Executed in 1942,
it measures 24 3/4 by 18 1/4 inches.
Lot 41, "Le Pont de Trinquetaille,"
is a strong riverscape scene by Vincent van Gogh that sold at
Christie's November 8, 1999 for $15,402,500. It had been acquired
by Akram Ojjeh, a Syrian-born financier who died in 1990 at Sotheby's
in October, 1980 for $1,500,000 and was consigned to this auction
by Wafic Said. At this auction, the estimate was $12,000,000 to
$18,000,000. It sold for $11,207,500 to Joseph Hackmey. Given
its size and condition and that fact that it had not been offered
at auction all that recently, this price was quite a bargain for
the buyer, especially given its strong composition, only somewhat
offset by the seemingly inconsistent treatment of the boardwalk
in the lower left corner.
Lot 24, "Londres, le Parlement, effet
de soleil dans le brouillard," is a 31 7/8-by-36 1/4-inch
oil on canvas by Claude Monet. Executed in 1904, it has an estimate
of $12,000,000 to $18,000,000. It sold for $20,167,500, the
highest auction price for a London scene by Monet. Monet's
views of the Houses of Parliament are among his most successful
and lyrical series. This is a bit pasty and not one of the best
in the series.
Lot 13, "L'Aiguille, à travers
la Porte d'Aval," is one of Monet's series of paintings of
the very dramatic coastline at Etretat. An oil on canvas, it measures
25 7/8 by 36 3/8 inches and was executed in 1885-6. It has an
estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It sold for $1,463,500.
The most beautiful, or at least the most impressionist,
Monet in this auction was Lot 36, "Coucher de soleil à
Lavacourt," a 21 1/4-by-31 7/8-inch oil on canvas. Executed
in 1880, it has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It
sold for $2,247,500. It had sold for $1,872,500 at Christie's,
November 8, 1999 when it had an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,500,000.
Lot 33, "The Four Seasons," by Camille
Pissarro, consisted of four oils on canvas, each 21 5/8 by 51
1/2 inches. Executed in 1872, they have an estimate of $8,000,000
to $12,000,000 and sold for $8,967,500. They were consigned
by Wafic Said who had acquired them at Christie's in 1991 for
Lot 4, "Vaches au bord
de la mer," is a pleasant coastal scene with cows by Paul
Gauguin (1848-1903). An oil on canvas that measures 29 1/2 by
44 inches, it was executed in 1886. It has an estimate of and
was consigned by the Henryk de Kwiatkowski Family Collection.
It sold for $2,359,500. "The present picture,"
the catalogue entry noted, "is one of the largest and most
complex paintings that Gauguin made during his first trip to Brittany
in the summer of 1886, a watershed moment in his career."
A remarkably lovely and rather
atypical landscape by Paul Cézanne, Lot 16, "Vue d'Auvers-sur-Oise,"
was executed in 1873. An oil on canvas that measures 18 by 14
7/8, it was once in the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ittleson
Jr. It has an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,500,000 and sold
for $1,855,500. According to the catalogue, the painting "is
a vibrant example of the artist's Impressionist period when he
was working with Pissarro...in the area around Pontoise....Working
directly from nature beside his friend and mentor, Camille Pissarro...,
Cézanne abandoned the dark tonalities and rough facture
of his earlier canvases and adopted the light, varied palette
and fleet, vibratory touch of Impressionism."
A less appealing and rather
dour "Portrait de femme" by Cézanne, Lot 29,
has an estimate of $9,000,000 to $12,000,000 and sold for $10,087,500.
An oil on canvas that measures 25 5/8 by 21 1/4 inches, it was
executed circa 1900 and was consigned by Stephen A. Wynn, the
casino owner.According to the catalogue, Cézanne "made
at least two other portraits that appear to depict the same sitter."
Another work from the Halpern
collection is Lot 20, "Scène de 'Le malade imaginaire,'
by Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940), a pen and ink and watercolor
on paper laid down on panel. Executed in 1891, this very lively
and strong work measures 9 1/2 by 19 inches and has an estimate
of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for $298,700.
Another fine Vuillard from
the Halpern collection is Lot 14, "Femme au col de fourrure,"
anoil on canvas that measures 8 1/4 by 5 5/8 inches. Executed
circa 1890-1, it has an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. A severely
cropped portrait of a woman with a fur collar, it is quite abstract
and quite Japanese in spirit. It sold for $343,500.
Lot 31, "Femme à a la voilette
(Mme Lucienne Dupuy de Frenelle," is a very, very beautiful
oil on canvas by Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947). It measures 27 by
23 7/8 inches and was executed circa 1917. It has an estimate
of $700,000 to $900,000 and sold for $993,100.
Lot 48 is a large and impressive
cityscape by Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956) that is entitled "Benz
VI." An oil on canvas, it measures 39 2/8 by 49 1/4 inches
and was executed in 1914. It has an estimate of $2,500,000 to
$3,500,000. It sold for $3,703,500.
Lot 46, "Mousquetaire à la pipe,"
is a strong oil on canvas by Pablo Picasso. It measures 57 5/8
by 35 1/8 inches and was executed in 1968. It has an estimate
of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000 and it sold for $7,175,500. "Picasso's
view of the musketeers is invariably comic and mock-heroic; these
soldiers of deering-do are often ridiculous and overblown in their
grandiose self-confidence. But at the same time Picasso must have
lamented in the contemporary world a growing absence of the recklessly
individual spirit, the man of purposeful idea and action, a world
-transforming genius, as he had been in his youthful career,"
the catalogue noted.
Lot 50, "Femme fatale,"
is an early and quite garish oil on canvas by Kees van Dongen
(1877-1968). It measures 32 1/4 by 24 inches and was executed
circa 1905. It was once in the collection of Ingrid Bergman and
has an estimate of $3,500,000 to $4,500,000. It sold for $5,943,500,
a world auction record for the artist.
The catalogue provided the
"The painting demonstrates
in uncompromising fashion the artist's penchant for exploiting
shock value, here taken to an unprecedented extreme. He has fused
blant eroticism with his recent discovery of jarring and electrifying
color to create of portrait of startling and unforgettable physological
intensity....Van Dongen employed jewel-like colors in the present
portrait to emphasize the flamboyant and tawdry character of his