By Carter B. Horsley
The Fall 2004 Latin American
Art auction at
Sotheby's is highlighted by several works by Diego Rivera (1886-1957),
Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991), Wilfredo Lam (1902-1982), Claudio Bravo
(b. 1936) and Francisco Toldeo (b. 1940).
Lot 11, "Maternidad," is a
and handsome oil on canvas by Rivera that depicts his grandson,
named after him, played with friends and toys one of which is
a globe imprinted with continental formations. The painting also
shows a dove and the catalogue entry for the lot suggests that
a dove in the composition "invokes the spirit of Rivera's
wire, Frida Kahlo, who died in 1954 after prolonged suffering
and illness." It has an estimate of $900,000 to $1,200,000
and sold for $1,100,000, including the buyer's premium as do
all results mentioned in this article. Kristen Dunn
the head of the auction house's Latin American Department, said
after the sale that the thought the sales price was a record for
a "late" Rivera.
Ms. Dueck said she was
with the evening sale, which totaled $8.7 million, just over the
pre-sale low estimate. More than 80 percent of the 45 lots offered
in the evening sale sold. While the results were good overall,
many of the better works offered failed to sell reflecting continuing
unpredictability in the Latin American Art auction market.
Another large and attractive
painting by Rivera
is Lot 6, "Delfina Flores," an oil on masonite that
measures 47 7/8 by 23 7/8 inches. Executed in 1937, the sitter,
the catalogue noted, "is perhaps the most famous of his young
models" and the painting "presents a broodingly sensual
young woman as she leaves her childhood behind." The painting,
which is part of the National Heritage of Mexico, is offered for
sale from the catalogue only as the work is not permitted to be
exported. It has an estimate of $700,000 to $900,000 and sold
for $792.000. It is the back cover illustration of the
Another major Rivera is Lot 30,
(Pescadores de Acapulco)," a 25 5/8-by-37 ¼ inch oil
on canvas that was painted in 1956 while the artist was staying
at the Acapulco house of Dolores Olmedo, after whom a museum is
named on the outskirts of Mexico City. A very dramatic and stylized
composition, the painting has an estimate of $400,000 to $500,000
and it sold for $568,000.
Lots 32 and 33 are a couple of
good watercolors by Rivera that were once in the collection of
Edward G. Robinson, the actor. Lot 32, "Vendedora de Hojas
de Maiz," measures 15 3/8 by 11 ¼ inches and was executed
circa 1935. It has an estimate of $30,000 to $40,000. It sold
for $36,000. Lot 33, "Cargador," measures 16 1/8 by
11/4 inches and was executed circa 1937. It has the same estimate
as the previous lot. It sold for $48,000.
Another work that is part of the National Heritage of Mexico and
was offered for sale only from the catalogue was Lot 13, "Nina
Tehucana, Lucha Maria (Soly Luna)," by Frida Kahlo (1910-1954).
An oil on masonite that measures 21 ½ by 17 inches, it
was executed in 1942. It has an estimate of $800,000 to $1,000,000.
It failed to sell and was passed at $775,000.
The auction offers several
works by Tamayo.
Lot 9, "El Vaso Azul," is a 1940 still life of a vase
and fruit on a table. An oil on canvas that measures 39 3/8 by
51 1/8 inches, it has an ambitious estimate of $700,000 to $900,000.
It failed to sell and was passed at $675,000. In
the work is discussed by Juan Carlos Pereda, who notes that the
blue vase "seems to contain a microcosmic eclipse or astral
event" and that the "profuse illumination of one side
of the glass contrasted with the dark chiaroscuro on the other
- like the light and dark sides of an orbiting moon - create a
suggestive sense of movement in an otherwise placid scene."
"An especially humorous note," Mr. Pereda continued,
"is the 'disappearance' of a slice of watermelon, leaving
behind literally the empty shell of Tamayo's luscious hallmark.
Here Tamayo leaves a different calling card in the form of the
rind of the already-enjoyed fruit. The total effect is classic
Tamayo in the disarming simplicity with which the artist manipulates
the tenets of Cubism while presenting a prosaically Mexican still
life rendered in the rich tone of Mexican cobalt. Its rigorous
geometry counterbalances the laconic mood of the painting's cool
palette, producing a masterpiece among Tamayo's still lives."
