By Carter B. Horsley
In 1993, Sotheby's successfully
auctioned 88 Picassos from the collection of Stanley J. Seeger
but that did not empty the collector's walls and now more, but
not all, of his collection is being offered by Sotheby's May 7
and 8, 2001, and Picasso is not the only star this time.
Picasso is, however, well represented
by a great pastel, Lot 15, shown above, "Femme assise,"
on board, 20 1/8 by 14 1/4 inches, executed in Madrid in 1901,
a stunning and very beautiful work that has a conservative estimate
of $1,200,000 to $1,600,000. Remarkably, it was passed at $750,000,
one of only three lots that did not sell in this hugely successful
The painting is similar, in
reverse, to a large oil in Museu Nacional de Arte Moderno in Madrid.
Picasso (1881-1973) had recently returned from Paris. "Heavily
rouged and powdered, the sitter conveys a debauched elegance not
unlike Lautrec's Moulin-Rouge subjects, all the while alluding
to the stately propriety of Goya's paintings....Picasso enlivened
this work through the energetic application of layers of pastel,
providing striking variations of electric blue tonalities which
dramatically highlight the fiugre's pallor against the background,"
the catalogue observed.
Coming on the heels of the
mixed results of the season's opening major sale at Phillips (see
The City Review article) May 7, this sale assumed more importance
as a bellweather of the state of the art market. While Philips
sold more than $124 million of Impressionist and Modern Art and
got some hefty prices for a few weeks, it only sold about two-thirds
of the lots being offered and the total was considerably less
than its pre-sale low estimate of about $170 million.
The evening section of this
auction had 62 lots and 59 sold for a total of $54,020,500 versus
pre-sale estimates of $28,400,000 to $39,900,000 and auction records
were set for Francis Bacon, Max Beckmann and Hans Hoffmann and
also for a work on paper by Joan Miró. Although Sotheby's
officials conceded that the consignor had agreed to modest estimates,
they were nonetheless thrilled with the quite stunning results
as 38 of the 59 lots that were sold exceeded their high estimates,
a very high percentage.
David Norman, head of Sotheby's
Impressionist and Modern Art Department in North America, said
after the auction that the "fantastic sale" was "the
product of a great eye." Noting that several works sold for
more than they had been acquired by Mr. Seeger in recent years,
Mr. Norman commented that the auction result "confounds the
ideathat freshness is necessary." Charles S. Moffett, co-chairman,
Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary Art, worldwide, for Sotheby's,
remarked that "what drives his market is quality, it is a
very selective market." Tobias Meyer, the evening's auctioneer,
said the sale was "a great success" and that the collector's
decision to consign the works in the auction was "very emotional
- he was ready to let it go."
The large, packed sales
room witnessed a lot of bidding activity in the room as well as
on the telephones. In many instances, there were numerous bidders
on individual lots, leaving little doubt that the art market,
despite national economic concerns, remains quite healthy, so
far, which is certainly a relief to the consignors of the many
remaining auctions this season.
The Seeger collection consists
mostly of 20th Century figurative art and the cover illustration
of the catalogue is Lot 11, Egon Schiele's, "Männlicher
Akt," a watercolor and charcoal on paper, 17 3/4 by 12 inches,
executed circa 1910, shown above. Schiele (1890-1918) is a great
painter and this lot shows his peculiar and extraordinary style
to great effect. It has a conservative estimate of $300,000 to
$400,000. It sold for $907,750 including the buyer's premium
as do all the results in this article. "Like many of
Schiele's nude self-portraits, the body is elongated and emaciated,
revealing the shoulder lades and the rib cage protruding from
beneath the model's taut skin. The composition, as a whole, is
a study of the body as an intricate compilation of contours and
colors, truncated and abstracted almost beyond recognition to
create a veritable anthropomorphic landscape," the catalogue
Contortion and distortion are
the hallmarks of Francis Bacon (1909-1992) and Lot 14, shown above,
"Studies of the Human Body," is a major and classic
work. The triptych consists of three oils on canvas, each 78 by
58 inches. It was painted in 1979 and has an estimate of $4,000,000
to $6,000,000. It sold for $8,585,750, breaking the previous
auction record of $6,606,000 for the artist.
The catalogue offers the following
"....[this work] sees
the confluence of two of Bacon's greatest inspirations, Eadweard
Muybridge and Michelangelo in one of his most beautiful and erotically
charged compositions. Through its slight ambiguity of content,
this work teems with sexual energy and tension, born of Bacon's
deep instinctual understanding of the painterly language which
he so uniquely manipulated....Against this calm and spare background,
the players fidget and buzz with energy....Bacon frames his figures
as if in a spectable: we are watching them and they seem to know
it. They are cognizant of our attention, the left-hand figure
turns away to bare the gash on his back whilst the right-hand
figure turns toward us to flex his biceps. The triptych format
seems to hint at a narative between the panels, but that narrative
remains ambiguous....Here the nature of the human form, which
has been mediated through a number of representative media is
adapted through Bacon's mind and hand to be at once amorphous,
yet totally real. Through moments of magic, Bacon coagulates color
and form to achieve a heightened sense of figurative reality,
which leaves the viewer thrilling to the sensations of his subjects.
This is nowhere more dramatic than in the present composition."
This auction also includes
a Bacon self-portrait, Lot 9, which measures 14 by 12 inches and
has an estimate of $350,000 to $450,000. It sold for $1,765,750.
