By Carter B. Horsley
This evening sale has some good paintings,
but not too many blockbusters, probably reflecting the uncertainty
and extreme volatility of the stock markets this winter.
Most collectors still remember the very long
recession that the art market entered into a couple of years after
the 1987 stock market crash and in the intervening years the rush
of technology has fueled speculation that reactions between the
stock and art markets are likely to occur quicker. The markets,
of course, are different, but recent auctions have not yet indicated
any sharp erosion in the value of major works despite the declines
in the stock markets, and some observers feel that perhaps the
stock markets have risen slightly off the bottom of their sharp
declines and that the auctions this Spring may avert severe downward
pressures on values.
This season Phillips has stolen a lot of thunder
with major consignments of significant paintings from the Berggruen
Collection (see The City Review article)
that overshadow the offerings at Sotheby's and Christie's.
This auction is highlighted by a major Max
Beckman (1884-1950), a "House of Parliament" painting
and a "Water Lily" painting by Claude Monet (1840-1926),
a still life by Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), a good Pablo
Picasso (1881-1973), a nice Georges Seurat (1859-1891) study,
and a sculpture by Henri Matisse (1869-1954), all good but not
The Beckman, Lot 224, "Self-Portrait Mit
Horn," is a 43 1/4-by-39 3/4-inch oil on canvas dated 1938
that is being sold by the Stephan Lackner Collection and has an
ambitious estimate of $7,000,000 to $10,000. It sold for $22,555,750
including the buyer's premium as do all results in this article.
The price set a new record for the artist, which had only been
set earlier in the week at Sotheby's auction of works from the
collection of Stanley J. Seeger (see The
City Review article.) It also set broke the auction record
for a German work of art that had been set at Sotheby's in London
Oct. 6, 1999 with the sale of "Der Wasserfall" by Franz
Marc for $8,379,966. The Beckmann was bought by Richard Feigen
acting as agent for the Neue Museum of German Expressionist Art
that will be opening soon at Fifth Avenue and 86th Street.
The widely exhibited and published work, shown
at the top of this article, was executed during the artist's exile
from Nazi Germany. "Critically acknowledged as one of the
definitive works of the artist's canon, this painting was selected
as the cover illustration for the Beckman catalogue raisonée
by Erhard and Barbara Göpel," the auction catalogue
noted, adding that "the mood in the present composition is
on the threshold between darkness and light, pessimism and hope,
self-doubt and self-knowledge." The catalogue provides the
following quotation from Lackner about this work: "He seems
to listen for a distant echo. But there is no response, only a
Here is a man forsaken by his time. No furnishings,
no amenities of civilization, just an empty frame remains behind
him. His strange, timeless costume seems to combine harlequin
and convict associations. The richly colored stripes are a marvel
of pure painterly accomplishment, almost reverting to some organic
phenomenon of nature. Their rippling rhythm is reminiscent of
sound waves; their full, soft color corresponds to the timbre
of the horn call."
The catalogue also notes that Beckman was "stimulated
into employed this motif after he saw the painting Halali by
Gustave Courbet" and reproduces a photograph of an unfinished
stage of the painting in which the artist has a "mysterious
smile" that he subsequently changed to a fearful scowl.
Beckman's oeuvre is intense, expressionistic
and difficult. While it does not resonate with the bravura painterliness
of a Francis Bacon, or the ironic detail of George Grosz, or the
energetic style of Kirchner, it is unquestionably powerful.
Despite the stunning success of the Beckmann,
the auction had many disappointments and extremely high rate of
buy-ins as only 54.76 percent of the 42 offered lots sold for
a total of $85,272,250. Charles J. Moffett, co-chairman of the
Impressionist and Modern Art Department at Sotheby's, said at
a news conference after the auction that "it's fair to say
not seeing any impulse buying" in a "most selective
market" with "very careful, focused buyers." He
described the market as "rigorous" and "challenging.
David Norman, the other co-chairman of the department, remarked
that "obviously we had mixed results," but he added
that some works exceeded their auction prices at the height of
the market more than a decade ago.
Claude Monet's "Le Parlement, Solei Couchant,"
Lot 208, is a 32 1/8-by-36 5/8-inch oil on canvas that is dated
1902 and has an ambitious estimate of $9,000,000 to $15,000,000.
It sold for $14,580,750. It had sold at auction in 1989
for about $9 million. More than any other artist, Monet is
famed, justly, for his series of paintings, most notably depicting
the cathedral in Rouen, poplars, the Houses of Parliament, water
lilies and haystacks. He made several trips to London between
1899 and 1904 and in 1904 allowed his dealer, Durand-Ruel, to
show 37 of his views of the Thames. There are 19 "identified"
Houses of Parliament paintings, 14 of which are in public institutons
such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of
Art in Washington, D.C., the Art Institute of Chicago, the Pushkin
Museum in Moscow, the Musée Marmottan and the Musée
d'Orsay in Paris, and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.
