By Carter B. Horsley
The Fall auction season of 2005 kicks off with
this excellent evening auction of Impressionist & Modern Art
at Christie's November 7, 2005, highlighted by an important and
impressive oil by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901), a great
early portrait by Pablo Picasso, a luminous Neo-Impressionist
work by Theo van Rysselberghe, a bright and strong Cubist still
life by Juan Gris, a good painting by Alberto Giacometti, and
two good works by Camille Pissarro.
The most important work in the auction is Lot
7, "La Blanchisseuse," a superb and stark portrait of
a laundry worker by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. An oil on canvas,
it measures 36 1/2 by 29 1/2 inches and was executed in 1886-7.
It has a conservative estimate of $20,000,000 to $25,000,000 given
the scarcity of large works by the artist on the market and the
strength of its composition and its monumentality. It sold
for $22,416,000 including the buyer's premium, breaking the previous
world auction record of $14,522,500 for the artist set at Christie's
May 12, 1997. It has been consigned from a private American
collection and is one of many properties in the auction from that
collection that were formerly in the collection of Mr. and Mrs.
Neison Harris of Chicago. Mr. Harris was a founder of Toni Home
Permanent and he died in 2001 and she died in July. Their heirs
have consigned the work. It was recently exhibited in the "Toulouse-Lautrec
and Montmartre" exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago
The catalogue entry for the lot notes that
the painting "was his finest painting to date, and indeed,
it is arguably his first masterwork," addig that "there
is noprior picture in his oeuvre in which the young painter
had so powerfully and dramatically characterized this subject,
or expressed his deepening insight into the world around him with
such clarity and certainty in his technical means. Projecting
himself into the very soul of this young woman, who may have been
no older than himself, Lautre demonstrated a degree of worldly
understnding and compassion well beyond his years....The model
for this painting was Carmen Gaudin, who in fact made her living
as a laundress. Francois Gauzi, writing much later, related a
story in which Lautrec and [Henri] Rachou spotted Carmen as she
was leaving a restaurant sometime in mid-1885. Lautrec was irresistibly
attracted to red-headed women, and is supported to have walked
right up to her and examined her closely. He exclaimed to Rachou,
'what an air of spoiled meat she has....,' apparently referring
to the fact that like many laundrymaids, she probable worked as
a parttime prostititue."
The auction was quite successful with 92
percent of the 63 offered lots selling for $160,931,200, nicely
in the middle of the pre-sale estimate of $134.9 million to $189.3
million. After the sale, auctioneer Christopher Burge said that
the results were extraordinary considering that there were two
"disappointments." He said the auction's total was the
highest at Christie's since "the crazy 1989-1990 season."
He noted that 45 percent of the lots sold above the high estimate
indicating "a very strong market." He said that 47 percent
of the buyers were European, 38 percent were American, 10 percent
were Asian and 5 percent "other." He added that the
auction house had received "interest" in all the lots
that did not sell.
The two "disappointments" were
Lot 11, "Les marguerites," a large 1919 still life by
Henri Matisse that had been estimated at $10,000,000 to $15,000,000
and was passed at $8,800,000, and a landscape by Claude Monet,
Lot 16, which had been estimated at $4,000,000 to $6,000,000 and
was passed at $3,200,000.
The works consigned by the "private American
collection" are highlighted in a separate catalogue that
argues, in an essay by Richard R. Brettell, the Margaret McDermott
Distinghished Professor Art and Aesthetics at the Unnversity of
Texas at Dallas, that that the collection had assembled a "triptych"
of Impressionist landscapes that were comparable in quality to
a "triptych" assembled by Ernest May who gave it to
the French nation encadre' en triptyche (famed as a triptych)
to form what remains one of the enduring mouments of Impressionist
landscape painting. "May's triptych, seen by millions - indeed
hundreds of millions - of visitors since it first entered the
Jeu de Paume, before being transferred to the Musee d'Orsay, has
become a touchstone of consistency in Impressionist landscape
painting that has not been superseded. The works in the May "triptych"
were landscapes by Monet, Pissarro and Sisley and they are all
painted in 1872. The catalogue notes that these three painters
spent part of the Franco-Prussian war in England studying landscapes
by Constable and Turner, adding that "Their 'time-away' gave
each a combustible combination of objectivity and guilt that created
the conditions for great art." The catalogue observes that
"Mr. May formed a triptych of paintings ...., which collectively
presents an image of a France without damage, reparations, or
memories of war. This is Impressionism as a healing art for a
wounded nation....France survived without apparent harm in paintings
of an almost sublime calm and confidence."
