this winter that Bernard Arnault was selling part of his stake
in Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg and the subsequent revelation
that that auction house was canceling its spring auction of Impressionist
and Modern Art in New York had to be the best news that Sotheby's
and Christie's have had in the last couple of years.
Phillips, with the backing of Arnault's LVMH conglomerate, had
made serious inroads into the high-end of the art auction business
in New York and took a lot of business away from Sotheby's and
Christie's at a time when they were experiencing deep financial
problems because of anti-trust investigations into their operations.
Phillips is continuing to conduct sales in some other art categories
this season, but Impressionist and Modern Art is the big-ticket,
headline-grapping category that generally sets the tone for the
remainder of the season. Phillips has indicated that it has new
investors and plans to continue, but this winter's announcements
have cast doubt about how strong its challenge to Sotheby's and
Christie's will continue to be.
This quite strong evening
auction at Sotheby's is highlighted by some very fine works by
Juan Gris (1887-1927), Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), Piet Mondrian
(1872-1944), Henri Matisse (1869-1954), Edgar Degas (1834-1917),
Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), Claude Monet (1840-1926), Paul Signac
(1863-1935), André Derain (1880-1954), Joan Miró
(1893-1993), Rene Magritte (1898-1967), Max Beckmann (1884-1950),
Robert Delaunay (1840-1926), Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966), Tamara
de Lempicka (1898-1980), and Henri Laurens (1885-1954).
Christie's opened the
spring season the night before this sale with some impressive
results included a world record price for a sculpture but only
72 percent of the lots sold for a total of about $97 million (see
The City Review article).
This sale was considerably
more successful with 94.55 percent of the 55 offered lots selling
for a total of more than $126 million. Like the auction at Christie's,
this sale witnessed phenomenal prices for modern sculpture. Lot
4, for example, "Grande tete de Diego," by Alberto Giacometti
(1901-1966) soared above its high estimate of $7,000,000 and sold
for $13,759,500 including the buyer's premium as do all prices
mentioned in this article. The 25 1/2-inch-high bronze sculpture
of the artist's younger brother was executed in 1954 and consigned
by the Collection of Samuel and Luella Maslon. At a news conference
after the auction, Charles S. Moffett, co-chairman of the Impressionist
and Modern Art Worldwide for Sotheby's, waved the original invoice
from the Sidney Janis Gallery for the work that the Maslons acquired
for $5,000. There are six other casts of this sculpture.
Lot 36, "Le Pot de
Geranium," is an important and attractive Cubist still life
by Juan Gris. The oil on canvas measures 31 7/8 by 23 ½
inches and is dated 1915. It is one of several lots in the auction
consigned by Grace and Philip Sandblom. Mr. Sandblom was a professor
of surgery and rector of Lund University in Sweden. The catalogue
notes that "Once in the collection of Léonce Rosenberg,
the celebrated dealer of the avant-garde in Paris, this painting
is one of the finest examples of the artist's work remaining in
private hands," adding that it is "a work of dazzling
color and superb architecture" and that "the traditional
Cubist syntax is enlivened with a luminous palette hitherto unseen
in the works of his contemporaries."
The lot, a major detail of which is illustrated on the catalogue's
cover, shown at the top of this article, has a slightly conservative
estimate of $6,000,000 to $8,000,000 given his rarity on the market.
It sold for $8,479,500 setting a new auction record for the
artist, which had been $6,168,581. Gris was influenced by
Cézanne and to a lesser extent by Matisse.
Another Sandblom consignment
in this auction is lot 37, "Pichet et Assiette de Poires,"
by Paul Cézanne, a 15-by-18-inch oil on canvas that was
executed between 1890 and 1893. This small and simple, unsigned
work is one of the artist's better still life paintings and has
an estimate of $14,000,000 to $18,000,000. It sold for $16,509,500.