The catalogue provides the following quotation
by Monet about London's fog: "The fog in London assumes all
sorts of colors; there are black, brown, yellow, green, purple
fogs, and the interest in painting is to get the objects as seen
through all these fogs. My practiced eye has found that objects
change in appearance in a London fog, more and quicker than in
any other atmosphere, and the difficulty is to get every change
on canvas." In 1903, he wrote to Durand-Ruel that "I
cannot send you a single canvas of London, because, for the work
I am doing, it is indispensable to have all of them before my
eyes, and to the tell the truth not a single one is definitely
finished. I work them all out together or at least a certain number,
and I don't yet know how many of them I will be able to show because
what I do there is extremely delicate. One day I am satisfied,
and the next everything looks bad to me, but anyway there are
always several good ones."
"The backlit mass of the Houses of
Parliament is counterpointed by swirling, vivid reds, yellows,
oranges and purples, thickly applied, that capture the light o
the setting sun in the sky and the water," the catalogue
Lot 218, "Nympheas," is a 36 1/4-by-28
3/4-inch oil on canvas by Monet of water lilies, dated 1907 and
has an ambitious estimate of $7,000,000 to $10,000. It sold
for $7,155,750. It was once acquired by the Detroit Institute
of Arts from Albert Kahn and then more than a decade late reacquired
by Albert Kahn. In 1909, the artist exhibited 49 paintings at
Durand-Ruel from his water lily series including this one. The
catalogue notes that this is "one of thirteen works with
a similar composition and format that Monet painting in 1907
he continued to do variations on the theme the following year."
"In addition to recording a moment in time, the different
palette of each picture seems to connote a mood for interior state
of feeling," it continued, adding that "the early provenance
of this painting is especially important, because it appears that
Monet regarded it with particular favor." "He chose
the keep this painting in his own collection until 1918 when he
donated it to a charity sale in aid of the war wounded being trated
at the Janson-de-Sailly Hospital," it stated. Unlike some
works in the series that have vibrant blues, pinks and greens,
this work is subdued and not especially beautiful.
A third Monet in the auction, Lot 216, "Massif
de Chrysanthemes," a 51 1/2-by-35 18-inch oil on canvas,
dated 1897, also was once in the collection of the Detroit Institute
of Arts, and is abundantly colorful, albeit disconcertingly compositionless.
The catalogue notes that the artist did a series of four pictures
of these flowers in 1986-7 that were exhibited in 1898. "Significantly
larger than his landscapes of the period," it declared, "the
present painting is one of the most successful of this group.
The canvas is completely filled with flowers and foliage, with
no indication of their context. Arranged in clusters that vary
in descriptive detail and color as well as the specificity of
shadow and depth, the blossoms flood the picture surface with
animated brushwork and vibrant energy
.The patterned quality
and collapsed space of the present work directly relate to one
of Hokusai's prints, which presents a cluster of chrysanthemums
pressed close to the picture plane. Yet, this work is also closely
related to Gustave Caillebotte's Chrysanthemums of around
1893 that Monet purchased shortly before his friend's death in
1894." While this work may be a nice homage to his friend,
it is not a great Monet. It has an ambitious estimate of $2,500,000
to $3,500,000. It sold for $2,755,750.
The Cézanne table-top still life, Lot
212, "Pichet et Fruits sur une Table," is a 16 1/2-by-28
1/2-inch oil on paper laid down on panel that the catalogue states
was painted circa 1893-4. It has an impressive provenance of having
been in the collections of Ambrose Vollard, Paul Rosenberg, Dr.
Albert C. Barnes, Laurance S. Rockefeller, Eugene V. Thaw and
Jaime Ortiz-Patiño. It also has an estimate of $14,000,000
to $20,000,000 that would normally be considered ambitious given
its quality except for the fact that some similar and better versions
have fetched quite astronomical prices in recent years. The great
Cézanne still lifes have fruit whose brushwork makes them
resonate and strong color. It failed to sell and was passed
The Picasso, Lot 233, "Devant Le Jardin,"
is a 51 1/2-by-38 3/8-inch oil on canvas that is dated 1953 and
has an estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000. It was passed
The catalogue notes that the Picasso Museum
in Paris has a closely related painting that shows the artist's
daughter, Paloma, "in the same dress and stance, playing
with toy train in the same garden outside the artist's studio
in Valluaris," adding that "that composition represents
an enlargement of the background scene in the present work."
