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Impressionist and Modern Works on Paper


Thursday, 10 AM, May 10, 2001

Sale 9640

"La grande caryatide" by Amedeo Modigliani

Lot 112, "La grande caryatide," by Amedeo Modigliani, pastel and blue gouache over pencil on paper joined by the artist, laid down on board, 39 3/8 by 24 ¼ inches, 1913-4

By Carter B. Horsley

Works on paper are by their nature more fragile than canvases or panels and very often they play second fiddle in the art market to works by the same artist in more durable media. They do, however, often have an immediacy that is very alluring, in part because they are often studies for more complete works and thus often have a greater freedom and spontaneity. Some artists have consistent styles in any media and some treat them differently.

Many collectors may start out only collecting works in one specific medium, but often end up dabbling in others because they decide to concentrate on the works of one artist or they want works by certain artists but cannot afford their major paintings.

As this auction well demonstrates, often the works on paper are as fine or better than many paintings aesthetically.

The auction had a sales total of $6,716,075, including the buyer's premiums, and 51 of the 57 offered lots sold, or 89 percent, a very respectable percentage.

The paintings of Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920) usually fetch a few million dollars each, but his works on paper are often available for much, much less. Lot 112, for example, "La grande caryatide," shown at the top of this article, is a 39 3/8-by-24 ¼-inch pastel and blue gouache over pencil on paper joined by the artist, laid down on board. Drawn circa 1913-4, it is a large and monumental work that is striking because of its deep blue background and very interesting because the artist decided to enlarge it to change the composition. The added portions are lighter in color than the original drawing and the borders between them are quite evident and add to the work's tactile delight.

"To reinforce the classical element inherent in this archaic subject, Modigliani hones and reduces his forms to their utmost simplicity. The violent, primitive expression found in Picasso's early cubist works, which also draws heavily upon archaic and tribal sources, is absent in Modigliani's treatment of the caryatid theme. He is more concerned with formal balance and repose, in which each contour is firmly rendered and set in counterpoint to adjacent lines, creating a fugue-like composition of repeated and inverted forms. His use of ovoid shapes lends the composition a sense of sculptural volume, contrasted with the flatness of the drawn line and the application of monochrome paint. The overall effect is that of a monumental structure unified by its linear rhythms and he careful balance of its proportions. The present work in unusual in the artist's series off caryatids for its Degas-like addition of paper joined to the top edge of the original sheet. Modigliani also expands the composition onto the mount, as seen in the lower and left hand edges of the painted image. Whereas the cropping of the figure on the original sheet implies a sense of compressed and coiled strength, the enlargement of the composition imparts to it a monumental dimension, as if the figure is radiating outward into an immense, unlimited space. The hourglass shape of the enlarged figure, almost globular in the upper and lower portions, and hinged by her narrow, elongated torso, is an extreme interpretation of the caryatid idea. It reaches into the realm of the mythic and superhuman, as if the caryatid is an Atlas-like figure, bearing the burden of one world on her shoulders while resting on another."

The lot has a very conservative estimate of 250,000 to $350,000. It sold for $534,000 including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article.

"Cariàtide" by Amedeo Modigliani

Lot 120, "Cariàtide" by Amedeo Modigliani, pencil and blue wax crayon on brown paper, 10 1/2 by 8 inches, 1913-4

Lot 120 is another Modigliani, entitled "Cariàtide," a 10 ½-by-8-inch pencil and blue wax crayon on paper mounted at the edges on paper, also drawn in 1913-4. This drawing, which is on brown paper, shows the pronounced influence of tribal sources in the handling of the face, but is enlivened by the artist's softer and multiple strokes to delineate the breasts. It has a conservative estimate of $50,000 to $70,000. It sold for $47,000.

One of the pleasures of leafing through auction catalogues is that the specialists often make delightful pairings on facing pages of lots by different artists. Opposite Modigliani's Lot 120, for example, is "Femme nu debout," a colored wax crayons on paper laid down on board, by Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957), which is a superb mate to the Modigliani because it also has an ovoid face and pronounced breasts. The 16 ½-by-10 3/8-inch drawing , Lot 121, which is blue on cream-colored paper, has an estimate of $80,000 to $100,000 and was once in the collection of Lee and Isabel Ault in New York. It failed to sell. Brancusi, of course, is famous for his sculptures, which rarely appear on the market and now go in the seven figures.

