By Carter B. Horsley
The fall 2004 art auction season in New York
opens in good spirits following the sale at Sotheby's in London
of a small painting attributed to Vermeer for about $30 million
and this auction of Impressionist and Modern Art has several very
major works with pretty ambitious estimates to test the market,
most notably an important painting by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903),
a superb abstraction by Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), a couple
of excellent works by Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920), a "boogie-woogie"
geometric painting by Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), a good sculpture
by Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957), a good painting by Pablo Picasso
(1881-1973), a handsome abstraction by Fernand Léger (1861-1955),
and a nice work by Chaim Soutine (1893-1943).
The Gauguin, Lot 15, "Maternité,"
is an oil on burlap that measures 37 1/4 by 24 inches. It has
an impressive provenance that includes Alphonse Kann, Dikran Khan
Kelekian, Adolph Lewisohn, Mrs. Henry Huttleson Rogers, David
Rockefefeller and Barbara Piasecka Johnson.
Another earlier version of the painting is
at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The painting shows a woman nursing her baby
at the bottom right with two attendants in the background. It
was executed in 1899 when Gauguin's 17-year-old mistress, Pahura,
gave birth to their son.
In an article in The New York Times
October 8, 2004 by Carol Vogel, David Norman, co-chairman of Sotheby's
Impressionist and Modern Art department worldwide is quoted that
"It's one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to acquire
a landmark of Post-Impressionism," adding that "It's
one of the last major works of the Tahitian period left in private
"Several dealers said it was offered for
sale in Paris this summer, with an asking price between $30 million
and $35 million. Mr. Norman said he was unaware of that offer,"
Ms Vogel wrote.
At this auction, it has an ambitious estimate
of $40 million to $50 million. It is a handsome, straightforward,
and colorful work that is representative of Gauguin's enchantment
with the exoticism of the South Seas. It sold for $39,208,000
including the buyer's premium as do all the results mentioned
in this article. The sales price set a world auction record for
After it had been acquired by Barbara Piasecka
Johnson, Sotheby's, according to The New York Times article,
says the painting was in the possession of Nevill Keating Pictures,
London dealers, who sold it to the unidentified seller at Sotheby's.
But some dealers who know the painting say James Roundell, a London
dealer, sold it sometime between 1990 and 1997. (Mr. Roundell
declined to comment.) Experts believe Mr. Roundell sold 'Maternité
(II)' to Prince Jefri Bolkiah, the brother of the Sultan of Brunei,
whose financial troubles have forced him to sell parts of his
art collection. Sotheby's is auctioning the painting on behalf
of an unidentified collector who acquired it from Angela Neville,
a London dealer. Experts say the seller is from Southeast Asia.
Mr. Norman declined to comment."
Mr. Norman said after the sale that he was
"thrilled" with the sale. Of the 61 lots offered, 48,
or 78.3 percent, sold for a total of $194,289,600. The presale
total estimates were $203.5 million to $$275.6 million.
Another iconic work is "Jeanne Hébuterne
(Devant Une Porte," Lot 23, by Amedeo Modigliani. A stunning
oil on canvas that measures 51 by 32 1/8 inches, it was executed
in 1919. It has been consigned by Dorothy Cherry, the widow of
Wendell Cherry, the chairman of Humana, the healthcare company.
Her husband, who died in 1991, acquired it in the early 1980s.
It has an estimate of $20 million to $30 million. It sold for
The catalogue entry for this lot provides the
"Painted in 1919, the work is one of Modigliani's
most monumental portraits, and is the last depiction of his lover
and muse. Jeanne was just 19 when she met Modigliani and, for
the next three years, she would be his constant companion and
source of inspirtion right up to his early death (she committed
suicide at the age of only 22, disconsolate over the loss of her
great love). The Cherry Modigliani is the finest portrait of Jeanne
to appear for sale in a generation and has few equals in the artist's
oeuvre....In 1919, when this work was executed, Jeanne was pregnant
with their second child. The physical and emotional connotations
of her state are beautifully captured in the contrast between
the full shape of her skirt, and the elongated delicate features
of her face and upper body....The first time that it was reproduced
was in 1944 on the cover of a pamphlet accompanying an exhibition
held at the American British Art Center in New York. In that publication,
Lionello Venturi wrote the following of this picture: 'The 'Portrait
of Mrs. Hebuterne,' the wife of Modigliani, has never been published.
It is a masterpiece, in the painter's last style, when he not
only had definitely mastered his linear values, but knew how to
construct space around his figure, thus creating a new balance
and a new reality out of his abstract forms and colors.'"
