By Carter B. Horsley
The best works in Sotheby's
first evening auction of the Fall 2005 season do not carry the
This auction of Impressionist
& Modern Art, in fact, really has no blockbusters, although
many "big" names are represented. It does, however,
have many very choice, "connoisseur" pictures that any
museum would be proud to possess.
Probably the most beautiful
painting is Lot 17, "La Mer," an oil on canvas by Max
Ernst (1891-1976), show above. Relatively small, it measures 16
1/2 by 13 inches and was executed in 1925. The Metropolitan Museum
of Art held a major retrospective on Ernst earlier this year and
this work certainly would have held its own if it had been included.
It has been consigned by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
to benefit the acquisition fund and it is difficult to understand
the rationale for its deaccession as it is a superb work that
could easily be mistaken for a fine work by Wassily Kandinsky.
The catalogue provides the
"1925 was a particularly
eventful year for the artist: he signed a contract that provided
him the financial freedom to paint full-time; he participated
in the first Surrealist group exhibition at the Galerie Pierre;
and he developed one of the more consequential techniques of his
career: frottage. The frottage technique consisted
of placing paper over objects such as leaves or uneven surfaces,
particularly those with wood graining, and rubbing the sheet to
pick up those forms and textures. The images that emerged ignited
his imagination and allowed him to tease out fantastical forms
and landscapes from the pre-existing patterns. During the summer
of 1925, Ernst worked by the sea at Pornic, Brittany. It was at
this time that the artist discovered the possibilities of adapting
his frottage technique to oil painting which he called grattage.
With grattage, he scratched the evenly applied surface
of paint with various tools such as combs. The smoothly painted
surface of this work has been incised with fine elegant lines
that give the impresssion of currents and vibratory waves across
the surface of the water."
The lot has a very conservative
estimate of $140,000 to $180,000. It sold for $912,000 including
the buyer's premium as do all the results mentioned in this article.
The sale was very successful
with about 87 percent of 60 offered lots selling for a total $130,126,000,
nicely above the pre-sale high estimate $125,455.
David Norman, co-chairman
of the auction house's Impressionist Department, said after the
sale that he was "thrilled" with the "fabulous
sale," adding that "fair and reasonable estimates...end
up with the best results.
Great Cubist works by Juan
Gris (1887-1927) do not come up at auction often. Lot 22, "Nature
Morte Avec Bouteille et Cigars," is a superb example. It
is papier collé, gouache, pastel, charcoal, pen and India
ink and pencil on gray paper that measures 18 3/4 by 12 1/8 inches.
It was executed in 1912 and was once in the collection of Douglas
Cooper of London. The catalogue notes that this work "is
one of the first examples of the use of collage in a Cubist composition,"
adding that "Gris, along with Picasso and Braque, was one
of the pioneers of Cubism and the use of collage."
"One of the ways that
Gris decoded the essential geometry of objects," the catalogue
entry continued, "was by revealing that all forms could be
plotted and reconstructed within the confines of grids and overlapping
planes. In the present picture, he strips the labels of a bottleof
wine and a box of cigars and redefines them as an assemblage of
rectangles and triangles. He uses overlapping, vertical lines
to cut and shift compositional perspective, but he never compromises
the legibility of the object in his composition. Following the
success of the present composition, Gris continued to employ this
vertical structuring device and explored the relationship between
word and image, and vertical orientation became the key organizing
principle of the paintings executed the following year."
The lot has a conservative
estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000. It sold for $1,136,000.
Several of the finest works
in the auction have been consigned from the Collection of Josephine
& Walter Buhl Ford II. Josephine Clay Ford was a granddaughter
of Henry Ford, the automobile maker and Walter Buhl Ford II was
the head of Ford & Earl, a design firm. The couple donated
many important works, including Vincent Van Gogh's portrait of
the Postman Roulin, to the Detroit Institute of Arts.
