evening sale of Impressionist and Modern Art at Christie's May
7, 2002, has many important works of great interest for connoisseurs
including major sculptures by Brancusi, Giacometti and Degas and
fine paintings by Lautrec, Picasso, Magritte, Klee, Miró,
The cover illustration of the catalogue, shown above, is Lot 27,
"Danaïde," by Constantin Brancusi (1867-1957),
an exquisite, 11-inch-high bronze and gold leaf sculpture that
was conceived circa 1913 and cast shortly thereafter.
This magnificent work was included in the 1914 exhibition at Alfred
Stieglitz's The Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession and it
was purchased there by Eugene and Agnes Meyer. There are six other
bronze casts of this work and they are located in the Musée
Nationale d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, the Kunstverein
in Winterthur, Switzerland, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the
Tate Gallery in London, the Rhode Island School of Design and
the Muzuel National de Arta al Romaniei in Bucharest and the ones
in Paris and Bucharest are also gilded.
The lot has an estimate of $8,000,000 to $10,000,000. A considerably
smaller but also exquisite gilded head by Brancusi from the Smooke
Collection sold at Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg November
5, 2001 for $1,762,000 (see The City Review article). It sold to an anonymous buyer
for $18,159,500 including the buyer's premium as do all prices
mentioned in this article, a world auction record for sculpture!
The previous auction record price for Brancusi was $8,800,000
in 1990 and the prior auction record for sculpture was $14,306,000
set at Christie's Nov. 8, 2000.
The remarkable price demonstrated that money
is still very much available in the art market for rare and important
works of great quality and confirmed the recent dramatic rise
in prices for modern sculpture.
major sculpture is Lot 34, "La Forêt," by Alberto
Giacometti (1901-1966), a 23-inch-high painted bronze sculpture
with seven standing female figures of different heights and a
bust of a man. The work was executed in 1950 and has an estimate
of $7,000,000 to $9,000,000 and is one of the artist's best. There
were six bronzes cast and besides this one there is one other
in private hands and the others are at the Foundation Maeght,
St.-Paul-de-Vence, the Kunsthaus in Zurich, the Louisiana Art
Museum of Modern Art in Humlebaek, and the Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum
in Duisburg. This sculpture brought the second highest price
of the evening, $13,209,500, close to the world auction record
for Giacometti of $14,306,000.
"L'empire des lumières," by René Magritte,
is an oil on canvas, 39 3/8 by 31 1/2 inches that was executed
in 1952 and commissioned by Dominique and Jean de Menil of New
York. The de Menils donated the second completed version of this
work to the Museum of Modern Art in New York and two years later
commissioned the artist to paint the present work, which is the
fourth completed version of this subject. It had an estimate of
$5,000,000 to $7,000,000 and sold for $12,659,500, a world auction
record for Magritte and a very impressive price for a painting
of which there are three other copies. While it is a famous image,
it is not one of the artist's finest paintings.
three lots made this a very successful auction despite the fact
that only 72 percent of the 46 offered lots sold for a total of
$97,647,000. The pre-sale low estimate for the auction was $73.8
million and the high estimate was $103 million. After the sale,
auctioneer Christopher Burge remarked at a news conference that
the sale was "a pretty explosive and exciting start"
of the spring season of major auctions. Seventeen works sold for
more than $1 million and 58 percent of the buyers were American,
33 percent European, and 9 percent Asian. "It's a very healthy
market, particularly for quality," Mr. Burge said.
Lot 4 is
"Le Tub," an excellent bronze with varied patina, 8
1/2 inches high, by Edgar Degas (1834-1917) that was conceived
circa 1888 and cast in an edition of 22. This piece was once owned
by Frank Crowninshield, the editor of Vanity Fair magazine.