Apart from its large scale, the painting is
particularly strong in the artist's distorted handling of the
space behind Jeanne.
A more modest but still appealing Modigliani
is Lot 49, "Portrait du Docteur Devaraigne," a 21 ¾-by-18
3/8-inch oil on canvas, dated 1917, which was once owned by George
Gershwin and carried a high estimate of $2,500,000 when it was
auctioned at Sotheby's in November, 1999 at which time it sold
for $2,312,500 including the buyer's premium. It has an estimate
at this auction of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It failed to sell
and was passed at $1,500,000.
Even more striking than the
Modigliani is Lot 9, "Skizze Fur Sintflut II (Sketch for
Deluge II)," a 1912 oil on canvas that measures 37 1/2 by
42 1/2 inches by Wassily Kandinsky. Unlike much of his rather
hard-edged oeuvre, it is a softness and transparency that belies
organic layers of abstraction. It is one of several major works
consigned to this auction from the collection of Hester Diamond.
The catalogue includes the
following wonderful essay about the Diamond collection by Colin
Eisler, Robert Lehman Professor of Fine Arts at the New York University
Institute of Fine Arts:
"Art speaks differently in different settings,
whether in its creator's studio, dealer's space, museums's gallery,
or owner's home. Each wall impacts varyingly upon what it bears.
The creator, the vendor, the collector, all modify their temporary
possessions. For all of them, art fulfills a radically shifting
function, allowing for elements of discovery and support. For
the artist it is revelation and expression, for the dealer it
is discernment and the power of exchange, for the curator it is
vicarious ownership, knowledge, and taste-making, and for the
owner, an expansion of self into new dimensions of authority and
response. Sometimes art can appear to fall under the spell of
the possessor, just as the latter often falls victim to the seduction
of its power. Furniture, wall coverings, spaces, lights, carpets
and colors all impact upon the image. However strong these seemingly
permanent surroundings may be, art almost always has the last
word, its message (or absence thereof) communicated to the viewer
over and above setting and frame. For those lucky enough to have
seen the School of Paris paintings and the Brancusi sculptures
in Hester Diamond's Art-Deco-housed, capacious Manhattan apartment,
this experience has afforded a precious one-on-one intimacy not
permitted by the vast spaces of a museum, gallery or auction house.
Along with the pleasure of their owner's unassuming and ever generous
hospitality, many of my students (along with their teacher) were
privileged to enjoy the company of her Brancusis, Léger,
Mondrian, and Picassos. Hester Diamond is too realistic to have
ever thought of her works in the apartment as 'hers'; never falling
into the twin traps of possessiveness or promotion, I would venture
that in one important way this Modern collection represents, in
the most profound sense of the word, a souvenir. Just as many
of the ancient, renaissance and later marvels, so long the glories
of English Country houses, were reminders of their 18th Century
owners' Grand Continental Tours, the present remarkable works
dating from the earlier Twentieth Century remain souvenirs of
their owner's marriage to that brilliant art dealer, Harold Diamond
(1926-1982). First following, then sharing his veturesome, independent
eye, toegethe they brought these images into their lives. As the
parents of three sons, art works never occupied the roles of children.
Rather the paintings and the sculpture were, in addition to their
intrinsic qualities, reminders of happy moments in time, of challenges,
discoveries and opportunities. A gifted profession in the field
of interior design, Hester placed this brilliant assemblage of
early twentieth century paintings and sculpture in a domestic
setting. They shared space occupied by Empire and Georgian furniture,
a dazzling Dufy-designed, embroidered suite of dining room chairs,
Russian chandeliers, Near Eastern carpets, Egyptian Revival papier-maché
remarkable swinging étagères and gloriously lacquered
or silvered or gilded furniture from eighteenth century England,
the Empire Style or the Far East. In the evenings a vast round
dining room table is covered of a ever-changing collection of
brilliantly colored English and Continental 18th and 19th Century
porcelains and other tableware, adding wildly unexpected sights
to the more austere Twentury Century palette on the walls. Later,
minature porcelains and a modest tidal wave of exotic sea-shells
came to enrich the surroudings, the School of Paris now surprisingly
happily partnered with an all American Wunderkammer! Synergy
prevailed as the dynamism of décor worked in a successfully
mystical union linking three centuries. To accommodate their rapidly
growing collection, for the Diamonds' quite literally raised the
roof, elevating the ceiling so their Brancusis and large paintings
could be given breathing space and flying room. My happiest moments
in this splendid assemblage were those allowing for a communion
before the early Wassily Kandinsky canvas - Sketch for A Deluge
II, for me he is quite the major master of the Twentieth century,
combining eternity and prophecy by re-discovering nature. In this
sense, he is akin to Durer or Pollock; the German saw his mission
as that of 'seizing nature,' the American that of 'being nature.'