"Cézanne's constructive brushwork," David Norman,
Sotheby's co-chairman of Impressionist & Modern Art Worldwide,
observed in the catalogue, "provided the necessary bridge
between Impressionism and the Modern movements to follow. Pichet
et assiette de poires is one of seven related still-lifes
that Cézanne painted in the 1890s. Each composition depicts
an arrangement of fruit on a table and employs as its anchor the
same simple, yet stately gray pitcher. This spectacular canvas
demonstrates Cézanne's innovations in the interpretation
of space, the interrelation of objects, and the complexity that
arises in translating the three-dimensional image onto the two-dimensional
surface a theme that would be explored by the Cubist painters
of the next century."
A third major Sandblom consignment is Lot 35, "Composition
(A) en Rouge et Blanc," by Piet Mondrian, a 17-by-13-inch
oil on canvas executed in 1936 that was first acquired from the
artist by Ben Nicholson. The small but typically linear and precise
abstraction has an estimate of $3,500,000 to $4,500,000. It
sold for $5,289,500. The catalogue notes that this type of
Mondrian abstraction came "to define the sophisticated, streamlined
aesthetic of 20th Century Modernism." Mondrian called this
style "Neo-Plasticism" and he emphasized economy of
line of balance to accent the beauty of geometry.
Lot 39, "Verve IV,"
by Henri Matisse is a very strong example of the artist's paper
cut-outs and it has a conservative estimate of $3,000,000 to $4,000,000.
It sold for $3,969,500. The gouache on cut paper pasted
on paper support and mounted on canvas measures 15 by 22 3/8 inches
and was executed circa June 1943. This work was intended as a
cover for E. Tériade's art and culture magazine Verve,
and when he presented it to the publisher he subsequently adjusted
its shapes to accommodate the printing process, according to the
catalogue and when show a maquette for the cover printed only
in green ink agreed that it was alright and that was the cover
printed, which is reproduced in the catalogue.
"Matisse," the catalogue wrote, "had worked with
cut paper occasionally in the 1930s in connection with his painting
compositions and decorative projects. While working on the murals
for the Barnes Foundation Dance I and Dance II Matisse
found that the use of sheets of paper enabled him to work out
compositional problems without having to scrape out and paint
over. But it was not until the early 1940s, while recuperating
from surgery at his studio in Vence, that he developed the cut-outs
into an artform of their own.With this practice of cutting shapes
out of colored paper and pasting them onto a paper support, the
artist realized that he had discovered a truly revolutionary means
for artistic expression. Although he would eventually execute
his cut-outs in large, lifesize formats in the later half of the
decade, he opted for a more intimate scale for his earlier work
that suited his desire for a more personal artistic experience."
While collage, of course, pre-existed Matisse's cut-outs, and
while it is anecdotally interesting in Matisse's oeuvre, the mystique
surrounding them, supporting by theories about simplification,
transference and union is secondary to the overall visual impact
of the work and in that regard this is an extremely fine Matisse,
full of dynamics, energy, yes, verve, and boldness. Many of Matisse's
cut-outs are lovely and decorative but few have such a rich composition
The auction has numerous sculptures including Lot 8, "Figure
Decorative," a 1908 bronze, 28 ¾ inches high, by Matisse
that was cast in 1950 and has an ambitious estimate of $8,000,000
to $12,000,000. It sold for $8,259,500. This cast is Number
3 of 10. Number 8 sold at Sotheby's May 10, 2001 for $12,655,750
including the buyer's premium. There are a total of 11 known casts
of this curvaceous figure which has been described by Michael
P. Mezzatesta in his catalogue for the "Henri Matisse Sculptor/Painter"
exhibition in 1984 at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth as
"an archaic goddess, Matisse's most skillful synthesis to
date of the modern and the primitive."
One of the auction's highlights
is Lot 13, shown above, "Au Musee du Louvre (Miss Cassatt),"
by Edgar Degas, pastel on joined paper, 28 1/8 by 21 ¼
inches, circa 1879. Mary Cassatt was an American painter who became
an important Impressionists and she worked with Degas who owned
numerous works by her. Degas has painted her seen from the back
leaning on an umbrella and the figure at the right is, according
to the catalogue, "generally believed to be her sister Lydia."
