By Carter B. Horsley
This auction promises to be
an all-time blockbuster with a great painting by Paul Gauguin
(1848-1903), four major works by Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), a very
important Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938), a good, large landscape
by Egon Schiele, a good self-portrait by Pablo Picasso, two very
nice paintings by Pierre Bonnard, and two very nice landscapes
by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919).
The auction was a resounding
success with 93 percent of the offered lots selling for a total
of $491,472,000 including the buyers' premiums, the highest total
of any art auction, a "most extraordinary sale," exclaimed
Christopher Burge, the auctioneer, at a press conference after
the sale, especially since a major work was withdrawn at the last
The withdrawn lot was Lot 47,
a very strong early portrait by Pablo Picasso of Angel Fernandez
de Soto. Painted in 1903, it is an oil on canvas that measures
27 7/8 by 21 3/4 inches. It has been consigned by the Sir Andrew
Lloyd Webber Art Foundation and has a conservative estimate of
$40,000,000 to $60,000,000. It was formerly in the Justin K. Thannhauser
and Donald and Jean Stralem collections. Picasso shared a studio
with Angel Fernandez de Soto in Barelona in 1902 and 1903. "Unlike
the melancholy and absolutely still figures seen in earlier portraits,
the Soto painting shows a nervous and restless sitting, fidgeting
with his hands, as he smokes his pipe before finishing a glass
of absinthe. Picasso has exaggerated and even brutalized the delicate
features of his friends's face, so finely drawn in earlier portraits,
to create a Dorian Gray-like decadent whose descent into physical
degeneration and moral decays is all too clear. ...Picasso may
have painted the portrait of Angel as a cautionary tale for himself.
Yes, he could spend valuable time enjoying himself, play the poseur,
while Angel beside him acted the part, any part he chose, to perfection.
But a life of this kind, Angel's path, was for Picasso a dead
end, in which the potential of a talented life would be wasted.
The young painter had now reached a point of commitment to his
art beyond which there could be no return, and he could not let
joviality or even the pleasures of camaraderie distract him from
The Blue Period portraits,
the catalogue maintained, "look forward, not back - they
are resolutely modern, and this portrait of Soto may be counted
as one of the first great portraits of the 20th Century, fashioned
in thoroughly modernist practice and arising from a new sensibility.
Picasso's sitters may seem wistful or sullen, or suffering from
ennui, the great intellectual malaise of the new century, but
they come across as real people, not emblematic wraiths....Picasso
has moreover insinuated into his sitters elements of his personality
so that the portrait becomes a mirror, in which the painter views
and examines aspects of his own self in the person he is painting.
If the blueness in the univeralized figure paintings attempts
to describe a world outside of real time and place, a never-never
land as remote and fictional as the characters that inhabit it,
the blueness in the portraits underscores the reality of the inner
intensity, mystery and profundity of the self, as it enters into
the two-way psychological transaction between the artist and sitter."
According to an article in
The New York Times, Mr. Webber bought this work at Sotheby's 11
years ago for $29.1 million.
On Tuesday, Judge Jed S.
Rakoff of the United States District Court in Manhattan declined
to bar Christie's from selling the paining that a German banker's
heir, Julius H. Schoeps, maintained was sold under duress in Nazi
Germany. Mr. Schoeps claimed that his great-uncle, Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy,
a Berlin banker and art collector, was forced to sell the painting
because of Nazi persecution before he died in 1935. Mr. Schoeps,
according to an article in The New York Times by Anemona Hartocollis
November 8, 2006, is director of the Moses Mendelssohn Center
for European-Jewish Studies at the University of Potsdam in Germany
and he charged that Christie's and the Andrew Lloyd Webber Art
Foundation ignored its "suspicious Nazi-era provenance,"
adding that his great-uncle had consigned the painting to his
dealer, Justin K. Thannhauser in 1934. Christie's issued a statement
that said that "the last-minute action taken by these individuals
against a charity is a disservice to the restitution community"
and Mr. Burge announced that the painting had been "tragically"
withdrawn at the start of the auction and Christie's officials
said after the auction that it had been withdrawn with the approval
of the consignor because of the title issue but maintained that
the issue will be resolved and anticipated that it will be offered
"in short order" at Christie's.