The most stunning of these
works is Lot 4, "Nu Jaune," a wtercolor, gouache and
India ink on paper by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). The work was
executed in 1907 and measures 23 by 15 1/2 inches. The catalogue
notes that Pierre Daix has maintained that this work "is
the first study" for the artist's famous masterpiece, "Les
Demoiselles d'Avignon," that is in the collection of the
Museum of Modern Art in New York. The lot has an estimate of $3,000,000
to $4,000,000. It sold for $13,736,000, the highest price at
Also from the Ford collection
is another Picasso, Lot 6, "Guitare, Bouteille de Vieux Marc,"
an oil on canvas that measures 18 1/8 by 13 1/4 inches. Executed
in 1912, has an estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,000,000. The work
was once in the collection of Arthur B. Davies, the painter. It
sold for $3,712,000.
Another fine work from the
same collection is Lot 5, "Sizilanerin mit Grunem Shawl (Sicilian
Woman with Green Shawl)," by Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941).
An oil on board that measures 20 3/4 by 18 1/2 inches, it is dated
1912. A very strong and bold Expressionist portrait, it has an
estimate of $3,000,000 to $4,000,000. It sold for $5,168,000.
Paul Klee (1879-1940) is best
known for his small, cheerful and fanciful works that often are
fine geometric studies. Lot 41, "Clown mit Kind (Clown with
Child)," is quite a surprise in his oeuvre because of its
intense colors, unusual depiction of spatial depth, good size
and technique. It is an oil on board that measures 26 1/2 by 19
3/4 inches and is dated 1931. After a visit to Egypt in 1928,
Klee began to use hieroglyphic elements in this work. Many of
his works from this period are abstract compositions. In this
work, the catalogue maintained that Klee introduced "charming
and witty human elements," adding that "the clown is
evoked by the interweaving shapes which suggest his walking figure,
whilst the child peeping out of the papoose on his back adds a
delightful comic aspect."
This superb painting has a
modest estimate of $350,000 to $500,000. It sold for $464,000.
Egon Schiele (1890-1918) is
the subject of a major retrospective this fall at the Neue Gallerie
on Fifth Avenue at 86th Street. Lot 37 is a very fine pencil drawing
on paper that is dated 1914. It measures 12 5/8 by 19 inches and
is a self portrait of the artist as St. Sebastian. It has an estimate
of $700,000 to $900,000. It sold for $2,256,000.
For those with larger budgets
and a desire for more famous "names," Lot 32, "Robe
Jaune et Robe Arlequin (Nezy et Lydia)," is a very pleasant
late work by Henri Matisse (1869-1954). An oil and pencil on canvas,
it measures 18 1/4 by 21 3/4 inches. It has an estimate of $9,000,000
to $12,000,000. It sold for $10,936,000.
Lot 9 is a work with an impressive
provenance that has changed hands several times in recent years.
Entitled "Cache-Cache," it is an exquisite oil on canvas,
19 ¼ by 21 ¾ inches, by Berthe Morisot (1841-1895).
Its title means "hide-and-seek," and it was painted
in 1873. It was included and favorably reviewed in the first Impressionist
show in 1874, where it was lent by Morisot's brother-in-law, Edouard
The work was sold by the estate
of Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney at Sotheby's November May 10,
1999 where it was acquired by Steven Wynn for his Bellagio casino
in Las Vegas for $3,852,500.
Sotheby's auctioned the work
again November 9, 2000 when it sold for $4,405,750, a world auction
record for the artist, and Charles S. Moffet of Sotheby's remarked
that it was quite remarkable for a work to reappear at auction
so soon and do better, adding that "quality rules."
The estimate for the work at
this auction is $3,000,000 to $4,000,000. It sold for $5,168,000,
setting another auction record for the artist, and Mr. Norman
noted that each of the three times Sotheby's has sold it in recent
years it gained about 10 percent in value, confounding the conventional
wisdom that works do not do well that are offered at auction too
Morisot was one of two great
women Impressionist painters. The other, of course, was Mary Cassatt,
the daughter of a founder of the Pennsylvania Railroad.
picture is Lot 55, "Le Déjeuner à Berneval,"
by Pierre-August Renoir (1841-1919). An oil on canvas, it measures
32 1/8 by 26 inches and was painted in 1898. The catalogue notes
that the work is "one of Renoir's most accomplished group
portraits that depicts the members of his family." The lot,
which is a very nice composition, has an estimate of $3,000,000
to $5,000,000. It sold for $3,376,000.
