By Carter B. Horsley
Sotheby's has assembled a very
impressive and respectable group of Impressionist and Modern Art
works for its inaugural major auction of the Fall 2009 art season.
The ongoing financial crisis does not appear to have significantly
diminished the quality of its offerings, although in many cases
the estimates are low. More than a third of the 68 lots being
offered are of exceptional quality, a remarkably high percentage.
The auction is highlighted
by several Picassos, a small but impressive group of Impressionist
works from the Durand-Ruel family, two superb Van Dongens, two
superb de Chiricos, an excellent still life by Manet, a lovely
study by Morisot, fine equestrian works by Degas and Marini, a
great sculpture by Giacometti and a very impressionistic painting
of Charing Cross Bridge in London by Monet.
Tobias Meyer, the auctioner,
said at a post-sale news conference that "the market is very
alive and there is enormous demand for great things - it's a very
viable business." Mr. Meyer noted that sometimes he could
not keep up with the bidding in the auction that lasted just under
Of the Picassos, Lot 35, "Claude
à Deux Ans," is irresistible. A large oil on canvas
from 1949, it depicts his son, Claude, frolicking with his toy
horse on wheels. The horse is spotted and Claude wears a very
bright shirt with a blue and white grid. The joy is impossible
not to decipher. The catalogue entry notes that this painting
is "one of two oil versions that Picasso painted of this
subject and marks the advent of an important new stage in his
"Beginning in 1949 and
continuing throughout the early 1950s," it continued, "Picasso
completed a series ofportraits of Claude and his younger sister
Paloma in their nursery. These pictures are characterized by a
linear simplicity that calls to mind the naiveté of childhood,
and they can also be seen as direct responses to the 'playful'
cut-outs that occupied Picasso's arch-rival Matisse around the
same time. But the deceptively simple formalism of these pictures
is counter-balanced by a powerful subjectivity that was rarely
seen in 20th Century portraits of children."
The lot has an estimate of
$5,000,000 to $7,000,000. It sold for $6,242,500 including
the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article.
Lot 31 is a "monumental"
bust of an "archetypical" man by Picasso that was executed
The catalogue provides the
"The freedom and spontaneity
of his late work, toegether with the recourse of archetypical
figures and symbols, reflect both a growing awareness of his mortality,
as the artist sought to ward off death through a final burst of
creativity, as well as a conscious decision to allow himself total
liberty with both style and subject matter. Having gone through
so many phases of stylistic and technical experimentation, Picasso
now pared down his style in order to paint monumental works in
quick, spontaneous brush-strokes. Rather than ponder the details
of human anatomy and perspective, the arist isolated those elements
of his subject that fascinated and preoccupied him, and depicted
them with a contemporary style and a sense of wit entirely of
The lot has an estimate of
$8,000,000 to $12,000,000. It sold for $10,386,500.
If Lot 31 can be excused because
of the artist's supreme and wild self-indulgency, which can only
be justified by true genius which Picasso had undeniably, Lot
58 is a remarkably balanced, orderly composition, a late work
that exquisitely revisits and improves upon his legendary naked
demoiselles with African masks.
Entitled "The Painter
and His Model," the 38 5/8-by-51 3/8-inch oil on canvas was
executed in 1964. The catalogue reproduces a similar painting
in the collection of Galeries Beyeler in Basel that is darker
and has the model directly facing the artist and which also hides
the genitalia. The catalogue quotes G. Shiff from a 1983 catalogue
of an exhibition at The Grey Art Gallery & Study Center at
New York Univeristy that Picasso never used an easel and "hardly
ever worked from live models," which reminds the viewer that
Picasso is an adept trickster with an impish sense of humor. The
catalogue also notes that "Picasso emphasizes the yin-yang
balance of their bodies, with the protruding knot of the model's
hair mirroring the form of the painter's genitalia, and harmonizes
the complimentary position of their limbs."
The lot has modest estimate
of $3,250,000 to $4,250,000. It failed to sell and was passed
Lest we forget that Picasso
was a remarkable and very facile draftsman, Lot 12 is a stunning
colored pencil and pastel he executed in 1966 of two naked women.