Mr. Burge reported after the sale that 39.5
percent of the lots were acquired by Americans, 42.5 percent by
Europeans, 1.4 percent by Russians, 3 percent by Latin Americans,
4 percent by Asians and 9.5 percent were anonymous. The sale started
a half hour earlier than normal for evening auctions because there
were 85 lots being offered, almost a third more than normal. The
two-and-half-hour auction was not only standing room in the main
sale room but three other galleries were commandeered to accommodate
the throngs eager to attend what was anticipated to be an historic
Lot 9, "L'homme à
la hache," is a masterwork by Gauguin with a magnificent,
swirling composition and a strong, lush palette. It is the cover
illustration of the catalogue. An oil on canvas, it measures 36
1/2 by 27 5/8 inches and was executed in 1891. It has an estimate
of $35,000,000 to $45,000,000. This painting of a woodcutter is,
according to the catalogue entry, "one of the signal works
of the artist's Tahitian period, and among the most powerful and
commanding of his entire career." According to an article
in the November 2, 2006 edition of The New York Times by
Carol Vogel, "although the seller identification reads only
'property of a lady of title,' experts say that it is from a member
the family of the Sulton of Brunei." It sold for $40,336,000
including the buyer's premium, as do all the results mentioned
in this article, setting a new auction record for the artist.
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner is the
greatest of the German Expressionists and he is most famous for
his Strassenzene series depicting streetwalkers in Berlin of which
this is a prime example. The double-sided oil on canvas measures
47 4/8 by 35 7/8 inches and was executed in 1913-4. It has a very
conservative estimate of $18,000,000 to $24,000,000. The work
was once in the collection of Alfred and Theka Hess of Erfurt
and was sold under duress due to persecution by the Nazi authorities
and was subsequently acquired by the Brucke Museum in Berlin in
1980 but restituted to the heirs of Alfred Hess last July. It
sold for $38,096,000, an auction record for the artist, to the
The catalogue devotes 12 pages
to this lot, which is one of three paintings in private hands
from the artist's series of 11 paintings of Berlin street life
that the catalogue notes "rank among the finest pictorial
achievements of early twentieth-century art."
"Marking the high point
of Expressionism, thesepainting are also, in many ways, the first
truly modern works of twentieth-century painting in that they
are among the very first to attempt to portray the modern life
of the city as a state of mind. Following on from the first psychological
painter of the twentieth century, Edvard Munch...had left off,
Kirchner's Strassengilder are extraordinary powerful psychological
expressions of that strange mixture of exhilaration and alienation
caused by modern urban life which was felt so keenly during the
first years of the century. Painted in a unique, raw, spontaneous
and schismatic style with its sharp angles and elongated primitive-gothic
forms echoing the sense of dislocation and bustle induced by city
life, these memorable works express the essense of the ambiguous
love-hate relationship that Kirchner and his generation felt toward
the new sprawling monster of modern mechanization, the Grosstadt
of Berlin," the catalogue continued.
If the Kirchner is the star
of the auction, the four paintings by Gustav Klimt consigned from
the collection of Adele and Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer are the unquestioned
highlights given the fact that a fifth painting from the collection
was recently bought by Ronald Lauder for the Neue Gallerie for
$135 million, then the highest price paid for a painting. (Last
week, The New York Times reported that David Geffen had
sold a painting by Jackson Pollock privately for $140 million.)
Adele and Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer
had acquired the works directly from the artist but they were
seized by The Viennese Magistrate in 1938 following the Nazi Anschluss
and were with Dr. Erich Fuhrer in Vienna who was the state-appointed
administrator for Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer until they were acquired
by the Stadtische Sammlung in Vienna in 1942 and transferred in
1948 to the Osterreichische Galerie in Vienna. In March, 2006,
the works were restituted to the heirs of Adele and Ferdinand
Klimt painted Adele Bloch-Bauer
three times. Ronald Lauder amazed the art world when he recently
paid the heirs of Ferdinand and Adele Bloch-Bauer $135 million
for "Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I" for the Neue Gallerie.
This portrait, while greatly different in format and palette,
therefore has a conservative estimate of $40,000,000 to $60,000,000.
The painting is an oil on canvas that measures 74 3/4 by 47 1/4
inches and was executed in 1912. It sold for $87,936,000, setting
an auction record for the artist.