"Werner Spies curated an exhibition in 199, in which the
present work was referenced, devoted entirely to Picasso's depiction
of children. The artist's portrayal of childhood, its discoveries,
fears, frailty, growth, innocence and loss thereof, is singular
in the history of art. Picasso treats the portrayal of children
with great sensitivity and observation, and never with excess
sentiment or adult revisionism. Though constantly referred to
as image of Paloma, Spies has identified the child in Devant le
jardin as the older sibling, Claude," the catalogue maintained.
The figure in the foreground is the artist. Whether the child
in the background is Paloma or Claude, the painting is a very
good Picasso and his figure, especially the brown, black and gray
strokes, is superb.
Another good Picasso is Lot 222, "Le Saltimanque,"
a 24 3/8-by-18 1/2-inch pen and ink, brush and ink and gouache
on board, executed 1904-5. The work has a conservative estimate
of $1,700,000 to $2,000,000 and the catalogue notes that "it
is possible that the present work was one of the first eight pictures
exhibited by Picasso at the Galleries Serrurier exhibition, Feburary
6 - March 6, 1905." "It has been said that all of Picasso's
1905 depictions of satimbanques and harlequins, such as the present
work, are studies - some included, some rejected - for the
Famille de Saltimbanques [National Gallery of Art, Washington,
D.C.]. The bearded saltimbanque in the present work does not appear
in the final version but has his inspiration in Picasso's earlier
depiction of El Loco, a Barcleona madman in a similar cape
whom Picasso drew in the spring of 1904
" It was
passed at $1,400,000.
Lot 217, "Un Périssoire (etude
pour 'Bordes de La Seine a L'Ile de la Grande Jatte)," is
a very good study by Seurat that has a conservative estimate of
$800,000 to $1,200,000. It was passed at $700,000. The
6 3/4-by-10 1/2-inch oil on panel was executed 1884-7 and was
once in the collection of Alexandre Nathanson in Paris.
Painted after the artist's famous "Neo-Impressionist,"
or "Pointilist" work, "Sunday Afternoon on the
Grand Jatte Island" in the Art Institute of Chicago, this
small work is a study for a painting in the Musée d'Art
Moderne in Brussels. It shows a man in a canoe gliding along the
Seine. "In a remarkable departure from the clarity of form
and static solidity characteristic and Seurat's Neo-Impressionist
style, Une Périssoire is far more poetic and animated
in its depiction of place and moment. Rendered with a striking
economy of means, leaves rustle in the wind, water ripples as
the oarsman passes by. Seurat maintains his animated brushwork
distinguished by a variety of small marks and exploits the warm
golden brown of the wood panel beneath
.In this relaxation
of Seurat's otherwise rigorous technique, the present work suggests
a moment of silent reverie - a sensitive, even emotional respite
from the more intellectual aspects of his oeuvre."
It is a lovely work.
Lot 210, "Trois Danceuses (Jupes Jaunes,
Corsages Bleus)," is a quite strong pastel on paper laid
down on board by Edgar Degas (1834-1917), that was executed circa
1896. The 22 1/4-by-20-inch work, which is stamped with the signature,
has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It was passed
at $1,600,000. While the faces of the three dancers are not
well defined, indeed, almost clumsy, the tops of their costumes
are brilliantly dotted with bright yellow and the work has considerable
A sweeter picture is Lot 209. "Fillette
Assise sur un Fond Bleu," a 26-by-21 1/4-inch oil on canvas
by Pierre-August Renoir (1841-1919) that is a fine and lyrical
portrait of a young girl with a conservative estimate of $1,400,000
to $1,800,000. It was passed at $1,100,000.
Another Renoir is Lot 215, "Gabriele,
Jean et une petite fille," a 25 1/2-by-31 1/2-inch oil on
canvas executed circa 1895. Once in the collection of Norton Simon,
this work, which shows the artist's son held by his nursemaid,
Gabrielle, as he reaches for a fruit held by a young girl whose
face is largely obscured by her arm, is quite charming, but not
a great Renoir. It has an ambitious estimate of $7,000,000 to
$9,000,000. It was passed at $6,250,000.
A more important painting of a young girl is
Lot 213, "La Brune au Seins Nus," a 24 1/4-by-19 1/4-inch
oil on canvas by Edouard Manet (1832-1883). Executed in 1872,
the painting would be a fine pendant for "La Bond au Seins
nus," in the Musée d'Orsay, Paris, that was painted
in 1878 and also depicts a voluptuous woman with her shirt open.
"This work was acquired, probably during Manet's lifetime,
by the manufacturer, art collector and painter Henri Rouart (1833-1912),
who exhibited with the Impressionists in 1874. He was a childhood
friend of Degas', and his son Ernest was to marry Berthe Morisot's
daughter, Julie Manet. This work has a conservative estimate of
$1,800,000 to $2,500,000. It sold for $3,965,750.