The awkward if not impossible poses and surreal coloration and
flurry of soft squiggles disappear in the presence of the green
bouffant of one of the ladies and light blue tresses of the other.
The lot has an estimate of $900,000 to $1,200,000. It sold
If Lot 12 demonstrates Picasso's
infatuation with feminine beauty and the virtuosity of technique,
Lot 45, "Femme au Chapeau Vert," shows that he was also
capable aesthetic experimentation, sometimes producing unattractive
works with unpleasing palettes. An oil on canvas, it measures
28 3/4 by 25 5/8 inches and was painted in 1947, the year after
he settled with Francoise Gilot in the Cap d'Antibes. It has an
ambitious estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000. It sold for
$8,146,500. The catalogue notes that "having left behind
the innocent, dream-like portraits of Marie-Thérèse
Walter, as well as the dramatic, distorted depictions of Dora
Maar, Picasso found a new style for his portraits of Francoise,
characterized by a certain calm elegance and poise."
This auction has two superb
works by Kees van Dongen (1877-1968). Lot 7, "Jeune Arabe,"
is the cover illustration of this auction's catalogue. An oil
on canvas, it measures 40 1/8 by 25 3/4 inches and was executed
in 1910. At a press preview, Emmanuel Di Donna, vice chairman,
worldwide, Impressionist director of evening sales, New York,
for Sotheby's, said the work is one of the "purest Fauve
works" that demonstrates "the power of color with great
subtleness," adding that the artist sanded down the figures
garment to make it more like the weave of the canvas. The lot
has an ambitious estimate of $7,000,000 to $10,000,000. It
sold for $13,802,500, a world auction record for the artist. It
had been one of several works consigned to the auction by the
collection of Louis Reijtenbagh, a Dutch financier, according
to an article in New York Times by Carol Vogel.
A perfect companion piece for
"Jeune Arabe," is Lot 5, "Nu au Chapeau Noir,"
a smaller oil on canvas that van Dongen painted circa 1906. Van
Dongen is best known for his later stylized society portraits
that were strong and very popular but he was one of the seminal
Fauve painters earlier whose audacious palette set the art world
on fire and of the Fauvists he was the leading figurative painter.
Here the model's full front nudity belies her demure adjustment
of her large black hat especially in the blinding brightness of
the blank background. The figure is more "worked" than
the seeming spontaneous and near perfect lines of "Jeune
Arabe," but the shadow tracing and asymmetrical composition
add an allure and humanity to this stark but very beautiful work.
It has a modest estimate of $1,200,000 to $1,800,000. It sold
Edvard Munch (1863-1944) is
an artist best known for a few works of great intensity and deep
saturated color yet his oeuvre is considerably more varied. Lot
32, "Seated Female Nudes," is a fine oil on canvas that
measures 23 5/8 by 29 1/8 inches. Executed in 1917, it has a very
light and bright and simple palette and the figures are posed
casually. The catalogue notes that "With its splashly, colorful
brushwork, the present oil is a vivid example of the undercurrents
of eroticism influencing Munch's work of this period. What is
more interesting than eroticism here, however, is the rather formal
and abstract nature of the composition. The lot has an estimate
of $1,250,000 to $1,750,000. It sold for $2,770,500.
Lot 38 is a rich and impressive
work by Georges Roualt (1871-1958) entitled "Pierrot."
An oil on canvas that measures 41 3/8by 29 3/8 inches, it was
painted in 1937-8. Roualt's "stained-glass" style of
Cloisonnism is particularly effective here in this quite large
work. "Roualt was particularly drawn to the clowns and their
expressive potential as subjects for portraiture. These nomadic
entertainers represented freedom and naiveté, and were
for Roualt a release from his focus on the darker images of life.
His series of clown portraits is marked by an emotional immediacy
that is unique both within his oeuvre and the spectrum of modern
art. Lionello Venturi writes 'When he paints clowns...the grotesque
becomes amiable, even lovable...colors grow rich and resplendent,
almost as if the artist, laying aside his crusader's arms a for
a moment, were relaxing in the light of the sun and letting it
flood into his work." The work has an estimate of $600,000
to $800,000. It sold for $1,370,500.
