By Carter B. Horsley
Although there are no blockbuster
masterpieces in the Fall 2006 evening auction of Impressionist
and Modern Art at Sotheby's November 7, 2006, there are a lot
of very good works including a wonderful Lyonel Feninger, an excellent
early work by Maurice de Vlaminck, a superb work by Joaquin Sorolla
y Bastida, a good Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, a stunning double-sided
work by Erich Heckel, a great Edouard Vuillard, two nice works
by Amedeo Modigliani, representative works by Paul Cézanne,
Edgar Degas, Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh, and three excellent
works by Pablo Picasso.
The auction was successful
with 86.8 percent of the 83 offered lots selling for a total of
$238,670,400 including the buyer's premiums. The presale estimates,
exclusive of buyer's premiums, ranged from $219,600,000 to $299,800,000.
David Norman, the co-chair of the Impressionist & Modern Art
Department at Sotheby's, said after the auction that was the highest
auction sale at Sotheby's since 1990. Records were set for Ernst
Heckel, Lynn Chadwick and Barbara Hepworth. He said that there
was some participation by Russian buyers and he noted that Impressionist
paintings, which had fallen off a bit in recent years, appeared
to be rebounding somewhat. Mr. Norman also observed that some
works that had been on the market recently did very well giving
lie to the dictum that such works need to be off the market for
several years before being offered again.
The frontispiece of the catalogue
is Lot 32, "Locomotive," by Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956),
an oil on canvas that measures 17 1/4 by 32 inches and was painted
in Paris in 1908. It has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000.
It sold for $2,144,000 including the buyer's premium as do
all results mentioned in this article. Describing this painting
as one of the artist's "rare and remarkable early works,"
the catalogue entry notes that "the various elements overlap
in a way that suggests the notion of distance, while at the same
time forming a manifestly flat surface." "The choice
of a vivid palette and striking tonal contrasts, as well as the
sharp, bright outlining of the individual features that appear
to be pasted onto the surface of the picture are all derived from
Feininger's experience as an illustrator. The artist's characteristic
caricature-style treatment of figures is evident here in the rendering
of the man in the foreground, whose exaggeratedly foreshortened
features create an overstated sense of movement and perspective,"
the catalogue maintained. The artist's heirs own two other "Locomotive"
paintings by Feininger that are reproduced in the catalogue.
Lot 34 is a spectacular pastel
on paper laid down on board by Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940) entitled
"Sacha Guitry Dans Sa Loge." The work, which has been
consigned by Sir Sean Connery, measures 29 by 37 7/8 inches and
was executed in 1911-1912. It sold at Sotheby's in New York May
13, 1998 for $607,500 when it had an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000.
The estimate for this auction is $700,000 to $900,000. It sold
for $968,000, setting an auction record for a work on paper by
the artist. Guitry
was a popular boulevardier and writer of comedies and a good friend
of Vuillard who gave him this painting as a gift. Vuillard's composition
and palette here are unusual and superb. This is worthy of a major
museum's collection. Vuillard, one of the Nabis, is best known
for his soft and subtle works, mostly interiors, and this is exceedingly
vibrant for his oeuvre.
Lot 11 is a marvelous painting
by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida. Entitled "Maria Mirando Los
Peces, Granja," it is an oilon canvas that measures 31 7/8
by 41 3/4 inches and was executed in 1907. The artist depicts
his daughter watching fish in a pool in the gardens of the palace
of La Granja near San Ildefonso in Segovia and it was executed
while he was working on portraits of the King and Queen of Spain.
This magnificent work holds its own against the best of John Singer
Sargent and Anders Zorn, "both of whom," the catalogue
entry notes, "Sorolla knew and admired." It is a great
composition with a very rich palette and fabulous highlights in
the water. It has a modest estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000.
It sold for $3,260,000.
Lot 31 is a very strong double-sided
work by Erich Heckel (1883-1970). One side is a nude female that
was painted in oil in 1910 and the other a still life painted
in tempera in 1920. The work measures 30 1/2 by 28 1/2 inches.