According to the catalogue, "Le tub is widely regarded
as the most innovative and important work of Degas' entire sculpted
oeuvre. Arguably the most radical element of Le tub is its incorporation
of real materials or objets trouvés - an overt challenge
to the accepted criteria of sculpture in the late nineteenth century,
unprecedented except in Degas' own Petite danseuse de quatorz
ans of 1881. The original version of Le tub consists
of a reddish-brown wax figure reclining in an actual lead basin;
plaster had been poured into the bottom of the basin to simulated
water, and real draperies soaked in plaster crumbed around the
tub. The sculpture, then, is at once illusory and real - a precursor
to a long line of twentieth-century assemblages, from Cubist collages
and Duchamp readymades to surrealist objects and Rauschenberg
combine-paintings. The second pioneering feature of Le tub
is the unusual vantage point that it forces the spectator to adopt.
Since the bather is partially submerged in the shallow basin,
a full view of the figure can be obtained only by looking down
The lot has a conservative estimate of $1,200,000 to $1,800,000.
It sold for $1,989,500.
The original wax version of this work is at the National Gallery
of Art in Washington D.C., and the bronze model, or mast cast,
is in the Norton Simon Art Museum in Pasadena. Other casts are
in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art
Institute of Chicago, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the National
Gallery of Scotland, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Musée
d'Orsay in Paris and the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen.
"Danseuse," is a very large painting by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
that was painted in 1895-6 and has an estimate of $4,000,000 to
$6,000,000. It sold for $3,419,500.
This is the last known painting of a dancer that Lautrec is known
to have done and it was the first he had done in five years as
he had switched his subjects from ballet's petit rats to
the celebrities of the dance-halls.
The catalogue provides the following commentary on this lot:
"Danseuse is clearly a woman, her arms and legs are fuller
and more muscular, and the low cut of her costume reveals an ample
bust. The illumination coming from the footlights below shades
her upturned face in a manner that resembles the arch and haughty
expressions of Lautrec's cabaret entertainers. In the fashion
of the time her waist is tightly cinched, perhaps a bit too unrealistically
so, which accentuates her mature feminity. She bears little resemblance
to the usual dancer we see in Degas, Forain or earlier Lautrec.
She may be a première danseuse, slightly past her prime,
hinting again in Lautre'c's now customary fashion that, for all
the hard work put into it, achievement and success is fleeting
at best. If not an actual dancer, Lautrec's model may have been
a circus performer, perhaps from the Cirque Fernando, where a
bareback rider's costume was not unlike that of a ballet dancer
and the circus girls had a more powerful physique than most dancers.
In any case, Lautrec's view of women was evolving in its own terms,
in an a increasingly stylized mixture of exaggerated reality and
private fantasy, in which the artist displays a marked preference
for an Amazonian concept of feminity. The locked hands of the
dancer here are a gesture that suggests strength and revolve.
Although it is unlikely that she was more than five feet tall,
she nevertheless assumes the statue of a powerful giantess and
glowering idol. The elongated vertical format of Danseuse may
have been determined by some decorative scheme. The upward thrust
in the sage screen at left appears to burst form folds at the
dancer's skirt; it amplifies her figure, and contributes to the
sense of power and strength in the subject. The influence of japonisme
is evident in the flat surfaces and off-center composition."
The composition is extremely unusual, especially for Lautrec and
its background is fantastic and both very abstract and very dynamic
and also unusual for the artist. Lautrec, of course, was a master
and bold sketcher but the background here is occupies almost half
the picture and is in its own way rigorously detailed.
Interestingly, the auction has another very large vertical painting,
shown below, that would make a good companion piece to the Lautrec,
Lot 13, "Enfant dans un jardin," by Edouard Vuillard
This 83 1/2-by-31 1/2-inch peinture à la colle was
executed circa 1910 and has an estimate of $650,000 to $850,000.
It was commissioned, along with panels by Denis, for the country
home of Josse and Gaston Bernheim. It was passed at $400,000.