"Voralpiner Ort" by Paul Klee

Lot 119, "Voralpiner Ort," by Paul Klee, watercolor on paper, 14 1/2 by 10 inches, 1925

Paul Klee (1879-1940) is one of the most lyrical and whimsical 20th Century masters and this auction has three of his works. Lot 119, "Voralpiner Ort," is a 14 ½-by-10-inch watercolor on paper laid down by the artist on board in 1925. It was once in the collection of Blanchette H. Rockefeller and has a modest estimate of $150,000 to $200,000. It sold for $138,000. It is not one of the artist's most vibrant works, but it presents a crowded cityscape with considerable energy. The catalogue provides the following commentary: "The present work represents a village in the foothills of the Alps; Klee subsequently painted five other watercolors of similar subjectsIn each of these works the artist uses a Cubist-derived structure to render the spatial complexity of the landscape; the present work recalls Picasso's view of Horta de Ebro painted during the summer of 1909, and Braque's depictions of the castle at La Roche-Guyon done around the same time. Klee's palette, with its muted blue, green and violent tones, recalls the colors that Cézanne liked to employ in his watercolors. In these respects the present work stands as an homage to the progenitor and creators of Cubism. During the mid-1920's Klee introduced a hatched technique, executed with a fine brush in the present work, which denotes `states of becoming and passing away.The `fuzziness' of this method may appear at odds with the weightiness of the underlying cubist structure, but it is clear that Klee intends to interpret the aspects of experiencing the landscape. He renders with firm contours the physical substance of the buildings and the hillside on which they are perched. By means of the hatched colors he hints at the fleeting effects of light. Ultimately, form and color, realty and appearance, and the permanent and the transient are merged into a vibrating haze of lines."

Lot 136, "Festungbau," is another Klee watercolor, 9 7/8 by 7 3/8 inches in size, that was painted in 1921 and has an estimate of $120,000 to $160,000. It sold for $226,000. According to the catalogue, it "immediately precedes a series of four compositions similarly constructed of rail fence-like planes, which were intended as abstract studies in perspective." "The use of these partially open planes allows the artist to create an architectural sense of space that is maze-like and overlapping while remaining airily transparent," it continued.

"Neuer Stadtteil in M" by Paul Klee

Lot 140, "Neuer Stadtteil in M" by Paul Klee, watercolor, 12 3/8 by 17 7/8 inches, 1928

While Lots 119 and 136 are interesting, Lot 140 is a much more pleasing Klee. Entitled "Neuer Stadtteil in M," the 12 3/8-by-17 7/8-inch watercolor, shown above, was executed in 1928 and has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It sold for $314,000.

"Femme attrapant un oiseau nocture" by Joan Miró

Lot 135, "Femme attrapant un oiseau nocture" by Joan Miró, oil, gouache and pencil on paper, 53 1/2 by 23 inches, 1970

Joan Miró (1893-1983) is represented with a very strong oil, gouache and pencil on handmade paper, Lot 135, entitled "Femme attrapant un oiseau nocture." The work, which is the cover illustration of the catalogue, measures 53 ½ by 23 inches and was painted in 1970. It has an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000. It sold for $446,000.

"Tête de femme aux cheveux bouclés" by Henri Matisse

Lot 32, "Tête de femme aux cheveux bouclés" by Henri Matisse, brush and India ink on paper, 22 1/8 by 15 inches, 1952

Another highlight of the auction is Lot 42, "Tête de femme aux cheveux bouclés," by Henri Matisse (1869-1954). The strong, 22 1/8-by-15-inch brush and India ink on paper is the illustration of the catalogue's back cover and was executed in 1952 and has an estimate of $180,000 to $250,000. It sold for $435,000.

Lot 106, "Fleurs dans une cruche bleue," is a nice floral still life by Odilon Redon (1840-1916). The 24 5/8-by-20 ¼-inch pastel on buff paper laid down on boar was drawn circa 1920 and has an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000. It sold for $259,000.

Lot 156, "Nu debout," is a pleasant colored wax crayons and pencil on board, 13 by 9 7/8 inches, by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) that was drawn in 1970 and has an estimate of $150,000 to 200,000. It sold for $336,000.

See The City Review article on the Yves Tanguy auction at Christie's May 10, 2001

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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