It has a modest estimate of $2,400,000 to $3,200,000. It sold
for $3,600,000, a world auction record for the artist. The
catalogue reproduces a very similar nude by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
that is also dated to 1910 and notes that the two artists painted
"a series of significant studies of nudes in their Dresden
stduio which have become icons of the Expressionist movement,"
adding that "The rooms in the Brücke studio at 65 Berliner
Strasse in Dresden were filled with items of furniture, woodcarvings,
and painted lengths of cloth executed mainly by Kirchner. One
of those painted cloths is mostly likely shown in the background"
of the Heckel nude in this lot.
One could almost tire of Edgar
Degas's ballet dancers and women in their baths, but Lot 12, "La
Sortie du Bain," a pastel on paper that measures 30 3/4 by
31 1/8 inches, is an exceptional fine work by Degas. It is very
sketchy, but signed. While one could quibble that the woman's
right arm is awkward and that her right foot is ill-defined and
that her left leg seems to be unresolved and reworked, this is
a vibrant work that conveys a sense of movement and is a great
composition with an unusually good palette. One senses that Degas
stopped in mid-stream, stood back, and did not want to add another
stroke. The lot has a very conservative estimate of $1,600,000
to $2,000,000. It sold for $1,584,000.
One of the greatest artists in history, Henri
de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) used the sketchy techniques of
an illustrator with a fabulous palette to illuminate his interest
in the psychological moods and attitudes of the demi-monde. Lot
7, "La Partie de Cartes," an oil and peinture à
l'essence on board that measures 22 1/2 by 18 inches, is a
fine example of his series of scenes from the maisons closes
(brothels) in Paris between 1892 and 1895. The catalogue entry
notes that the artist observed the prostitutes "meticulously
in their leisure time, at their toilette, at breakfast, or waiting
for customers. The women's naturalness appealed to Lautrec: 'Models
always look as if they were stuffed; these women are alive. I
wouldn't dare pay them to pose for me, yet God knows they're worth
it. They stretch themselves out on the divans like animals...they're
so lacking in pretention.'" The lot has an estimate of $5,000,000
to $7,000,000. It sold for $8,528,000.
One of the iconic images of
Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) is a pair of shoes. Lot 24 is one
of five existing examples completed between 1886 and 1887 and
the only one in private hands. An oil on canvas, it measures 14
3/4 by 18 inches and was painted in 1886-7. It has a modest estimate
of $8,000,000 to $12,000,000. It sold for $8,976,000. Two
of the other four examples are at the Riksmuseum in Amsterdam
and the others are at the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University
and the Cone Collection of the Baltimore Museum of Art. "These
splendid paintings, along with his series of sunflowers, are regarded
as Van Gogh's most successful still-lifes and have to be regarded
the artist's signature works," the catalogue entry notes.
For too many years the drab
later works by Maurice de Vlaminck (1876-1958) would appear on
the auction block leading the casual observer to the conclusion
that he was a boring painter with a dark and uninteresting green
and black palette. Fortunately, recently some of his great early
works have been appearing and Lot 79, "Paysage aux Toits
Rouges," is a superb work. An oil on canvas that measures
25 1/2 by 31 7/8 inches, it was painted in 1907 and has a very
conservative estimate of $700,000 to $1,000,000 as it is better
than the vast majority of landscapes by Paul Cézanne. It
sold for $1,360,000.
Just about everyone wants a
Cézanne (1839-1906) still life so it is not surprisingly
that the highest estimate for a work in this auction is Lot 18
for an 1895 still life by the artist. The rather ambitious estimate
for the unsigned oil on canvas that measures 18 1/4 by 24 1/8
inches is $28,000,000 to $35,000,000. It sold for $36,976,000.