It is considerably brighter and gayer than another Vuillard, Lot
10, "La Soirée familiale," that was painted in
1894-5. Lot 10 is a 19 1/2-by-25 1/2-inch oil on canvas and has
an ambitious estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. It sold
for $2,649,500. Unlike the outdoors scene of Lot 13, this
is an interior. "Tightly woven and richly charged, Vuillard's
interiors emphasize the ambiguous and often troubled relationships
among his family members; skillful spatial distortions generate
a sense of pyschological tension, while intricate tapestries of
color and pattern transpose scenes of bourgeois domesticity into
intense and airless dramas," the catalogue entry observed,
adding that the artist has depicted in this work his older sister
Marie and her husband Ker-Xavier Roussel, a fellow Nabi painter
and Vuillard's close friend.
"The garish artificial light," the catalogue continued,
"throws Roussel and his companion and into eerie shadow,
obscuring more than it illuminates. Marie is depicted on a disproportionately
small scale, as though the space of the dining room had receded
more quickly than one would expect. She is thus detached from
her husband in her own discrete space, producing an effect of
disconnection and dislocation that represents the very antithesis
of a meals nourishing implications. Indeed, the future of Marie
is perhaps the most compelling element of this poignant and melancholy
scheme. Her slender frame is wraith-like and incorporeal; her
shoulders are hunched and her left arm dislocated like that of
a marionette. Vuillard's Nabi work also helped to pave the way
for the development of Abstract Expressionism in the post-war
period. In the present picture, for instance, the all-over patterning
of the wallpaper background has the character of a canvas by Jackson
Pollock, while the stylized orange doorway at the far right seems
to presage the color-field paintings of Mark Rothko."
There are two good Picassos in the auction, Lots 23 and 26.
Courses," Lot 23, is an oil on board that measures 20 5/8
by 26 3/4 inches and was executed in 1901. "The paintings
done in Paris in the late spring and summer of 1901 show Picasso
acquiring fluency in the divisionist technique that characterized
the work of many of the progressive post-impressionist painters
working in France at the turn of the century. Picasso was indeed
painting in a new way. The paintings he had done in Madrid the
previous winter were more carefully drawn, and the color is often
restrained and somber in a manner derived from Symbolist painting
that many Spanish artists shared. Picasso began to experiment
with divisionism in some of the paintings he did in Barcelona
in the spring, and when he arrived in Paris he applied his colors
in broad and broken brushstrokes. Forms were no longer outlined
and contours were defined entirely by means of contrasting color.
The fashionable ladies in the present painting are perhaps a continuation
of the extravagantly costumed courtesans that Picasso had painted
in Madrid. The outlandish dresses and hats worn by these women
are like the plumage of grand exotic birds. Someline the respectable
consul Virenque could look upon them as being perfectly respectable
ladies of his own class, but Picasso probably painted these creatures
as prosperous courtesans parading in their finery. There is an
element of fanstasy here, as there had been in the Madrid pictures;
the virtuosic flourishes in his brushwork, the hallmark of his
new style, heightens the effect to an almost feverish degree."
Picasso would soon change his style to darker and more monochrome
subjects "with the heavy black outlines of the Blue period."
This lot has an estimate of $4,500,000 to $6,500,000. It sold
a Blue Period Picasso, Lot 26, "Tête de femme,
is a 14 3/4-by-11 5/8-inch oil on canvas that was executed in
1903 in Barcelona. "Picasso's work of this time expressed
psychological turmoil - most often that of the beggars and prostitutes
whom he used as subjects," noted the catalogue. "Stylistically,
Picasso admired French symbolists such as Odilon Redon, Maurice
Denis, and Puvis de Chavannes. Following this symbolist tradition,
Picasso used color to convey emotional qualities in his paintings.
In the present work, the monochrome palette distills the quiet
spirituality of the sitter into a mystical aura. Her eyes closed
and set against and atmospheric background, Picasso embued Tête
de Femme with a timeless quality that speaks of the depth
of humanity. With the absence of an external gaze, the present
work suggests eternal stillness, transcending the earthly into
the spiritual. The first owner of this work was Wilhelm de Krostowiztky,
a brilliant poet of half-Italian half-Polish descent who adopted
France as his homeland and renamed himself Guillaume Apollinaire."
