Alberto Giacometti,

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Impressionist & Modern Art

Part One

Sotheby's

7 PM, May 8, 2002

Sale 7791


Cover of catalogue illustrated with detail from a Juan Gris still life

Cover of auction catalogue with large detail from Lot 36, "Le Pot de Geranium," oil on canvas, 31 7/8 by 23 ½ inches, 1915, by Juan Gris from the collection of Grace and Philip Sandblom

By Carter B. Horsley

The announcement 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.

 

detail of "Arc du Ciel, Venise" by Signac

Detail of Lot 27, "Arc du Ciel, Venise," by Paul Signac

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.

 

"Pichet et Assiette de Poires" by Cézanne

Lot 37, "Pichet et Assiette de Poires," by Paul Cézanne, oil on canvas, 15 by 18 inches, 1890-3

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.

 

"Verve IV" by Matisse

Lot 39, "Verve IV," by Henri Matisse, gouache on cut paper pasted on paper support and mounted on canvas, 15 by 22 3/8 inches, 1943

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 as this.

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."

"Au Musée du Louvre (Miss Cassatt)" by Degas

Lot 13, "Au Musée du Louvre (Miss Cassatt)," by Edgar Degas, pastel on joined paper, 28 1/8 by 21 ¼ inches, circa 1879.

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.


"Femmes Pres des Pamiers" by Gauguin

Lot 21, "Femmes Pres des Pamiers," by Paul Gauguin, oil on canvas, 36 ¼ by 28 ¼ inches, 1891

Paul Gauguin's 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 $11,500,000.


":Le repos dans le jardin, Argenteuil" by Monet

Lot 15, "Le Repos Dans Le Jardin, Argenteuil," by Claude Monet, oil on canvas, 31 7/8 by 23 5/8 inches, 1876

In 1952, 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.

 

Arc en Ciel, Venise" by Signac

Lot 25, "Arc en Ciel, Venise," by Paul Signac, oil on canvas 29 by 36 1/4 inches, 1905

The subject 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-Gallant" by Signac

Lot 27, "Le Jardin du Vert-Galant," by Paul Signac, oil on canvas, 18 1/4 by 46 inches, 1928

Lot 27, "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.


"Nature Morte" by André Derain

Lot 28, "Nature Morte," by André Derain, oil on canvas, 24 by 20 ¼ inches, circa 1904

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 for $1,054,500.


"Tete de Paysan Catalan" by Miró

Lot 34, "Tete de Paysan Catalan," by Joan Miró, oil on canvas, 18 ½ by 17 ½ inches, 1924-5

Lot 34, 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 important patron.

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.

After 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.

 

See The City Review article on the Impressionist & Modern Art Part Two auction at Sotheby's May 9, 2002

See The City Review article on the Impressionist and Modern Art evening auction at Christie's May 7, 2002

See The City Review article on the Impressionist & Modern Art day sale and Impressionist & Modern Works on Paper auction at Christie's May 8, 2002

See The City Review article on the Nov. 5, 2001 auction of the Smooke Collection at Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg

See The City Review article on the Nov. 5, 2001 auction of the Hoener Collection at Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg

See The City Review article on Phillips May 7, 2001 Impressionist & Modern Art auction

See The City Review article on the November 9, 2001 Impressionist & Modern Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on Phillips Fall 2000 Impressionist & Modern Art auction


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