"It seems probable that initially he had conceived the figure
of the artist and her sister as situated on the same plane as
they are in Mary Cassatt au Louve, Musée des Antiques
[etching, aquatint, drypoint and crayon électrique printed
in block, retouched with red cholk, on ivory Japanese tissues,
sixth state of six, The Art Institute of Chicago]. Using a sheet
of paper which roughly corresponds in size with the Portraits
en frises [black chalk and pastel on gray paper, private collection],
he then proceeded to cut the sheet in two, reassembling the figures
closer to each other and at different levels. In order to return
the concept to a vertical format, degas then added two pieces
of paper above the head of Lydia and below the feet of Mary Cassatt,
concluding with the addition of narrow strips at top and bottom
and the right edge. Technically and conceptually, this is undoubtedly
one of Degas's most fascinating pastels, a radical reordering
of themes developed piecemeal in individual drawings and further
enriched in a group of prints of extraordinary complexity. As
radical and experimental as it is in technique, however, Degas's
portrait of Mary Cassatt is memorable for its evocation of the
character of a distinguished modern artist seen in the galleries
of the museum against the contents of which both insisted their
own works be judged," the catalogue noted. The catalogue
also reproduces an extremely interesting print heightened with
pastel that is a different composition of the same figures that
is also in the collection of The Art Institute of Chicago.
Normally, works that have been "patched" together do
not have as much value as "unpatched" works, but this
work may well be an excellent exception to such a "rule"
for it is a lovely composition with the great grace of Cassatt's
pose and the bravura treatment of Lydia's dress. Nonetheless,
its estimate of $12,000,000 to $18,000,000 is slightly ambitious
given the market's predilections for tutus and long red tresses
and bathtubs as opposed to true connoisseur's pictures. It
sold for $16,509,500.
landscapes are consistently striking and marvelous and Lot 21,
"Femmes Pres Des Pamiers," shown above, is one of the
most remarkable for its complex, exotic and bold composition.
The oil on canvas measures 36 ¼ by 28 ¼ inches and
was executed in Tahiti in 1891 and has a rather ambitious estimate
of $15,000,000 to $18,000,000 since it appears to have some strokes
in the center that indicate it was possibly unfinished, or unresolved,
although the catalogue quotes an expert, Richard S. Field, as
suggesting that the streaks represent mist. It was formerly in
the collections of Ralph M. Coe of Cleveland and Edgar William
and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch of New York and had been exhibited
at the famous International Exhibition of Modern Art in 1913 at
the 69th Infantry Regiment Armory in New York where it had been
lent by Ambrose Vollard.
This is a very interesting work. The bamboo trees have the delicacy
of a Winslow Homer watercolor. The shocking pink blouse of one
of the two seated women in the foreground is not jarring. The
sinuous curves of the fallen branch at the bottom swirls in complimentary
fashion the abstract but jagged clouds at the top. There is both
delicacy in the tree trunks and some of the other foliages that
contrasts strangely with the flat yellow-green large patch in
the center. Despite some awkward passages, however, the rich palette
and dramatic scene are distinctly memorable. When questioned
after the sale about the red section in the center of the painting
in which some trees show through Mr. Moffett remarked that when
it was originally painted the trees most likely did not show throw
but over time the red pigment became more transparent. This lot
was one of the few casualties of the evening and was passed at
Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman acquired "Le Repos Dans Le
Jardin, Argenteuil," by Claude Monet, oil on canvas, 31 7/8
by 23 5/8 inches, 1876 and Mrs. Wrightsman gave it to the Metropolitan
Museum of Art in 1994. The museum has decided to deaccession the
work and has consigned it as Lot 15, shown above. While the museum
has numerous Monets, this is by no means the worse it had in its
collection and indeed is lushly dense and very impressionistic
and has a modest estimate of $3,500,000 to $4,500,000. It failed
to sell and was passed at $3,200,000. "The paint handling
of Le Repos dans le jardin, Argenteuil is one of particular
importance," the catalogue correctly observes, "because
here we see Monet experimenting with approaches to surface and
touch that underscore his intense interest in the formal and abstract
properties of his paintings. The subject matter depicted plays
a role that seems to be at most only equal to the artist's interest
in the character of his brushwork and the physical presence of
paint and color on the canvas." Indeed, the dotted splashes
of the leaves dominates the work and the two figures are minimized
and this is a quite abstract work that demonstrates, once again,
Monet's incredible compositional skills and indefatigable creativity.