Lot 9 is a study of three musicians
by Fernand Léger (1881-1955)(see The City Review article). An oil on canvas, it measures 28 3/4 inchessquare
and was painted in 1932. It has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000
and has been consignedby the estate of Grace E. Hokin of Chicago.The
work is one of four thaqt Léger devoted to musicians and
it is the "premiere etat" or first version of the celebrated
painting in the Museum of Modern Art that was piainted in 1945."The
zesty palette of this composition worked so well at evoking the
zip and zing of the music and the electric lights of the dancehall
that Léger painting another colorful version...during his
time in America in the 1940s," the catalogue noted. It has
an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It sold for $5,682,500.
This auction has several paintings
consigned by the Durand-Ruel family of Paris. Durand-Ruel was
a leading art dealer for the Impressionists, and these works therefore
have an impressive provenance.
Lot 20, "Femme au Chapeau
Blanc," is a lovely oil on canvas by Pierre-Auguste Renoir
(1841-1919) of a girl with long brown hair wearing an enormous
white hat. It measures 18 5/8 by 18 1/8 inches and was painted
in 1892. It has an ambitious estimateof $2,500,00 to $3,500,000.
It sold for $2,882,500. The wide-brimmed, flounce-covered
hat is known as a Charlotte after the 18th Century Queen of England.
T he catalogue notes that Suzanne Valadon, the artist, maintained
that Renoir had these hats specially made for his models and they
were often seen laying about his studio.
Another Durand-Ruel Renoir
is Lot 18, "Baigneuse," an oil on canvas of a bare-backed
female painted in 1895. It is a lovely composition and very beautifully
painted. It has a modest estimate of $700,000 to $1,000,000.
It sold for $2,434,500.
The Durand-Ruel group includes
two fine works by Camille Pissarro (1831-1903). Lot 19 is entitled
"Le Jardin des Tuileries et le Pavilion de Flore, Effet de
Neige" and is oil on canvas that meaures 21 1/4 by 25 1/2
inches. Executed in 1899 it has an estimate of $1,250,000 to S1,850,000.
It sold for $2,770,500.
A larger urban view of Rouen
by Pissarro is the subject of Lot 16, which is entitled "Le
Boieldieu et la Gare d'Orleans, Rouen, Soleil." An oil on
canvas, it measures 25 1/2 by 31 7/8 inches and was painted in
1898. It and Lot 19 are both from the Durand-Ruel family. This
lot has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It sold for
Another Durand-Ruel picture
is Lot 17, "La Seine à Argenteuil," by Alfred
Sisley (1839-1899). It is a classic Impressionist landscape and
measures 18 by 25 1/2 inches. Executed circa 1870, it has an estimate
of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It sold for $1,538,500.
The best of several works consigned
to this auction from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections is Lot
26, "Nu de Profil," by Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947). An
oil on canvas that measures 40 1/2 by 20 5/8 inches, it was painted
circa 1917. It is a classic Bonnard work, full of light and very
painterly. It has an estimate of $1,250,000 to $1,750,000. It
failed to sell and was passed at $950,000.
One of the loveliest works
in the auction is Lot 59, a fine pastel study of a young lady
drawing by Berthe Morisot. A pastel on canvas, it measures 28
3/4 by 23 5/8 inches and was executed in 1886. The lot has a conservative
estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It sold for $842,500.
Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978)
is famous for his metaphysical studies that would be influential
for the Surrealist movement. The term "metaphysical,"
the catalogue notes, "had been given to De Chirico's paintings
in 1914 by the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire and referred
to the enigmatic quality of his urban landscapes. His paintings
from 1914-15 took their inspiration from the spatial distortions
of the Cubists and emphasized the deep recesses and angularity
of Renaissance or Neo-Classical buildings and the ominously dark
shadows that they case across desolate piazzas. The figures are
assembled from different mannequins. The lot has an estimate of
$1,800,000 to $2,500,000. It sold for $2,882,500.
Another painting by de Chirico,
Lot 8, "La Meditazione del Matino," was executed several
years earlier in 1912 and is a classic but less colorful and less
comples de Chirico composition. It has an ambitious estimate of
$1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It sold for $2,322,500.