Professor Brettell recounts encountering three
landscapes by the same three artists in 1980, "a triptych
that was more complex than Ernest May's famous first attempt,"
adding that "each of which was larger and all of which were
collectively more important than the May triptych....For each
man, Pissarro held the center of a world of flux. For the later
collector, the central landscape is larger than its flanking pair....From
the stately rhythmic verticals of the poplar trees in the middle
disance to the repetitive plants, sheaves, and haystacks that
give order to the hilly foreground, Pissarro's is a landscape
completely organized by generations of peasants."
The Pissarro is Lot 8, "Paysage, la moisson,
Pontoise." An oil on canvas that measures 25 1/2 by 31 7/8
inches, it was painted in 1873. and has an estimate of $4,000,000
to $6,000. It sold for $5,168,000.
It is a fine work by Pissarro and a detail
of it is the front-cover illustration of the catalogue.
Lot 13, "Bords de Seine à Port-Marly,"
is an oil on canvas by Alfred Sisley (1839-1899) that is one of
the three works in the new "triptych." It measures 21
1/2 by 25 5/8 inches and is dated 1875. It has an estimate of
$1,800,000 to $2,500,000. It sold for $1,808,000. It is
pleasantly colorful, but not a great Sisley.
The third work in this new "triptych"
is Lot 16, "Route à Louveciennes, effet de neige,"
by Claude Monet (1840-1926). An oil on canvas that measures 22
by 25 7/8 inches, it was painted 1869-1870. It has a very ambitious
estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000. A detail of this lot is
the back-cover illustration of the catalogue. It passed at
The notion of assembling three landscapes by
different artists and calling the group a triptych may be good
marketing but it really is stretching the notion a bit too far
especially when the subjects and seasons are different.
Other works from the same private American
collection include large still lifes by Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
and Joan Miro.
Lot 11, "Les marguerites," is an
oil on canvas by Matisse that measures 39 1/2 by 28 3/4 inches.
Executed in 1919, it has an ambitious estimate of $10,000,000
to $15,000,000. It is pretty and bright, but could have been painted
by almost anyone. It passed at $8,800,000.
A far more interesting and successful work
is Lot 12, 'Nature morte au raisin," by Joan Miró
(1893-1983). Painted in 1920, it is a small oil on canvas that
measures 12 3/4 by 14 inches. It has a modest estimate of $800,000
to $1,200,000. It sold for $2,256,000.
The rest of the auction has some stunning works.
Lot 25 is a magnificent early work by Pablo
Picasso entitled "Buveuse accoudée." An oil on
board, it measures 26 1/2 by 20 1/2 inches and was executed in
1901. It has a very conservative estimate of $6,000,000 to $8,000,000
probably reflecting the fact that his early works tend to be dark
and brooding and almost primitive in contrast to his subsequent
exploration of many different styles. This great work has been
consigned by the collection of Evelyn Annenberg Hall and was formerly
in the collections of George Gershwin and John Hay Whitney. It
sold for $6,288,000.
The catalogue provides the following commentary:
"The painting is part of an important
group of more than thirty works that the nineteen-year-old artist
made within a month of his arrival in the capital, in preparation
for a watershed exhibition of his art at Ambroise Vollard's gallery
on the Rue Laffitte. The exhibition had been arranged by P\g ere
Manach, Picasso's friend from Barcelona, who shared an apartment
with him on the Boulevard de Clichy and acted as the young painter's
dealer and agent.....The Vollard show was the first major exhibition
of Picasso's work outside Spain and marks a crucial juncture in
his career. Vollard was well-known as a dealer in works by Cézanne,
Gauguin, and other leading French artists....Vollard's exhibition
of Picasso's work brought the artist widespread recognition and
acclaim....The model for the present painting was probably one
of the many prostitutes who frequented the cafes of Montmartre.
The motif of the solitary female drinker had carried overtones
of sexual availability since the days of the Impressionists....In
Picasso's painting, the woman's garish make-up and hardened features
mark her indelibly as a member of the Parisian demi-monde recalling
the eccentric-looking cabaret dancers of Toulouse-Lautrec. The
women's hands are bony and elongated in the tradition of El Greco,
and the electric lights of the cafe give her skin an ashen, ghoulish
Lot 4 is a very beautiful Pointilist work by
Théo van Rysselberghe (1862-1926) that inexplicably is
being sold by the Museum of Modern Art to benefit it acquisitions
fund. Entitled "Port de Cette, les tartanes," it is
an oil on canvas with painted liner that measures 23 1/2 by 27
1/2 inches. Executed in 1892, it has a modest estimate of $1,500,000
to $2,000,000. It was given to the Museum of Modern Art in 1983
by Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney. It sold for $3,152,000, breaking
the previous world auction record of $2,649,500 for the artist
set at Sotheby's November 5, 2002.
Van Rysselberghe had become close with Paul
Signac, one of the leading adherents of Neo-Impressionist and
Divisionism pioneered by Seurat. This work was painted the year
after Seurat died while on a sailing trip with Signac.