The bright light from the house in the background is particularly
striking, although the foreground is a bit unresolved. According
to The Art Newspaper, the museum is selling this painting following
a settlement of a claim by Henry Newman that it had been deposited
in a Berlin bank during World War II and stolen during the Soviet
occupation in 1945 and that Mr. Newman gave up his claims in return
for a payment from the museum.
of a major recent retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum was
Paul Signac and this auction has two excellent examples of his
painting that happened not to be included in that show, but certainly
are of very high caliber and indeed are among his best work. Lot
25, "Arc en Ciel, Venise," is a 29-by-36 ¼-inch
oil on canvas that was painted in 1905 and is a classic and dazzling
example of his Pointilism. It has an estimate of $1,500,000 to
$2,500,000. It sold for $2,209,500.
"Le Jardin du Vert-Galant," is an 18 ¼-by-46-inch
oil on canvas that was executed in 1928 and while slightly less
vibrant than Lot 25 it is a far more dramatic and panoramic composition
and has a very modest estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. These
are both great paintings and why they were not included in the
recent exhibition is most puzzling. After the auction, Mr.
Moffett remarked that not all owners become lenders of their art.
It sold for $724,500.
A far stronger
and much less expensive still-life than Cézanne's Lot 37,
is André Derain's "Nature Morte," Lot 28, an
oil on canvas, shown above, that measures 24 by 20 ¼ inches
and was painted circa 1904. It has an extremely modest estimate
of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for only $477,000!
The catalogue provides the following commentary about this lot:
"Although the present work foreshadows some of the Cubist
innovations of 1908-09 in its multiple perspectives, the bold
areas of unmodulated color are more closely related to the early
Fauve palette of 1904-05 than to the more somber tonality of Derain's
Cubist influenced style. Painted with the bold colors and strong
brushwork of his early Fauve compositions of 1904-05, the artist
reveals his concern with rendering the effects of light. He demonstrates
an attitude toward painting that is both instinctive and emotional,
using pure, bold pigments and contrasting passages of color to
convey the nuances of light as it reflects off the objects of
the still-life. The result is a vibrant and solid composition
which demonstrates the artist's ingenuity as a painter. Daniel
Henry Kahnweiler, who was Derain's dealer from 1907 to 1922, wrote
of the high esteem with which he regarded the artist's work. Kahnweiler
saw in Derain's art a bridge between a centuries old tradition
of representation and the revolution of Cubism. He wrote: `In
what respect Cézanne's great follower André Derain
goes beyond him is easy to see; Derain also felt the transformation
of colours to be an evil. He strives to organize his structure
in such a way that the painting, though strongly uinified, nevertheless
shows the greatest fidelity to nature, with every object being
given its true form and its true color. Light becomes for him
a pure means; he guides it as it best supports the creation of
form, and subordinates it, whenever possible, to the local colour.
There is no question here of the aesthetic worth of his austere
and might art; he is one of the greatest of French painters. Cézanne
and Derain will stand in art history, like the masters of the
Trecento, as painters of transition.'"
The catalogue entry does not comment on the work's rather unusual
painted border nor speculate on whether the artist intended the
border to be shown or covered over by a frame. Interestingly,
the tablecloth extends over the border at the right, but recedes
behind it on the left and bottom. Regardless, the brushwork is
exceeding strong and this is a very fine work.