At the press preview, Simon
Shaw, senior vice president and head of the Impressionist and
Modern Art department of Sotheby's in New York, said that "absolute
delicacy" of the "moment of imbalance" of the falling
man in the painted bronze sculpture, known as "L'Homme Qui
Chavire," by Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) is marvelous.
The sculpture is 23 3/8 inches high and was conceived in 1950
and cast in 1951. It is numbered 5 of an edition of 6 and is the
most graceful of all of Giacometti's sculptures. The catalogue
notes that "the image of the man stumbling on the unsteady
terrain of the modern world is perhaps Giacometti's most literal
attempt to personify his own existential preoccupations in the
years following the war. And to the Existentialist philosophers
themselves, this very image became the clear and undisputed signifier
of the maddening uncertainty that defined an entire genearation."
The lot has an estimate of $8,000,000 to $12,000,000. It sold
for $19,346,500. In her article in The New York Times November
5, 2009, Carol Vogel reported that the statue had been consigned
by S. I. Newhouse and that "before the auction dealers said
Mr. Newhouse had paid about $20 million" for it.
Lot 34 is a large floral painting
by Emil Nolde (1867-1956) that is an oil on canvas that was executed
in 1945. It measures 29 by 39 3/4 inches. Nolde is best known
for his luscious floral watercolors but his works are relatively
rare. This lot has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It
sold for $2,658,500.
Lot 44 is a large floral painting
by Claude Monet that is a vertical composition despite the fact
that its stamped signature is placed as if it were a horizontal
composition. An oil on canvas, it measures 26 by 39 3/4 inches
and it was painted in 1887. It has an estimate of $2,500,000 to
$3,500,000. It failed to sell.
Claude Monet (1840-1926) is
famous for several very important series of paintings: Rouen Cathedral,
poplar trees, Vetheuil and the Thames River in London. This oil
depicts the Charing Cross Bridge in London and is extremely impressionistic,
misty and painterly. It has a very low estimate of $900,000 to
$1,200,000. It sold for $1,874,500.
Lot 6 is a very fine still
life of four apples by Edouard Manet (1832-1883). An oil on canvas,
it measures 7 1/2 by 9 3/4 inches and it was painted in 1882.
It has an modest estimate of $650,000 to $850,000. It sold
Lot 14 is a sparkling Fauve
painting by André Derain (1880-1954) that is entitled "Barques
au Port de Collioure." An oil on canvas that measures 23
5/8 by 28 3/4 inches, it was painted circa 1905. It has an estimate
of $6,000,000 to $8,000,000. It sold for $14,082,500, a world
auction record for the artist. It was sold to Guy Bennett, who
left Christie's earlier this year to become a dealer.
Another work from the Sackler
Collections is Lot 24, "Krass und Mild (Dramatic and Mild),"
an abstract oil from 1932 by Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944). It
was at one time in the possession of the Museum of Non-Objective
Painting (that later became the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in
New York, which is currently holding a major Kandinsky retrospective
exhibition.). It has an estimate of $6,000,000 to $8,000,000.
It sold for $10,610,500.
Lot 48 is a simple, large and
attractive abstraction by Joan Miro (1893-1983). An oil on canvas,
it measures 35 by 51 7/8 inches and was executed in 1972. It has
an estimate of $3,000,000 to $4,000,000. It sold for $4,786,500.
A smaller but more amusing
Miro is Lot 51, which is entitled "Femmes et Oiseau Dans
La Nuit." An oil on canvas, it measures 13 by 9 1/2 inches
and was executed in 1946. It has an estimate of $1,800,000 to
$2,500,000. It was passed at $1,700,000.
Lot 41 is an excellent equestrian
oil by Edgar Degas (1834-1917) that was once in the collection
of John Hay Whitney.
It was sold in May 2004 at Sotheby's for $4,376,000 when it had
an estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000. This time it has an estimate
of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000. It sold for $4,674,500. There
are other versions in the Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute
in Williamstown, Massachusetts and the Walters Art Gallery in
Lot 46 is a very impressive
and striking painting by Marino Marini (1901-1980) entitled "Grand
Teatro." A 70-inch square oil on canvas, it was painted in
1958-1960. It is more complex and colorful than most of his works
depicting horse and rider. It has an estimate of $700,000 to $900,000.
It sold for $1,482,000.