When young, Kandinsky's passion for exploring his continent's
physical and ethnological heritage, its sounds as well as its
sights led to a cosmos of his own making. As a sketch of and for
an archetypal flood, the young Russian's image foreshadows the
impending events of his own content, and of the cycles that would
wrack the world in the Twentieth and Twenty-First centuries. The
miracle is that he can unite tragic prophetic insight with beauty
fusing the dynamic of impending disaster with a sense of unchanging
eternity. For the past twenty years or so, Hester Diamond has
been re-discovering the far more distant frontiers of art, the
images of the Tre- and Quattrocentro, of Early Netherlandish Art,
of the High Renaissance and Italian Mannerism. As the images from
the early Twentieth Century have become our new Old Masters, she
moves back in time, turning to the enduring novelty of the past.
The works of Pontormo, Bernini, and Veronese, along with renaissance
and rococco sculpture now filling her apartment, may seem even
more venturesome and provocative to their new owner than the works
of the School of Paris formerly occupying those spaces....Pursing
her resolutely un-square dance throughlife, Mrs. Diamond is now
changing her 'collecting partner' from the New to the Old, following
ever novel, significant steps in the changing music of a rediscovered
The catalogue entry for this lot goes on to
note that "The brilliantly colored canvases from Kandinsky's
Munich period present an ecstatic beauty that is rarely expressed
in painting," adding that "In Skizze dur Sintflut II
(Sketch for Deluge II), created in 1912 at the heighyt of his
involvement with the avant-garde Expressionist group, Der Blaue
Reiter, Kandinsky floods the surface of his canvas with opaque
and translucent colors. Amorphous forms appear to explode, overlap,
and evaporate beyond the boundaries of the picture plane, alluding
to the constant flux of energy and entropy at play in the universe."
"The goal of Kandinsky's art of this period,
in the painter's own words, was to 'awaken as yet nameless feelings
of a finer nature,'" the catalogue entry continued, adding
that "It is with these grand canvases, pulsating with color,
that the artist attempted to create a new aesthetic experience
for the 20th century."
The Kandinsky has an estimate of $20,000,000
to $30,000,000. Surprisingly, it failed to sell and was passed
Lot 8 is the second version of Constantin Brancusi's
famous sculpture, "The Kiss." The first version is in
the Mauzeul de Arta, Craiova. This lot is the only one remaining
in private hands and was most likely done around the time that
he stopped working in Auguste Rodin's studio. This lot, which
was consigned from the Collection of Hester Diamond, has an estimate
of $8,000,000 to $12,000,000. It sold for $8,968,000.
Another major consignment from the collection
of Hester Diamond is Lot 7, "New York 1941/Boogie-Woogie.
1941-42," an oil on canvas by Piet Mondrian. It measures
37 3/4 by 36 5/8 inches and has an estimate of $20,000,000 to
$30,000,000 even though the canvas has noticeable craquelure.
It sold for $21,008,000.
Mondrian came to New York in 1940 and the catalogue
notes that he was "enraptured by the lure of Manhattan, its
urban landscape unlike anything he had ever experienced in Europe.
The linearity of the skyline and the grid of its streets created
an environment that seemed to be a living example of Mondrian's
theories of Neo-Plasticism that he promoted in the 1920s and 1930s,
and the neon signs of Times Square and the pulsing rhythm of New
York jazz enlivened the spirit of his paintings during these years.
Working in New York until his death in 1944, Mondrian produced
canvases that demonstrated a fresher and more developed application
of his original aesthetic. These paintings are considered the
most innovtie works of his career and ultimately came to define
urban modernism in the 20th century. New York/Boogie Woogie,
which is the first canvas that he started and finished in New
York and the first of his legendary Boobie-Woogie series,
led this revolution of style....It was not uncommon for him to
work in stages on his compositions, sometimes calling a work finished
and then returning to it at a later date to add structural elements.
In the beginning of 1941, Mondrian exhibited the present work,
then titled New York and composed only of black lies, at
the Riverside Museum. When New York went unsold at that
exhibition, he decided to revise the composition over the course
of the next year."
The painting was retitled "Boogie-Woogie"
and exhibited in 1942 at the Valentine-Dudensing Gallery where
it sold to Mary E. Johnston of Cincinnati and Mondrian received
about $400 from the sale.