Another highlight of the auction is a bold
and very vibrant still life by Juan Gris (1887-1927), Lot 26,
"Verre et carte à jouer." An oil on canvas, it
measures 18 1/8 by 13 inches and was executed in 1915. It has
an estimate of $2,200,000 to $2,800,000. It sold for $2,248,000.
It has been consigned from the collection of Katharine and Morton
G. Schamberg of Chicago.
"Verre et carte à jouer
shows Gris in his most dynamic and ebulliently footloose synthetic
cubist manner, in which he playfully experimented with superimposed
planes, like cut sheets of papiers collés, that
coyly engage the viewer's perception of depth vs. flatness,"
the catalogue entry for this lot noted.
Lot 36 is an impressive study for Le grand
déjeuner, an important work in the collection of the Museum
of Modern Art in New York by Fernand Léger (1881-1955)(see
The City Review article on an Léger
exhibition). It is one of four large-scale oil studies and,
according to the catalogue, this is the only one to employ a purely
grisaille palette and was made about the same time as a version
in the minneapolis Insitute of Arts. It has an estimate of $3,500,000
to $4,500,000 and is the front-cover illustration of the catalogue.
It sold for $4,832,000.
Lot 49, "La partie de cartes," is
a small but very fine oil and paper collage on panel laid down
on cradled panel by Fernand Léger. Painted in 1915, it
measures 15 1/2 by 9 3/4 inches and has an estimate of $1,000,000
to $1,500,000. It sold for $2,144,000.
Claude Monet is famous for his series of paintings
of waterlilies, the Thames River, haystacks, Rouen Cathedral,
poplars and the rocky formations at Etretat on the Normandie coast.
Lot 58 is a fine example of the Etretat series. Entitled "Aiguille
d'Etretat, marée basse," it is an oil on canvas that
measures 23 3/4 by 31 7/8 inches. It was executed in 1883. It
has a very conservative estimate of $700,000 to $1,000,000. It
sold for $1,920,000.
Lot 22 is a pleasant, large, square waterlily
painting by Claude Monet (1840-1926). An oil on canvas, it is
39 1/2 inches square and is dated 1907. It has an estimate of
$10,000,000 to $15,000,000. It is the back-cover illustration
of the catalogue. It sold for $14,016,000 and had been sold
at Christie's in 1989 for about $11,000,000.
Lot 51 is a wonderful and large "Painting"
by Joan Miró (1893-1983) that has been consigned by the
collection of John Russell, the art critic, and Rosamond Bernier,
the art lecturer. An oil on canvas that measures 35 by 45 5/8
inches, it was painted in 1925 and the catalogue has a photograph
of the artist making a change to it in 1964. It has a modest estimate
of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It sold for $2,704,000. The
painting, according to the catalogue entry, is one of the artist's
"dream" series that are "among the most radical
in the artist's entire oeuvre," and "they strongly influenced
the color-field painters working in America during the late 1940s
and 1950s, including William Baziotes, Helen Frankenthaler, Adolph
Gottlieb, Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still."
Lot 39, "Le soleil rouge ronge l'araignée,"
is a strong oil on canvas by Miró that was painted in 1948.
It measures 29 7/8 by 37 3/4 inches and has an ambitious estimate
of $6,000,000 to $8,000,000. It sold for $7,744,000.
Lot 48, "Grand Composition avec Personnages,"
is a largebrush and India ink, oil, gouache, pencil and wash on
paper laid down on board by Miró. Executed in 1937, it
measures 29 1/2 by 41 1/4 inches and has a modest estimate of
$700,000 to $900,000. It sold for $822,400.
Lot 54 is a excellent oil on canvas by Alberto
Giacometti (1901-1966) of sculptures in his studio. It measures
23 3/4 by 18 3/4 inches and was painted in 1950. It has an estimate
of $700,000 to $1,000,000. It sold for $1,528,000. While
Giacometti is best known for his scrawny and knobby bronze sculptures,
his paintings are, at least to this observer, far more satisfying
works of art for their sense of spaciousness, air of mystery and
composition. They are the very antithesis of the meaningless scrawls
of Cy Twombly.
Egon Schiele (1890-1918) is the subject of
a major exhibition this fall at the Neue Gallerie and Lot 42,
"Sitzender Frauenakt," is a superb and interesting example
of his work. "By 1914," the catalogue entry noted, "when
Sitzender Frauenakt was executed, schiele had largely abandoned
the angular, two-dimensional style derived from his Jugendstil
background and had begun to depict the human body in a fleshier,
more volumetric manner. It has a modest estimate of $600,000 to
$800,000. It sold for $665,600.