The catalogue provides the
"A fascinating and memorable
figure in her own right, she was one of the artist's most important
patrons, the subject of at least three of the finest paintings
he ever made, and, it has been suggested, one of the artist's
secret lovers. Born Adele Bauer, the daughter of a wealthy Viennese
banker, she married the Viennese industrialist and merchant banker,
Ferdinand Bloch in an arranged marriage in 1901. Both Adele and
Ferdinand took on the surname of Bloch-Bauer and Adele soon rose
to become one of the leading figures in Viennese high society
establishing a salon at which celebrated writers as Stephan Zweig
and Jakob Wasserman were regular guests....In 1903, Ferdinand
Bloch-Bauer commissioned Klimt to paint his illustrious wife's
portrait. Klimt had first met Adele shortly before her marriage
to Bloch in 1901. It was then, according to American psychiatrist
Salomon Grimberg, that the artist and the soon-to-be-married Adele
initiated a secret liaison lasting twelve years that, incredibly
in Vienna's gossip-hungry society, remained known only to her
maid and physician....From its conception to its completion, Klimt
spent four years working on the first portrait of Adele..., executing
numerous drawings of her in preparation, before starting work
on the sumptuous canvas itself which he painted in1907. This extraordinary
masterpiece which ranks along side The Kiss as the finest
example from what has been called Klimt's 'golden' period depicted
the twenty six year old Adele as a young and sensual woman enrusted
in a semi-abstract golden and bejeweled universe of Ancient Mediterranean
origin. Incorporating greek, Egyptian and Mycenaen symbols into
its shimmering patterns of form, the painting echoed the gold
Byzantine mosaics of Ravenna that had so impressed Klimt on his
two visits there in 1903 and their depiction of Justinian's wife,
the Empress Theodora. A beguiling masterpiece of opulent and even
claustrophobic detail, this golden portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer
as a Viennese empress seems to imprison its sitter like a trophy
at its center....Prior to this rather imperial portrait of Adla
as an apotheosized icon of high society Klimt had also painted
her in a completely different guise in his painting of the biblical
Judith...of 1901 Klimt depicted a highly eroticized Adele
as a murderous femme fatale. Bare-breasted, with her face flushed
with passion and her lips parted in a smile of ecstasy, she fixes
the viewer with the gaze of her sleepy eyes while her fingers
gently fondle the severed head of Holofernes...."
Lot 51, "Birch Forest," is a ravishing,
almost magical landscape by Klimt. Entitled "Birch Forest,"
it is an oil on canvas that is 43 1/4 inches square and was painted
in 1903. It has a modest estimate of $20,000,000 to $30,000,000.
It sold for $40,336,000. "In Birch Forest,
the dense mesh of striated vertical and horizontal strokes, contrasting
with the scattered leaves - a series of bright and burning dots
of olor - reflects Klimt's ability to distill the view before
him to a point that borders on abstrtion. This is accentuated
by the absense of any single point of focus. The woodland in its
absorbing vastness is the subect, every square inch of the canvas
the focus. Both at the time that Klimt's landscapes were painted
and again now, following a wide-ranging reappraisal of these works,
they have come to be considered central to his output, a condensation
of the artist's feelings and his own unspoken yet ever-present
philosophy. This is reflected in the extent to which the landscapes
were exhibited even within the artist's lifetime - it is a testimony
to Birch Forest's importance that it was shown in the 1902
Secession exhbition of his works, in 1905 in Berlin, almost certainly
in the first Kunstschau in 1908 that was a product of the split
of Klimt and his followers from the Secession and at the 1910
Biennale in Venice."
Another Klimt landscape from
the Bloch-Bauer collection is Lot 53, "Apple Tree I,"
an oil on canvas that measures 42 7/8 by 43 1/4 inches. Painted
in 1912, it has a modest estimate of $15,000,000 to $25,000,000.
It sold for $33,056,000. "Bursting with color, with
the bold red of the apples and the colors of the flowers that
carpet the ground below the tree, Apple Tree I is filled
with happiness, with life, with fertility, with the bounties of
nature. The rich colors and the intricately-worked oils lend the
painting a sense of shimmering movement rare in Klimt's landscapes,"
the catalogue entry for the lot noted.
Lot 52, "Houses at Unterach
on the Attersee" is a rather loosely painted Klimt landscape
that is quite abstract and whose two-dimension flatness is set
off by the shimmering water at the bottom of the picture. An oil
on canvas that measures 43 1/4 inches square, it was painted circa
1916 and has an estimate of $15,000,000 to $25,000,000. It
sold for $31,376,000. "...the traditional appearance
of the houses is at odds with the intense modernity of their depiction,"
the catalogue entry noted, adding that "The interlocking
forms in this picture reveal an inner logic, a coherence of appearance
that unites the man-made and the natural elements in an almost
organic whole. The deliberate avoidance of any sense of depth
in this colorful tapestry of forms and planes results in the figurative
image of the town verging on the brink of abstraction, Klimt bringing
out a hidden beauty conjuring the appearance of an underlying
structure that defines not only the painting, but also reality
The catalogue entry for this
lot also observes that one of the many influences for Klimt for
this work was the flattened townscapes painted by his protege,
Lot 60 is a doubled-sided work by Egon Schiele
(1890-1918) that has been consigned by Neue Gallerie. An oil on
canvas, it measures 43 1/4 by 55 inches and was painted in 1915.
It has an estimate of $20,000,000 to $30,000,000. It sold for
$22,416,000, an auction record for the artist. "The houses...appear
to be huddled together as though for warmth, yet the skeletal
angularity of these structures hints at a singular lack of solace
or shelter. Schiele's landscapes, especially from the period 1912
onwards - the years of his full expressionistic maturity - involve
a strange and heady mixture of his own deeply personal references,
his searingly modern style and the projection of emotions upon
the scene before him," the catalogue entry for this lot noted.