The auction has two paintings by Camille Pissarro
(1830-1903), Lots 221 and 204. The former is a 28 3/4-by-36 1/4-inch
oil on canvas, dated 1896, and entitled "Le Pont Corneille
a Rouen, Effet du Matin." The artist's treatment of the water
in the foreground is extremely good and the work has almost an
abstractly horizontal composition and a modest estimate of $1,500,000
to $2,000,000. It sold for $1,7665,750. The latter is entired
"L'Hiver a Montfoucault (effet de neige)," and is an
oil on canvas, 45 by 43 1/4 inches. Dated 1876, it is a winter
scene that has interesting brushwork but is not terribly exciting
and has an ambitious estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000.
It sold for $2,315,750.
Lot 223, "Le Violiniste au Monde Renverse,"
is a 1929 oil on canvas, 36 1/2 by 28 3/4 inches, by Marc Chagall
(1887-1985) that is pleasant but which has an ambitious estimate
of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It sold for $2,315,750. A
more pleasing Chagall is Lot 237, "Orpheus," a 38 1/4-by-51
1/8-inch oil on canvas executed in 1969, which has an estimate
of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It was passed at $750,000.
Lot 226, "La Lecture (Deux Fillettes,
Bouquet de Pivonines sur Fond Noir)," is an oil on canvas,
18 1/8 by 21 3/4 inches, by Henri Matisse (1869-1954) that is
an extremely weak example of the artist's work and has a very
ambitious estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000. It was passed
at $3,600,000. It was executed in 1947 and shows two woman
reading a book on a table with a vase of flowers. It is not a
Lot 228, "Figure Decorative," is
a 28 7/8-inch-high bronze statue that is numbered 8 and was "conceived
in Paris in August 1908 and cast in 1952 and has a very, very
ambitious estimate of $10,000,000 to $15,000,000 as it is one
of an edition of ten. It sold for $12,655,750. It had sold
for about $3,600,000 when it last appeared at auction in 1990.
Lot 229, "Portrait," is a simple
oil on canvas, 57 1/2 by 45 inches, by Joan Miró (1893-1993)
that is dated 1927 and has an ambitious estimate of $3,000,000
to $4,000,000 and was once in the collection of Helena Rubenstein.
It was passed at $2,400,000. The catalogue provides the following
commentary: "The Surrealist aspects of Miró's work
consisted of a highly idiosyncratic editing and subverting of
subject matter in a playful, even childlike manner. Suspended
on a warm monochromatic background, a bust in profile is merely
suggested by white and black zones indicating head and neck, accented
by the indication of an eye.
In the present painting Miró
evokes the genre of portraiture
.Yet, these established idioms
are summoned up only to be undermined - we are not presented with
a portrait of a specific person but merely a cipher of the human
.The concept of rupture was precisely Miró's
goal in 1927, when he asserted, 'I want to assassinate painting,'
referring to his wish to go beyond painting, its tradition and
pretenses which were bounded by aesthetic convention and bourgeois
A much more stunning Miró is Lot 236,
"Tete," a 72 5/8-inch high bronze sculpture that was
executed in 1974 and is numbered 2 of 4. It has an estimate of
$500,000 to $700,000. It is very fine. It was passed at $400,000.
While the pickings are relatively slim, connoisseurs
might find interest in Lot 202, "Peucheuses de Goeman,"
a 10 7/8-by-12 3/4-inch graphite and gouache on gray millboard
coated with white primer by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903). Executed
circa 1889-90, the work has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000
and was painted as one of several works for the decoration of
the dining room of Marie Henry. "With its flattened forms,
compressed space and decorative treatment of the waves, the present
work," the catalogue maintained, "it is heavily indebted
to the art of Japan." It sold for $830,750.
The extremely high number of buy-ins in
this auction can be attributed perhaps to some overly ambitious
estimates probably the result of a market made much more competitive
by the aggressiveness of Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg, and
the vagaries of the market in which buyers have many choices,
but certainly it is not a "healthy" sign about the art
market. When lots do not sell at auction, sometimes they are sold
afterwards privately at lower prices, but a large number of buy-ins
does not encourage future consignments as once a work of art is
"burnt" publicly at auction it usually has to stay off
the market for a few years before being offered again at a reasonable
The results of this auction further confuse
the market since the first major auction of the season at Phillips
was mixed, the Stanley J. Seeger auction at Sotheby's was very
successful, but the Christie's sale the night before this auction
was less than stellar. The stunning price for the Beckmann and
the very good prices for Monet's "Houses of Parliament"
and the Manet nude woman and yet another huge price for a Matisse
sculpture that was not unique unquestionably indicate that money
is still out there for "important works." The failure
of the very fine Seurat study to find a buyer at a relatively
modest price was an indication that the art market is really not
too robust and entering a difficult period reflecting the volatility
of the stock markets in recent months and general concerns about
the nation's economy.