Pierre-August Renoir (1841-1919) was a very
prolific and uneven Impressionist painter whose reputation has
not been helped in recent years by the skads of quite bad small
sketches that continually crop up on the auction block. Lot 24,
"Nu allongé sur un divan," is a small and very
lovely study of a naked woman lying on a sofa much in the manner
of Velasquez's great "The Rokeby Venus." An oil on canvas,
it only measures 11 1/2 by 17 inches and is a fine example of
why Renoir can be richly satisfying. Executed in 1893, it has
a conservative estimate of $900,000 to $1,200,000. The catalogue
entry notes that this work "is testatment both to the artist's
expertiseat rendering the female form and his profound admiration
for the art of the old masters." The lot was withdrawn.
In recent years, a number of fine landscapes
by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) have appeared on the auction market
and they hopefully will spark an exhibition as his landscapes
are quite interesting and very dynamic. Lot 21, "Chaumière
en Normandie," is a good example. An oil on canvas, it measures
29 1/8 by 23 1/4 inches. Executed in 1885, it has a very modest
estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. Vincent Van Gogh would have
liked this work very much. It sold for $744,000.
Gustave Caillebotte is a French Impressionist
painter whose market values have soared in recent years and Lot
20, "Le parc de la propriété Caillebotte à
Yerres," is a good example of his unusual compositions. An
oil on canvas that measures 25 5/8 by 36 1/4 inches, it was painted
in 1875. It has a modest estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000,
probably reflecting its less than vibrant palette. It sold
"Although at first glance this view of
the park might seem nondescript, it is in fact another example
of Caillebotte's penchant for surprising compositions. He has
populated the foreground with two figures, they are pushed dramtically
to the canvas' edge and turn their back to the viewer. They are
painted in gray tones, complemented by a few yellow highlights
in their respective straw hats.....The figures in the present
composition gaze behond the lawn, through an opening the house
in the background. The pink-gray brushstrokes of the path's foreground,
which shade into a purplish blue, are horizontal, while those
of he yellow-green grass are vertical. The vibrant carmine of
the floral border is further animated by cross hatched strokes
that lend it texture. The hues of the lawn in the middle ground
are uniformly applied, but the details in the flower bed as well
as the foliage, suggest a variety of specimens which stand out
against the clear gray sky and in turn introduce a certain vivacity
into this otherwise intentionally restrained iage. The treatment
of the surface in the present work can be compared to Monet's
oeuvre prior to 1870, which featured the same clarity of
contrast and economy of means. There is, however, a notable difference
- at no time did Caillbotte allow his hand to take pleasure in
free brushstrokes," the catalogue entry for this lot maintained.
Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) was beloved by
most of his Impressionist contemporaries and yet many of his paintings
that have come up at auction in recent years have tended to be
somewhat drab and undramatic. This auction not only has a fine
landscape by Pissarro, see above, but a lovely painting of a child
playing a drum in a garden, Lot 19. An oil on canvas, it measures
21 7/8 by 19 1/8 inches. It was executed 1877 and has a very modest
estimate of $900,000 to $1,400,000 given the fact that it is extremely
impressionistic and is a classic subject. It sold for $1,024,000.
Lot 43, "Le Baiser," is a plaster
sculpture of Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957) that was conceived
in 1907-8 and cast shortly thereafter. It has been consigned form
the collection of Edward R. Broida and has an estimate of $3,000,000
to $4,000,000. It is 11 inches high. It sold for $3,600,000.
Another work from the same collection is Lot
45, "Sculpture de silence, Corneille," by Jean (Hans)
Arp (1886-1966). A 36-inch-high white marble sculpture, it was
executed in 1964 and has an estimate of $900,000 to $1,200,000.
It sold for $1,472,000.
Lot 4 is an early still life of apples and
cakes by Paul Cézanne (1839-1906). An oil on canvas, it
measures 18 1/8 by 21 3/4 inches and was executed circa 1873-7.
It has been consigned by the heirs to the Galerie Durand-Ruel
et Cie in Paris, which had obtained it from Victor Chocquet of
Paris, one of Cézanne's earliest and most important collectors.
It has a very modest estimate of $3,500,000 to $4,500,000 that
probably reflects the fact that its brushstrokes are a bit muddled
in comparison with his finest still-lifes as can be seen when
compared with the Cézanne still life that sold at Sotheby's
May 10, 1999 that had been consigned by Mr. and Mrs. John Hay
Whitney and sold for $60,500,200! (see The
City Review article). This lot sold for $10,320,000 to
a European private collector.
Lot 40, "Le matin," a sculpture
by Henri Laurens sold for $1,472,000, a new world auction record
Lot 45, "Sculpture de silence, Corneille,"
a sculpture by Jean (Hans) Arp, sold for $1,472,000, a new world
auction record for an Arp sculpture.