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An Important Private Collection of Works by Yves Tanguy


Thursday, May 10, 2001, approximately 11 AM

Sale 9876

"Les sourciers" by Yves Tanguy

Lot 208, "Les sourciers," by Yves Tanguy, oil on canvas, 18 by 15 inches, 1945

By Carter B. Horsley

Yves Tanguy is one of the great Surrealists and his works appear only infrequently on the auction block.

This auction has 32 works by Tanguy that amply demonstrate his remarkable inventiveness. The auction was very successful with a sales total of $2,803,960 and 97 percent of the offered lots sold.

The catalogue's two-page essay on the artist provides the following commentary"

"The event which inspired Yves Tanguy (1900-1955) to suddenly become an artist may seem the stuff of Hollywood fiction, but is true nonetheless: in 1923 he leapt off a bus to examine two strange paintings that had caught his eye in a passing gallery window. They were by Giorgio de Chirico, and the gallery, operated by Paul Guillaume, was the same in which Surrealist impresario and theoretician André Breton discovered the art of de Chirico several years earlier. Although Tanguy was entirely untrained as an artist, and didn't begin to paint until after his encounter with the de Chirico paintings, he quickly developed a wholly original visual language and style that would place him in the foremost rank of the Surrealist movement.

"Tanguy's entry into the Surrealist group came as the result of a confluence of his personal qualities and external circumstances. To begin with, Tanguy's personality was already predisposed to a love of the absurd. He stated in an interview that `about 1924 I came across the first issue of La Revue Surréaliste and I became very much interested in it. No so much in the paintings reproduced in it as in the general spirit of its contents.'Sir Roland Penrose has related that Tanguy, during military service, would often delight in shocking others by eating his own socks at the mess table or relishing spiders, soaked in wine, on a slice of bread a practice that apparently didn't en in later years. Having completed his service, Tanguy returned to Paris in 1922 and was reunited with an old friend, the poet Jacques Prévert. Joined by Maurice Duhamel, the men took an apartment in Montparnasse that would become a hub of Surrrealist activity. IN 1925, Tanguy met Breton through mutual friends; the two discovered they held similar philosophical and aesthetic views, and Breton became an immediate champion of he promising young artist.

"Breton first reproduced Tanguy's paintings and drawings in the 15 June 1926 issue of his La Revue Surréaliste; he was thereafter recognized as one of the `official' Surrealist artists. These early paintings show bizarre, incongruous images with a deliberate disregard for conventional style and compositions. A supernatural mood was already emerging, with murky backgrounds and flashes of light permeating the composition. These early works reflect the stylistic influence of André Masson, Max Ernst and Joan Miro (who was a frequent visitor to the Montparnasse apartment), as well as intellectual ideas culled from Tanguy's studies in metaphysics, psychiatry, and alchemy. Some of these early oils reveal the initial emergence of motifs such as the `weblike' tightropes and amorphous `anemone-like bodies that would appear in more simplified form in Tanguy's later, less literal compositions.

"By 1927, the year of his first one-man exhibition at the Galerie Surréalste in Paris, Tanguy's mature style had emerged, one that would change little over the course of successive decades. According to James Thrall Soby, Tanguy `sometimes talked irritatedly of painters who felt obiged to evolve a new approach every few years, as a means of freshening their own and the public's interest in the work. Once he had found his direction and he fount it with startling abruptness he followed it with devotion and purity, secret I his quest and oblivious of he pressures of fashion and commerce".Certainly one can detect a progression however relaxed in the course of his work, including he evolution of his forms and a refinement of his palette over his 30 year career, but the overriding autograph throughout his oeuvre is unmistakable. Indeed, he once admitted that `here in the United states the only change I can distinguish in my work is possibly in my palette:.The aesthetic for which Tanguy became known depicts indefinable `inhabitants; of an otherworldly place, rendered in a meticulously detailed style. The objects seem real, yet we known them to be non-existent; they bridge the line between the abstract and figurative. The compositions regularly defy gravity and conventional rules of perspective. Most striking about these forms is that, in true Surrealist fashion, they seem at once familiar yet completely unidentifiable.

".The evocation of landscape is the overriding constant in Tanguy's art. It is, according to Penrose, the aspect that granted Tanguy a unique place among the Surrealist painters, and influenced Dali an artist with full academic credentials to treat his trompe l'oeil landscapes in a similar way, although, Penrose notes, with Tanguy the atmospheric depths are more variable, more subtle and more profound. Tanguy's pictures possess only one familiar reference point the horizon in which to relate them to landscape in a traditional sense. Yet the horizon sometimes appears as a hard dividing line, or it can melt away altogether.

"Regardless of the particular `inhabitants' of his pictures, the consistent element in Tanguy's technique is his `dual manipulation of perspective, from far to near and from high to low. Naturally, conventional perspective presupposes both depth and height, but perhaps no other modern painter has so insistently dramatized an opposition between these two dimensions.Indeed, it is Tanguy's extreme manipulation of space which imparts such a disquieting mood to the works.

"After his trip to Africa in 1930, Tanguy briefly experimented with underdrawing as a preliminary step in his paintings. He quickly abandoned the technique, he said for `I found that if I planned a picture beforehand, it never surprised me, and surprises are my pleasure in painting." What most interested Tanguy was the unpredictable procession of motifs, each suggested by and playing upon the one before, both metaphorically as well as visually. This focus on spontaneous relationships was a hallmark of Surrealist creativity; but also found expression in the exercise of `automatic writing' which all of the Surrealists practiced in one form or another."