The fruit in the lower half of the painting is strong and well
done, but the background is very sketchy. The catalogue entry,
however, is, not suprisingly, enthusiastic: "Cézanne's
magnificent Nature Morte aux fruits det pot de gingembre
is a feast for the senses. All of the elements of the composition
are fresh and enticing, and Cézanne invites us to savor
them as he leads our eye across the canvas.....This glorious picture
dates from 1895, when Cézanne's radical experimentations
with perspective and color were at their most spophisticated.....Cézanne's
still-lifes, particularly those comleted in the mid-1890s, are
considered the harbingers of 20th century modernism, and their
influence was the driving force behind the Cubist compositions
of Braque and Picasso." The lot was consigned by William
Acquavella who had acquired it at Christie's in London six years
ago for about $18 million.
Lot 27 is an impressive and
bold landscape by Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) that is entitled
"Starnberger See (Lake Starnberg)." It is an oil on
board laid down on cradled panel that measures 24 7/8 by 38 inches
and was executed in 1908. The lot has an estimate of $6,000,000
to $8,000,000. It sold for $9,088,000.
Lot 9, "La Plage à Trouville,"
an oil on canvas by Claude Monet ( 1840-1926) that measures 18
7/8 by 29 inches, is a pleasant beach scene that was executed
in 1870 while Monet was at Trouville with Eugene Boudin whose
beach scenes were more impressionistic and lovelier. This work
was once in the collection of William and Edith Goetz of New York
and has an ambitious estimate of $16,500,000 to $20,000,000. It
was passed at $15,250,000. The catalogue entry notes that
Monet and Boudin "sometimes painted side-by-side at Trouville
that summer." "The present painting is the larger of
the two horizontal versions of this view of Trouville that Monet
created, and the other version...(Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford,
Connecticut) depicts the beach at low tide.
Lot 38 is a classic portrait
by Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920) that is entitled "Le Fils
du Concierge." An oil on canvas, it measures 36 1/8 by 23
1/2 inches and was executed in 1918. It is the catalogue's cover
illustration and has an estimate of $14,000,000 to $18,000,000,
which is perhaps a bit ambitious because the work is a bit bland
although the catalogue entry observes that "this arresting
image of the son of a local concierge is one of the most transfixing
in all of the artist's portraits," adding that "The
palette of soft colors confers a feeling of tranquility on the
painting, while the eyes of the sittter convey an ineffable sense
of melancholy." It sold for $31,096,00 in a very drawn
out bidding in which Tobias Meyer raised bids in increments of
about $250,000 after it had reached the $10 million plateau. Mr.
Norman remarked after the auction that this work had sold for
about $5.5 million at auction in 1997.
Lot 54 is a very good portrait of Paul Guillaume
by Modigliani. An oil on board laid down on cradled panel, it
measures 20 3/4 by 14 1/2 inches and was painted in 1916. It has
an estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000. It was once in the collection
of Harold and Ruth Uris who sold it November 13, 1996 at Christie's
in New York for $3,100,000 when it was acquired by the Bellagio
Gallery of Fine Art in Las Vegas, which sold it November 9, 2000
at Sotheby's in New York for $4,625,000. It sold for $4,832,000.
In recent years, many works
by Pablo Picasso (1881-1971) have soared to astronomical prices
that had little to do with their artistic merit, which is not
to say that they were worthless but only greatly overvalued much
like many of the works that have come to auction by Andy Warhol.
The two artists are unquestionably great and prolific, but they
were are also quite uneven. This auction, however, has several
superlative works by Picasso.
Lot 42, for example, is a large
and wonderful painting of a seated man smoking. It is entitled
"Le Fumeur" and is an oil on panel that measures 39
3/8 by 31 7/8 inches and was executed in 1953. It has an estimate
of $9,000,000 to $12,000,000. It sold for $10,650,000. The
catalogue entry for this lot notes that the work "can be
read as an insightful combination of both ego and romantic preoccupation"
and that "with its sharp-edged modelling and highly linear
figuration, can be seen as Picasso's aesthetic response to"
Lot 47, "Le Sauvetage," is an excellent
example of Picasso's fabulous compositional skills. An oil on
canvas that measures 31 7/8 by 39 3/8 inches, it was painted in
1932. It has an estimate of $12,000,000 to $16,000,000. It
was passed at $10,750,000, but Mr. Norman said after the auction
that even before the auction was over there were inquiries about
the painting. He said it was the only work in the auction
that had a "guaranty" for the seller. A similar
but less compacted composition of ball players and a woman being
rescued in the water from the same year sold at Sotheby's in New
York May 6, 2004 for $14,792,000. It depicted, however, a less
harrowing beach scene.