A more typical "hot" Tamayo is
27, "Hombre con Esfera," an oil on canvas executed in
1971. An oil on canvas with rich pinks, browns and reds, it has
been consigned by the Los Angeles County Museum to benefit the
acquisition of Latin American Art. It measures 35 ½ by
43 ½ inches and has an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000.
It failed to sell and was passed at $250,000.
Perhaps the best painting in
the auction is
Lot 1, "La Isla de Cuba," by Mario Carreño (1913-1999).
Executed in 1948, it is pyroxilin on masonite and measures 17
by 24 ½ inches and was once in the collection of Mr. And
Mrs. David Harriton. It is very painterly and surrealistically
nautical in spirit. It has an estimate of $80,000 to $100,000.
It failed to sell and was passed at $60,000.
Three other works by Carreño,
in the Harriton collection, all with lower estimates and nice
but not as interesting, did sell including Lot 3, "Untitled,"
by Mario Carreño, a gouache on paper that measures 28 1/4
by 23 inches. It was executed in 1947 and had an estimate of $30,000
to $40,000 and sold for $39,000.
The catalogue's cover
illustration is Lot 14,
"Volcan," by David Alfaro Siqueiros (18996-1954). Executed
in 1959, it is pyroxilin on masonite and measures 36 by 23 7/8
inches. It has an estimate of $70,000 to $90,000. It was
from the auction.
Lot 22, "A Point," is a strong
by Wilfredo Lam that is notable for its vibrant blue color. An
oil on canvas that measures 54 ¾ by 44 7/8 inches, it was
executed in 1950. It has an estimate of $175,000 to $225,000.
It sold for $321,600.
Francisco Toledo is
and Lot 28 shows his great talent with watercolors. Entitled "La
Familia de Elefantes," it measures 22 by 30 inches and is
dated 1977. It has an estimate of $150,000 to $200,000 and
it sold for $187,200.
An even more exciting work by
Toledo is Lot
38, "Vol et Départ," a mixed media on paper laid
down on masonite. It measures 29 ½ by 40 ¼ inches
and was executed in 1968. It has an estimate of $200,000 to $250,000.
It sold for $209,600.
One of the most stunning works
in the auction
is Lot 36, "Black is Black," a pastel on paper by Claudio
Bravo. Executed in 1970, it measures 40 by 28 ½ inches
and takes its title from the 1966 hit record of the same name
by the Spanish quintet Los Bravos. According to the catalogue,
"it was the first single by a group from a non-English speaking
country to reach to top five on both the U.S. and British charts."
"It was also a period of dramatic artistic recognition for
the other Bravo: from 1965-1967 Claudio Bravo was honored with
three one-man shows in Madrid. In titling this exquisite drawing,
Claudio Bravo paid homage to one of his favorite bands while signaling
his own ambitions for international artistic recognition. Like
the song, Black is Black the drawing was also a
work, a breakout hit on the US art scene. It was featured in Bravo's
first solo show in America…at Staempfli Gallery in 1970."
It has an estimate of $225,000 to $275,000. It failed to sell
and was passed at $210,000.
Lot 16, "Madera Essaouira," is
large and lovely still life of brown vases by Bravo. A pastel
on paper that measures 29 ½ by 43 1/8 inches, it has an
estimate of $80,000 to $100,000. It failed to sell and was
passed at $75,000.
Lot 26, "I Love You Sepia," is
of Bravo's early "package" paintings. An oil on canvas
that is 39 ½ inches square, it has an estimate of $350,000
to $450,000. It sold for $500,800.
One of the most impressive lots
in the auction
is Lot 19, "Moça Penteando Los Cabelos," by Cândido
Portinari (1903-1962), a tempera on canvas that measures 29 5/8
by 23 5/8 inches. Executed in 1941, it has an estimate of $400,000
to $500,000. It failed to sell and was passed at $350,000.
'In bringing his subjects to the canvas (or wall)," the catalogue
observed, "Portinari drew on multiple art historical sources,
uniting the principles of Mexican muralism with the formal solutions
developed by Picasso in the 1920s and 1930s and spatial relationships
adapted from Renaissance perspective. Moça Penteando los
Cabelos is a classic example of this fusion that reflects the
artist's sensitive observation of the movements of daily life.