All of the works in this auction were acquired from the Pierre Matisse Gallery with the exception of Lot 208, shown at the top of this article, which was acquired from the Galerie Hervé Odermatt-Philippe Cazeau in Paris, but had formerly been at the Pierre Matisse Gallery and the Leo Castelli Gallery.

Lot 208 is entitled "Les sourciers" and is an oil on canvas, 18 by 15 inches, that was painted in July 1945. While most of the works in this auction are small, Tanguy did paint larger canvases. The highlight of the auction, it has a conservative estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It sold for $358,000 including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article.

"L'orpailleuse" by Yves Tanguy

Lot 215, "L'orpailleuse" by Yves Tanguy, oil on canvas, 18 1/8 by 15 1/4 inches, 1945

Lot 215, "L'orpailleuse," is the cover illustration of the catalogue. An oil on canvas, it measures 18 1/8 by 15 ¼ inches and has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It was executed in 1945. It sold for $369,000.

Most of his oils have luminous and bright backgrounds, but sometimes he used a darker background as in Lot 221, "Aux quatre angles," an oil on canvas, 18 by 14 inches, that was painted in 1843 and has an estimate of $280,000 to $350,000. This work also is a bit unusual since it has two clouds in the sky. It sold for $413,000.

Some of his fabulous and unusual forms bear a striking similarity to some sculptural motifs of Isamu Noguchi as can be seen in Lot 228, "L'athée ou la religieuse," an oil on canvas, 14 by 10 1/8 inches, that was painted in 1942 and has an estimate of $240,000 to $280,000. It sold for $226,000.

Usually Tanguy arranges his groups of "inhabitants" most often complexly sinuous, rock or marble-like formations of strong color in the foreground with a lot of sky/space above, often in light pastel colors. Lot 203, "J'avais déja cet age que j'ai," however, demonstrates that Tanguy occasionally experimented with other, recessed groups in the composition. This lot is an oil on canvas that measures 17 by 14 inches and was painted in 1939 and has an estimate of $350,000 to $450,000. It sold for $468,000. A similar work that is more delicate and "thinner" is Lot 202, "Sans Titre," a gouache on paper, 11 by 9 3/8 inches, that was executed in 1941 and has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It sold for $182,000.

"Elle fut douce" by Yves Tanguy

Lot 207, "Elle fut douce," by Yves Tanguy, gouache and pencil on gray paper, 24 3/8 by 18 3/4 inches, 1947

For those not familiar with his entire oeuvre, three of the works in the auction are quite startling for their strong but sketchy backgrounds. Lot 207, "Elle fut douce," shown above, is a 24 ¾-by-18 ¾-inch gouache and pencil on gray paper that was executed in 1947 and has an estimate of $120,000 to $160,000. It sold for $160,000. The artist has let the paper show through around the composition.

Untitled by Yves Tanguy

Lot 211, "Sans titre" by Yves Tanguy, gouache on paper, 6 by 10 3/4 inches, 1943

While most of his works are vertical compositions, Tanguy did some horizontal works and they generally have less "empty" space than the vertical compositions as indicated in such untitled lots as 206, 211, and 220. Lot 206 is a 3 5/8-by-11 1/8-inch gouache on paper that was executed in 1938 and has an estimate of $70,000 to $90,000 and is one of the few in which some of the artist's forms are seeming tied together or tethered. It sold for $82,250. Lot 211, shown above, is a 6-by-10 ¾-inch gouache on paper executed in 1943 and has an estimate of $90,000 to $120,000. It sold for $116,000. Lot 220 is a 2 3/8-by-12 3/8-inch gouache and pencil on paper mounted on paper that was painted in 1936 and has an estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. It failed to sell.

Untitled by Yves Tanguy

Lot 225, "Sans titre" by Yves Tanguy, colored pencils on paper, 14 3/4 by 12 inches, 1938-9

The auction also includes several drawings, some gouache on black paper, some red pencil on green paper and some colored pencils or pen and blue ink on paper. Most are quite complex and wonderful. Lot 225, shown above, was drawn in 1938-9, measures 14 ¾ by 12 inches, and has an estimate of $6,000 to $8,000. It sold for $10,575. Lot 217, shown below, measures 11 by 8 5/8 inches and has an estimate of $7,000 to $9,000. It sold for $10,575.

Untitled by Yves Tanguy

Lot 217 by Yves Tanguy, white gouache on black paper, 11 by 8 5/8 inches

When an artist's imagination is so rich and fertile as Tanguy's stylistic consistency throughout a career is something to be cherished.

Tanguy's landscapes are jewel-like, noble, wondrous, fascinating, strange, and, with very rare exception, consistently glorious and not derivative. They do surprise. They are dreams.

See The City Review article on the Spring 2001 Impressionist and Modern Art evening auction at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Spring 2001 Impressionist and Modern Art day auction at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Sotheby's Impressionist & Modern Art Spring 2001 evening auction

See The City Review article on Phillips May 7, 2001 Impressionist & Modern Art auction

See The City Review article on Phillips Fall 2000 Impressionist & Modern Art auction

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