Lot 38 is a very nice sketch
of a child in a straw hat by Paul Cézanne (1839-1906).
An oil on canvas, it measures 31 7/8 by 21 5/8 inches and was
executed circa 1902. It is a very simple and nice composition
with classic Cézannesque brushwork. It has an estimate
of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000. This lot was withdrawn.
The most spectacular work in
the auction is Lot 39, "Paysage du Cannet," a very luminous,
large and dramatic landscape by Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947). An
oil on canvas, it measures 48.4 by 108.3 inches and was executed
in 1928. The scene depicts the grounds of the artist's villa that
overlooks the bay of Cannes. Panoramic and lush, it is extremely
painterly and has a modest estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000.
It sold for $4,944,000. It may be his masterpiece.
Lot 12 is an example of Claude
Monet's series on The Grand Canal in Venice. An oil on canvas
that measures 28 3/4 by 36 1/4 inches, it is dated 1908. Very
similar, but brighter and more colorful examples from this series
are in the collections of The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. This lot has an ambitious
estimate of $12,000,000 to $16,000,000. It sold for $12,896,000.
In response to a question from the press after the sale, Charles
Moffett, co-chairman of the Impressionist Art department, said
Monet did not care about the time of day but what was in his heart
and emotion and he urged everyone to go to the Gritti Hotel in
Venice, have a Bellini, and gaze across at the church.
A more interesting Monet is
Lot 10, an example of his studies of his "Japanese"
bridge at his home in Giverny, France. An oil on canvas, it measures
35 by 45 3/4 inches and and was executed 1918-1924. The painting
is very vigorous to the point of abstraction and is more interesting
than many of his "water lily" paintings. It has a modest
estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It sold for $5,168,000
reflecting its furious brushwork and high degree of abstraction.
Lot 54, "Le Petit Bras
de la Seine à Argenteuil," is an excellent oil on
canvas by Claude Monet. It measures 21 5/8 by 29 inches and was
executed in 1876. It has a very conservative estimate of $1,200,000
to $1,800,000 as its brushwork and color are intense and exciting.
It sold for only $1,472,000 indicating that the Monet market
is uneven and that are fine bargains to be had.
Another Monet is a quite abstract
winter farm scene in Norway, Lot 57. An oil on canvas that measures
26 by 36 1/2 inches, it was executed in 1895 and has a modest
estimate of $600,000 to $800,000. It sold for $1,416,000.
Lot 45 is a very nice landscape
by Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894) that isentitled "La Mer
Vue de Villerville." An oil on canvas, it measures 23 1/2
by 29 inches and was executed in 1882. It has an estimate of $700,000
to $800,000. It sold for $744,000.
Lot 15 is a good portrait of
Manuel Humbert by Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920). An oil on canvas,
it was painted in 1916 and measures 26 by 20 1/4 inches. It was
formerly in the collections of Zeppo Marx and Mr. and Mrs. William
Wyler and has been consigned by the Los Angeles County Museum
of Art to benefit its acquisition fund. It has an estimate of
$4,000,000 to $6,000,000. It sold for $5,504,000.
Lot 24 is a good example of
one of the most famous compositions by Fernand Léger (1891-1955)(see
The City Review article
on a Léger exhibition).
Entitled "Les Constructeurs," it is an oil and gouache
on paper on canvas that measures 101 by 126 3/8 inches. It was
executed in 1950. Léger began his series on construction
workers in 1950. The lot was an estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000.
It sold for $5,392,000.
Lot 29 is a large work by Paul
Klee (1879-1940) that is entitled "Young Garden (Rhythms)."
Oil and incision marks on canvas, it measures 25 1/2 by 20 5/8
inches. It is dated 1927 and has an estimate of $1,400,000 to
$1,800,000. It sold for $3,152,000.
Lot 35, "Le Grand Sirène,"
was a large and impressive work on paper by Paul Delvaux that
sold for $710,400, an auction record for a work on paper by the
Lot 51, "Clemens Braun,"
a portrait by Conrad Felixmuller, sold for $1,136,000, an auction
record for the artist.