Max Beckmann (1884-1950) is
another artist represented with two important works. Lot 28, "Perseus'
(Hercules') Last Duty," a 1949 oil on canvas, 35 1/4 by 56
inches, and Lot 13, "Meeting in the Night, a 1928 white and
colored chalk on paper. Lot 28 has a conservative estimate of
$700,000 to $900,000. It sold for $3,855,750, just exceeding
the previous auction record of $3,749,560 for the artist. Beckman,
like Bacon, liked to work in triptychs. The catalogue provides
the following commentary:
"In this picture, Beckmann
has painted the male figure, depicting Perseus, in the act of
beheading the Gorgon Medusa. Wearing Hades' helmet, the magical
wallet and brandishing the fatal sword, Perseus looks into the
polished shield on the right, which bears the reflection of the
Gorgons. Interestingly. Beckmann depicts Medusa and her Gorgon
guardians not as vile, snake-haired monsters but as young women,
vulnerable to the weapon which Perseus lords over tyhem. As if
to critique the violence of the scene, the artist's choice of
color and positioning of the figures reassigns the heroic qualities
associated with each mythical character. Persus, with his back
turned to the viewer stands as a dark and looming figure in a
pool of blood, the color of which is echoed by the tuft of shocking
crimson hair on the back of his head. Beckmann has instead placed
Medusa in the center of the composition, her body swelling with
fecundinty and illuminated like that of a martyr. The intense
drama of this picture is further emphasized by the projection
of the sword's tip to the extreme left and beyond the picture
plane. Here, the artist suggests the sword's penetration into
the viewer's space as Perseus anticipates swinging the weapon
above his head."
Lot 29 is a drawing study for
Lot 28 and has an estimate of $65,000 to $70,000. It sold for
Lot 13, "Meeting in the
Night," is another Beckman that is not as colorful but no
less gruesome as Lot 28. The 42-by-19-inch white and colored chalk
on paper is dated 1928 and has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000.
It sold for $797,750. It depicts a tuxedo-clad man looking
untroubled on a nude woman who is shackled and hanging upside-down.
The catalogue notes that the artist was interested in themes of
alienation, injustice and inequality.
The Seeger Collection is by
no means focused only on tortured souls and has several fine works
by Jean Dubuffet and Joan Miró.
Lot 35, "Le chien rodeur,"
is a delightful oil on canvas, 32 by 39 1/2 inches by Jean Dubuffet
(1901-1985) and has an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000. It
sold for $511,750. Lot 36, "Vache bleue et rouge"
is a 23 5/8 by 28 3/4-inch oil on canvas by Dubuffet that has
an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000, and sold for $170,750,
and lot 57, "Marché en campagne" is a 62-by-55
1/4-inch vinyl on canvas by Dubuffet that has an estimate of $200,000
to $300,000 and sold for $335,750. Lot 60, "Cortege,"
is a very strong and fine oil on canvas, by Dubuffet, 45 3/4 by
35 inches and it has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It
sold for $423,750.
Lot 41, "Nocture,"
is a 14 7/8-by-18-inch tempera and oilwash on paper by Joan Miró
(1893-1983) that is a classic example of the artist's surreal
and humous imagination. It has an estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000.
It sold for $5,615,750 significantly surpassing the artist's
previous record for a work of paper of $2,6955,000. It is
one of 23 paintings collectively entitled "The Constellations"
that the artist completed between January 1940 and September 1941.
The catalogue notes that André
Breton praised the series for its "resistance" to the
forces of evil in Europe at the time. It also offers the following
the picture with swirling lines that shape and direct the flow
of energy within the compositon. The ground of the composition
has been brushed, scraped, polished, moistened and rubbed, creating
the gradated pockets of light and dark that convey the celestial
boundlessness in which the objects float. The bold reds and ultramarine
blues, along with flickers of yellow and white comets, electrify
the surface of the paper, while the great black voids add a spatial
depth to the picture plane. Interspersed amidst the crescent moons,
somnolent suns, comets and stars are the pseudo-sexual amoeboid
shapes and fragmented body parts that were often featured in Mirós
surrealist paintings of the twenties."
Lot 22, "Colored Alphabet,"
by Jasper Johns, 12 by 10 1/2 inches, oil, encaustic and paper
collage on panel, was executed in 1959 and has an estimate of
$2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It sold for $3,745,750. This
work was painted the year after the artist had a sell-out show
at the Leo Castelli Gallery and had introduced color into his
previous, mostly monochromatic work. The catalogue observes that
the "stirring visual impact" of Johns's work of this
period "urges toward the intellectual rather than the transcendental,
the objective over the sublime" and was a "departure
from the concerns of Abstract Expressionism."
Lot 28 is a Jasper Johns monochromatic
work, in green, from 1958. Entitled, "Green Target,"
it is a 8 1/2-inch square encaustic and collage on panel and has
an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for $3,855,750.
A larger version of this was sold by Leo Castelli to the Museum
of Modern Art.
Lot 8, "Divided Oval:
Butterfly," by Henry Moore, is a very beautiful white marble
sculpture, shown above, 36 inches long. It was executed in 1967
and has a conservative estimate of $150,000 to $200,000. It
sold for $291,750. "The aesthetic success" of this
work, the catalogue noted, "inspired Moore in 1982 to create
a monumental bronze, based on the original sculpture, for Mr.
Seeger's new house, Sutton Place, Surrey. A working model in bronze
was cast the same year in an edition of six and the enlarged version,
measuring 26 feet 4 inches, was begun in a Berlin studio. When
Mr. Seeger sold Sutton Place in 1986, before the sculpture's completion,
it found a new home in Berlin, where it adorns the city's concert
Another fine sculpture is Lot
7, "Petite tete au triangle" by Julio González
(1876-1942). The 10 1/4-inch-high white metal sculpture was executed
circa 1933 and has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It
sold for $819,750.
The second session of the
Seeger sale on May 9, 2001 totaled $2,574,100 with 57 of the 66
offered lots selling.