Lot 26 had an estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000 and sold for
$1,659,500. The painting had been unsold at an auction in France
Lot 9, "Le
peintre animalier La Rochenoire," by Edouard Manet, is a
masterpiece. This pastel on canvas meaures 21 7/8 by 13 7/8 inches
and was drawn in 1882. It has a very modest estimate of $400,000
to $600,000. It sold for $779,500. The catalogue notes
that "the sitter for the present work, Emil-Charles-Julien
de la Rochenoire, was a close friend of Manet's and a painter
in his own right who specialized in the depiction of animals."
"Après-midi de mai à By," by Alfred Sisley
(1839-1899), is a very fine Impressionist landscape and a magnificent
example of Sisley's style. An oil on canvas, it measures 19 7/8
by 28 3/4 inches and was executed in 1882. It has a conservative
estimate of $600,000 to $800,000. It sold for $669,500.
Gustav Caillebotte (1848-1894) have appeared relatively rarely
at auctions in recent years but the May 8, 2000 sale at Christie's
of a large painting by him of a man looking out of a balcony on
the Boulevard Haussmann in Paris sold for $14,306,000 (see The City
and has brought quite a few Caillebottes out of the closet this
"Le bassin d'Argenteuil," by Gustav Caillebotte is a
very nice Impressionistic riverscape. An oil on canvas, it measures
25 3/4 by 32 inches and was painted circa 1882. Caillebotte sometimes
has a rather heavy touch, but this is pleasantly light but very
strong. It has an ambitious estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000.
It sold for $4,299,500.
"Les dahlias, jardin du Petit Gennevilliers," is a very
strong composition by Caillebotte and has an estimate of $2,000,000
to $3,000,000. It sold for $2,099,500. An oil on canvas,
it measures 45 1/2 by 34 7/8 inches and was painted in 1893.
"Quatre vases de chrysanthèmes," by Caillebotte
is a very strong and rather startlingly dramatic floral still
life. An oil on canvas, it measures 21 1/4 by 25 5/8 inches and
was executed in 1893. It has a modest estimate of $600,000 to
$800,000. It was passed at $320,000.
Lot 5, "Un
Soldat," is a 42-by-29 1/2-inch oil on canvas by Caillebotte
that was painted circa 1881 and has an ambitious estimate of $2,500,000
to $3,500,000. It sold to an anonymous buyer for $6,389,500,
the second highest price at auction for the artist. It shows
a soldier smoking a cigarette against a plain background and while
it is somewhat reminiscent of Manet it cannot begin to compare
with the glory of Lot 9, above, which has a high estimate of only
Caillebottes should significantly raise the visibility and respect
for this artist.
Lot 7 is
a gorgeous floral still life by Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904).
An oil on canvas, it measures 23 7/8 by 20 3/4 inches and was
painted in 1888. It has a conservative estimate of $700,000 to
$900,000. It was passed at $550,000.
"Portrieux. Les mats. Opus 182," is a nice riverscape
by Paul Signac that was once in the collection of Paul Mellon.
An oil on canvas, it measures 18 1/8 by 21 1/2 inches and was
painted in 1888. While pleasant, it is not one of Signac's masterpieces
and has an ambitious estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000.
It sold for $2,649,500.
"Tiergarten," is a delightful and fine oil on muslin
laid down on board by Paul Klee (1879-1940). It measures 15 3/4
by 23 3/8 inches and was executed in 1928. It has a modest estimate
of $600,000 to $800,000. It failed to sell and was passed at
is a pleasant and quite strong oil on canvas by Henri Matisse
(1869-1954) that measures 22 by 18 1/4 inches. Entitled "Nu
dans un fauteuil," it was executed in 1929 and had an estimate
of $800,000 to $1,200,000. It sold for $2,429,500.