Its dignity derives from a composition both simple and monumental,
its subject at once a young Brazilian mulatta and a universal
Venus." Picasso surely would have enjoyed this work.
The auction's biggest
surprise was Lot 42,
"L'Enfant Malade," a large and well-done academic work
by Arturo Michelena (1863-1898). An oil on canvas that measures
74 7/8 by 79 inches, it was executed in 1887 when it was exhibited
at the Palais des Champs-Elysées at the Salon de la Société
des Artistes Français where it won the Gold Medal, Second
Class, the highest honor a foreign artist could receive at the
exhibition. At one time, it was in the Vincent Astor Collection.
It was consigned to the auction as property from the estate of
Owen Burns, who was a business partner of John Ringling, the circus
magnate and art collector and had been kept at the John and Mabel
Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida, in custody for the Burns
estate since the late 1940s. It had an estimate of $150,000 to
$200,000 and sold for $1,352,000, more than double the artist's
previous auction record of $552,500. When the bidding reached
$1,000,000, the auction audience burst into applause, which they
did again when the bidding was over and again at the end of the
Another work by
Michelena, Lot 98, "Niño
Jugando con Pàjaro," also did remarkably well. A well-painted
but not terribly attractive picture of a young girl tightly clutching
a bird in her hand, it is an oil on board that measures 12 7/8
by 16 ¼ inches. It had an estimate of $20,000 to $25,000
and sold for $148,000.
Five other new auction
records were set.
Lot 18, "Nue Dans Un
by Manuel Rendón (1894-1980), sold for $131,200, more than
double the artist's previous auction record. A nicely stylized
and colorful oil on canvas that measures 38 ¼ by 76 ¾
inches, it had an estimate of $50,000 to $70,000.
Lot 37, "Desnudo de
by Francisco Zúñiga (1913-1998), sold for $411,200,
just over the artist's previous auction record of $400,000. A
21-by-43 ¼-by-21 ½-inch bronze sculpture that was
executed in 1976 and is number 3 of 6, it was consigned from the
Philip and Muriel Berman Collection.
Lot 47, "El Pez," by
(b. 1920), sold for $84,000, breaking the artist's former auction
record of $79,500. An intensely bright and very colorful oil on
canvas that measures 46 1/8 by 69 inches, it had an estimate of
$90,000 to $120,000. It is dated 1958-60.
Lot 54, "Physicromie
by Carlos Cruz Diez (b. 1923), sold for $51,000, almost double
his previous auction record. An acrylic on panel with plastic
elements, it measures 25 5/8 by 23 ¼ inches and is dated
1965. It had an estimate of $12,000 to $18,000.
Lot 57, a very
attractive untitled work
by Jesus Rafael Soto (b. 1923), sold for $232,000, far exceeding
his previous auction record of $96,321. Painted wood with metal
elements, it measures 39 3/8 inches square and was executed circa
1959. It had an estimate of $60,000 to $80,000.
Lot 62 A is a very lovely
feather work by an
anonymous Mexican 19th Century artist. The feather work, or plumaria,
is over cut out drawing on thick board that measures 16 ¼
by 10 ½ inches. It has an estimate of $12,000 to $18,000.
It sold for $12,000.
The nicest sculpture in the
auction is Lot
150, "Constelacion," by Gunther Gerzso (1915-2000).
The 43-inch-high bronze was executed in 1989 and is numbered 3/6.
It has an estimate of $25,000 to $35,000. It sold for $66,000.
Gerzo is best known for his very slick geometric abstractions
of which Lot 149, "Naranja-Verde-Azul," is a good example.
It has an estimate of $30,000 to $40,000. It sold for $33,600.
Ignacio Iturria (b. 1949) is
one of the more
interesting contemporary Latin American artists. His paintings
are usually dark and primitive but have a whimsical spirit. Lot
179, "Untitled," is a good example. An oil on canvas
that is dated 1990, it measures 32 by 39 3/8 inches. It has an
estimate of $18,000 to $22,000. It sold for $12,000.