Joan Miró is represented in the auction by two works, Lots
2 and 34. The former is entitled "Mont-Roig, La Riviere,"
a 19 ¼-by-23 ½-inch oil on canvas that comes from
the Collection of Samuel and Luella Maslon. Painted in 1917, it
is a highly stylized landscape of ovoids and ellipsoid forms that
is quite strong, especially in its use of black outlines for the
clouds. It has an estimate of $700,000 to $900,000. It sold
shown above, is entitled "Tete de Paysan Catalan" and
is an oil on canvas that measures 18 ½ by 17 ½ inches
and was painted in 1924-5. It has a slightly ambitious estimate
of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000 since the delightful insect-like creature
on the left appears to have been partially cut off and one might
have liked to have seen the pipe's smoke on the right not cut
off as they are not in a pencil study for this work that is in
the Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona. Interestingly,
the catalogue reproduces a black-and-white photograph of this
painting in a Surrealist frame circa 1925 that has it floating
in a box frame with butterflies between the painting and the edges
of the frame. This painting is the first of four the artist did
on this subject which he explored at the beginning of his departure
from realism into the realms of the surreal and the imaginary.
"rather than describing a peasant or localizing him in time
and space, the imagery in this work outlines his structural essence
and his intrinsic connection with the whole universe. With his
`dream paintings' Miró opened up the road of abstract lyricism
in the world of contemporary art, anticipating by twenty years
the creation of the suggestive space of the Abstract Expressionists,"
the catalogue notes. It sold for $5,289,500.
Rene Magritte has a strong Surrealist work, Lot 38, "Le Plagiat,"
a 12 ¾-by-10 ¼-inch gouache on paper that was executed
in 1960. It shows a vase on a table with its flowers shown as
a silhouette that serves as a window to a landscape. The lot has
an estimate of $400,000 to $500,000. It sold for $834,500 breaking
the previous auction record for a work on paper by the artist
of $776,000. Despite its small size was a more attractive work
than a Magritte oil painting that fetched more than $12,000,000
the night before at Christie's, proving that even in this rarefied
league bargains still exist.
The auction has seven works by Max Beckmann from the collection
of the late Stephan Lackner, the pen name of Ernest Gustave Morgenroth
who became a poet, a writer, a violinist, and Beckmann's most
One of the strongest Beckmann's is Lot 42, "Paar Am Fenster
(Couple by the Window)," a 23 ½-by-15 7/8-inch oil
on canvas executed in 1937. It has a modest estimate of $800,000
to $1,200,000. It sold for $889,500.
Lot 44, "Stilleben Mit Plastik (Still-Life with Sculpture),"
is a 31 ¾-by-19 ¾-inch oil on canvas executed in
1936 and is very strong and has a modest estimate of $700,000
to $900,000. The sculpture in the painting is a bust of the artist.
It sold for $1,054,500.
Lot 51, "Rhythme, No. 1," is an excellent oil on canvas,
63 by 50 ½ inches, by Robert Delaunay that was executed
in 1938. It has an estimate of $700,000 to $1,000,000. It sold
for $944,500. This work was the first in a series of three
oils the artist did in connection with another larger series that
hang in the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris that
were originally exhibited at the 1939 Salon des Tuileries in Paris.
The work conists of concentric and fragmented circles of different
colors and is quite striking.
Lot 31, "La Musicienne," is a major work by Tamara de
Lempicka, a leading woman Art Deco artist. The 45 5/8-by-28 ¾-inch
oil on canvas was painted in 1928 and has an estimate of $1,000,000
to $1,500,000. It sold for $2,649,500 considerably above the
artist's previous auction record of $1,982,500.
Lot 1, "L'Aurore," is a splendid, 19-inch-high white
marble sculpture executed in 1944 by Henri Laurens from the collection
of Samuel and Luella Maslon. It has a conservative estimate of
$250,000 to $350,000. It sold for $405,500.
the sale, David C. Norman, co-chairman of Sotheby's Department
of Impressionist and Modern Art Worldwide, said he was "absolutely
thrilled" with the results and "some remarkable prices."
He noted that some works "nearly doubled" their relatively
recent auction sales reflected "an acceleration" in
prices and running counter to the popular wisdom that works that
have been on the market tend not to perform as well as "fresh"
merchandise. He also cited the Degas sale as proving that Impressionists
were not going out of fashion.