A fine complement to the Mondrian
is Lot 6, "Le Disque Rouge," by Fernand Léger,
which hung in the same corner as the Mondrian in the Diamond apartment
according to a photograph in the catalogue. The Léger is
an oil on canvas that measures 36 1/4 by 25 3/4 inches and was
executed in 1919 and is closely related to more complex compositions
now at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Musée
d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, both executed the previous
year. This lot has a estimate of $3,500,000 to $4,500,000. It
sold for $4,936,000.
Another fine Léger work
is Lot 18, "Paysage," an oil on canvas that measures
28 1/2 by 39 1/2 inches. The 1914 painting was consigned by a
private European collection and also has an estimate of $3,500,000
to $4,500,000. It failed to sell and was passed at $2,900,000.
Another consignment from the
estate of Wendell Cherry, is Lot 24, "Le Chasseur de Chez
Maxim's," an oil on canvas that measures 32 3/8 by 29 3/8
inches. Executed circa 1925, it has an estimate of $2,500,000
to $3,500,000. It is quite similar to a version entitled "The
Groom" at the Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris.
It sold for $6,728,000 setting a new world auction record for
Lot 25, "Nus," is
a strong work by Pablo Picasso that combines Neo-Classicism with
Surrealism. An oil on canvas that measures 32 by 39 1/2 inches,
it was executed in 1934. The catalogue entry notes that "the
octopus-like figures in Nus are...all formed form the same
pliable material, but the profusion and interchangeability of
body parts, makes an exact body-count nearly impossible,"
adding that "Weightless and curiously innocent in their sexual
curiosity, the less than human forms in Picasso's phantasmogoria
are among his most remarkable creations in the period immediately
preceding Guernica." The lot, which was once in the
collection of Evelyn Sharp, has an estimate of $6,000,000 to $8,000,000.
It failed to sell and was passed at $5,600,000.
Lot 17, "Le Cirque," is a good Fauve
work by Maurice de Vlaminck (1876-1958). An oil on canvas, it
measures 23 5/8 by 28 3/4 inches and was executed in 1906. It
has an estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000. It failed to sell
and was passed at $3,600,000.
Lot 20, "Anita-La Belle Fatima et Sa Troupe,"
is a very fine oil on canvas by Kees van Dongen (1877-1968). It
measures 39 by 31 1/2 inches and was executed circa 1905-7. It
has a modest estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It sold
The catalogue provides the following commentary
about this lot:
"Orientalist themes dominated van Dongen's
work throughout his Fauve period, providing an exoticism and intensity
that perfectly suited the artist's temperament....In his predilection
for the theme, van Dongen followed a long tradition of Orientalism
in French art....In 1906, Matisse made his first trip to Morocco,
and the visit had a profound effect on the development of his
style. Matisse and van Dongen were the two Fauve artists most
influenced by the Arab world and most captivated by the human
figure. The exoticism of the cultures of North Africa and the
Ottoman Empire and intensity of the color and light made a tremendous
impact on their motis and techniques at this time. Van Dongen's
particular achievement, as exemplified in the present work, was
to achieve a synthesis of the brilliant and pure chromatic vision
of the Fauves with a great sense of movement and compositional
audacity....It was with works such as the present painting that
van Dongen was to come closest to German Expressionist art and
it is possible to see the present work as a precursor to the wild
dancing girls of Nolde and Pechtstein."
Lot 46 is a very pleasant still
life by Georges Braque (1882-1963) entitled "Palette et Vase
de Narcisses." Executed in 1939, it is an oil on canvas that
measures 21 1/4 by 25 5/8 inches. Consigned by the estate of Sarabel
Florsheim, it has an estimate of $600,000 to $800,000. It sold
Other fine works in the auction
include Lot 56, "Nu Debout," an oil by Alberto Giacometti
(1901-1966) that measures 28 3/4 by 15 3/4 inches and has an estimate
of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000, and which sold for $1,352,000;
and two very large sculptures by Henry Moore (1898-1986) from
the Philip and Muriel Berman Collection, Lot 38, which is entitled
"Three-Piece Reclining Figure: Draped," and has an estimate
of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000, and which sold for $8,408,000,
a new auction record for the artist, and Lot 33, which is
entitled "Reclining Figure: Angles" and has an estimate
of $3,000,000 to $4,000,000, which sold for $3,592,000.
Several late works by Pablo
Picasso fared well. Lot 55, for example, "Femme Nue Assise
Dans Un Fauteuil," had an estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000
and sold for $5,048,000, leading to an outburst of elated shrieks
from a group of viewers in one of the auction house's glassed-in
"skyboxes." The shrieks of joy were so loud that they
could be heard on the auction floor, leading Tobias Meyer, the
auctioneer, to remark "See how much fun it is," sparking
a loud communal laugh.