"In the present work," the catalogue
observed, "Picasso includes both motifs, confronting his
viewer with the contrast between the graceful arabesques of the
ballplayers and the unexpected tragedy of the rescue group. Instead
of separating the motifs to different sides of the canvas, Picasso
presents them layered upon each other, increasing the intensity
of this particular moment on the beach. That the features of the
figures in the rescue group are based on those of Marie-Thérèse
adds a particularly poignant note to the composition. It is also
noteworthy that the open mouth and streaming hair of the figure
of the rescuer prefigure Guernica."
Lot 64 is a light-hearted depicture of a man
with a moustache that Picasso executed in 1970. An oil on panel,
it measures 50 3/4 by 25 5/8 inches and has a modest estimate
of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. It was passed at $1,700,000.
The work is very bright and very merry.
Another fine Picasso is Lot 36, a small still
life that is mesmerizing. an oil on canvas, it measures 6 3/8
by 8 5/8 inches and was painted in 1937. It has a modest estimate
of $350,000 to $450,000. It sold for $800,000. The catalogue
notes that when it was reproduced in David Douglas Duncan's book,
Picasso's Picassos, in 1961 the work was unsigned, but
observes that "the signature on the present picture must
have been added by the artist when it left his studio after 1961."
Lot 29 is an impressive and
important still life with a ray by Chaim Soutine (1893-1943).
It is one of four versions and the only one still in private hands.
The other versions are in the collections of the Metropolitan
Museum of Art in New York, the Cleveland Museum and Musée
Calvet in Avignon. An oil on canvas, it measures 36 by 32 inches
and was executed circa 1923-4. "This powerful image has captured
the attention of spectators over the last century, and like Soutine's
paintings of beef carcasses, it has become one of the icons of
modern art," the catalogue entry maintained. It was once
owned by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It has an estimate
of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000. It sold for $5,392,000.
Camille Pissarro (1830-1903)
painted many pictures of peasant women and Lot 3, "Paysanne
Rattachant Sa Marmotte," a gouache on silk laid down on board
that measures 21 1/2 by 15 inches, may well be the loveliest.
This splendid 1882 work is very impressionistic and could well
be mistaken as a masterpiece by Renoir given the brilliance of
the women's blue and white sleeves and the palette of the composition.
This late has a conservative estimate of $500,000 to $700,000.
It sold for $912,000.
Joan Miró painted a
variety of surfaces and Lot 62, "Peinture," is a stunning
work by him, an oil and gesso on gouged and burned masonite. It
measures 42 1/2 by 21 1/4 inches and was executed in 1953. It
was formerly in the collections of G. David Thompson, Alfred H.
Barr Jr., and the Museum of Modern Art. It has a modest estimate
of $800,000 to $1,200,000. It sold for $1,920,000.
Lot 25, "Figure Decorative" is a
bronze sculpture of a naked woman by Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
that was conceived in Paris in 1908 and cast in 1950. It is one
of 11 casts. The original 1908 cast is in the collection of The
Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. Casts from 1954 are in the collection
of the St. Louis City Art Museum and the Hirshhorn Museum and
Sculpture Garden. The Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen has
a 1952 cast. The Nasher Collection in Dallas has a 1930 cast.
Casts from 1950, 1952 and 1957 are still in private collections.
One of the 1952 casts was sold at Sotheby's May 10, 2001 for $12,655,750.
This work, which is numbered 3, was sold at Sotheby's in New York
May 8, 2002 for $8,259,000. The lot has an ambitious estimate
of $12,000,000 to $18,000,000 considering how many examples exist
and that fact that it is not particularly beautiful nor impressive.
It sold for $12,896,000.