Lot 65 is a very nice still
life of a jar and fruit on a table by Paul Cézanne (1839-1906).
An oil on canvas, it measures 16 1/2 by 21 5/8 inches and was
painted in 1872-3. The still life has the palette and softness
of a Renoir and its once in the collection of Dr. Paul Gachet
and Mr. and Mrs. Charles Engelhard. It has a very modest estimate
of $600,000 to $800,000. It sold for $1,136,000.
Lot 17 is a lovely landscape
with two women and a boy by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. An oil on canvas,
it measures 25 1/4 by 32 1/4 inches and was executed in 1890.
It is one of many fine works in the auction being sold to benefit
the Janice Levin Foundation. It has an estimate of $4,000,000
to $6,000,000. It sold for $4.608,000.
Another Renoir from the Levin
collection is Lot 22, "Gondola, Venice," an oil on canvas
that measures 21 1/2 by 26 inches. Executed in 1881, it is a strong
work in which some compositional awkwardness is overshown by the
fine, impressionistic brushwork and the lovely colors It has an
estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It failed to sell and
was passed at $1.5 million.
Lot 26, "Femme à
la guitare," is another Renoir from the Levin collection.
An oil on canvas, it measures 25 7/8 by 21 1/2 inches and was
painted circa 1896-7. It is quite charming and has a modest estimate
of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It sold for $2,144,000.
Another fine work by from the
Levin collection is Lot 21, "Le dejeuner," by Pierre
Bonnard. An oil on canvas, it measures 16 1/4 by 24 1/2 inches
and was painted in 1923. It was once in the collection of Stephen
Carlton Clark and the Museum of Modern Art. It has a modst estimate
of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It sold for $2.704,000.
Another excellent work by Bonnard
is Lot 2, "Le chemin jaune aux enfants," an oil on canvas
that measures 22 7/8 by 24 1/2 inches and was painted circa 1939.
The work was consigned by the estate of Paul Mellon and has a
modest estimate of $600,000 to $800,000. It sold for $800,000.
Lot 78 is a large and good
oil on canvas by Balthus (1908-2001) that is entitled "Les
trois soeurs." It measures 50 by 67 inches and was executed
in 1963-4. It has an estimate of $7,000,000 to $10,000,000. It
sold for $6,736,000.
Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941) is an artist,
like Maurice de Vlaminck, who, until the last few years, was not
well represented at auction by his better works, and thus has
been rather unappreciated. Too many of his stylized paintings
of women's faces in clown-like colors popped up regularly at auctions
with the result that some observers felt they were too formulaic
and that he was something of a one-trick pony. Lot 36, "Frauenbildnis,"
is one of his better works because it is a half-length figure
and the women depicted has a very pensive attitude. An oil on
board laid down on cradled panel, it measures 21 by 19 1/2 inches
and was painted circa 1912-3. It has a modest estimate of $1,000,000
to $1,500,000. It sold for $2,144,000.
The catalogue entry provides the following
"Jawlensky's application of expressive
color and form as independent pictorial elements dovetails with
his use of the human face to convey deeper spiritual values. Jawlensky
regarded color as the primary means to achieve profound expression.
'My temperament having led me to color,' he wrote, 'it is this
that I entrust with the task of reproducing my ideas and emotions
as inspired by the nature I find around me....' The strong lines
and high-keyed palette of the present painting also manifest the
artist's renewed contact with Henri Matissse in 1911, with whom
he had 'long and fascinating conversations about art'...and his
first encounter with the German Expressionist, Emil Nolde, in
1912....Another noteworthy feature of the present painting is
its air of introspective seriousness. Jawlensky captures this
emotional state with two unusual features: an elongated format
and the sitter's closed eyes. Although infrequent within Jawlensky's
oeuvre, half-length figures occur in his production around 1912.
The rectangular portrait-like format reflects the influence of
Russian icons and folk art on the Russian-born painter. The women's
closed eyes are a rare substitute for the confrontational gaze
in most of his pre-war heads and portraits, yet they complement
the sitter's self-enclosed pose and express Jawlensky's goal of
giving visible form to the unseen experiences of the interal world."
Most of the drawings and paintings by Alberto
Giacometti (1901-1966) have a frenzied sketchiness quality and
are usually monochromatic. Lot 45, "Portrait de Madame D,"
an oil on canvas that measures 18 1/8 by 14 inches, is a delightful
bold and colorful exception. It was executed in 1944 and has a
conservative estimate of $700,000 to $900,000. It sold for
Lot 7, Plant de tomates," by Pablo
Picasso was a pleasant 1944 oil on canvas that measures 36 1/4
by 28 3/4 inches that had an estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000
and it sold for $13,456,000.