This evening auction
May 7, 2003 of Impressionist & Modern Art at Christie's is
surprisingly small given the generally high quality of the second
part of the auction that will on the block the next morning and
afternoon. But if the quantity is limited only 31 lots the quality
is quite high and includes a very strong self-portrait by Paul
Cézanne (1839-1906), a major "grid" painting
by Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), and a fine still life and a very
intriguing abstract painting by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) and two
good paintings by Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894).
The Cézanne, Lot 10, is an oil on canvas that measures
21 ¾ by 18 ¼ inches. Painted circa 1895, it has
an estimate of $15,000,000 to $20,000,000. It sold for $17,367,500
including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this
article. The buyer was Steve Wynn, the Las Vegas gaming entrepreneur
who the previous night bought a major Renoir portrait, "Dans
les Roses," at Sotheby's, for $23,528,000. Before the auction
began, Mr. Wynn talked with friends on the street outside the
auction house, pawing the sidewalk with his shoes, which he explained
were new, and taking one practice stroke with an imaginary golf
club before being joined by Donald Trump, the real estate developer
who also is a gaming entrepreneur in Atlantic City.
Cézanne painted 26 self-portraits but only four in the
last 15 years of his life and this work, his penultimate self-portrait,
is the only late one not in a museum collection. The catalogue
notes that Lionello Venturi, the art historian, wrote that this
painting "is perhaps the most human image of himself that
he produced," adding that "The meetings of the facial
planes are as energetic as those of the planes of the rocks in
The Montagne Saint-Victoire, and yet they faithfully depict
the impression made by Cézanne's face in reality, his moral
nature and his sharp, penetrating glance. The image is perfectly
framed in the space, out of which its volume looms like a sudden,
impressive apparition." The catalogue observes that this
work is "the only one related to a watercolor study."
It also quotes Dr. Albert Barnes and Violette de Mazia as describing
the painting as a "a very powerful portrait, one of Cézanne's
best; [it] compares with the most successful characterizations
of Titian, Tintoretto, El Greco and Rembrandt, and is realized
by a legitimate use of the plastic means. The figure is alive,
the volumes are solid and real, the drawing is neither stiff nor
rigid, and the modeling is done without obvious recourse to sharp
contrasts or to blocks and facets." The catalogue also provides
the following quotation by Steven Platzman: "There is a perhaps
a glint of mischief in the eye under the cocked brow that harkens
back to his Bohemian youth. But most significantly, in the same
way that the artist could discern, amid the chaotic transience
of nature, certain immutable and enduring forms, he must have
been aware that in this picture of himself, with all its worldly
cares and appearances, there resides an inner self that is heroic,
indomitable and timeless, and that in these qualities people would
discover and understand the achievement of his art."
This sale was a little
more successful with 82 percent of the 31 offered lots selling
as compared to about 72 percent sold at Sotheby's.
Lot 23, "Composition
in White, Blue and Yellow":C, is a 28 3/8-by-27 ¼-inch
oil on canvas by Piet Mondrian. Executed in 1936, this "grid"
picture has an estimate of $6,000,000 to $8,000,000. It sold
for $8,071,500 to an anonyomous buyer. The catalogue describes
the painting as "an exceptional example of Mondrian's work
from the mid-1930s, adding that "While the paintings from
the late 1920s and early1930s are celebrated for their spare and
reductive purity, Mondrian's compositions from 1932 onward are
characterized by a new freedom and vitality, with more complex
rhythms steadily supplanting the meditative calm of the earlier
canon. This revolution in Mondrian's work was inaugurated by the
introduction of a single new compositional strategy: the double
Although the Cezanne and
Mondrian are major works, some connoisseurs may be much more fascinated
by a very dramatic work by Paul Gauguin, Lot 17, "Les Oies,"
which depicts three geese viewed by a woman who is only visible
in her reflection in the water. This 23 ½-by-28 ¾-inch
oil on canvas, is exceeding vibrant and very unusual. Painted
in 1889, it has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It
sold for $1,127,500. It is quite an astounding work that has
the fiery colors of Nolde, the cosmic visions of Turner and the
pyrotechnics of the Fauves.
This work, the catalogue maintains, "is one of the most haunting
and abstract of Gauguin's entire career." "It was in
Brittany that Gauguin finally broke free of earlier tradition
and emerged as an intensely original modern master. With its unconventional
viewpoint and brilliant swirls of anti-naturalistic color, the
present painting vividly illustrates this development...."
Lot 4 is a beautiful still
life by Paul Gauguin that was executed in 1888. An oil on canvas,
it measures 12 ½ by 21 7/8 inches and has an estimate of
$2,500,000 to $3,500,000. It sold for $3,143,500.
The catalogue provides the following commentary:
"Both an overt homage to Cezanne and an early indication
of Gauguin's interest in Japanese prints, the present still-life
occupies an important place in the artist's oeuvre. Executed in
January, 1888, the painting is one of just three or four that
Gauguin made during a ten-week stay in Paris following his return
from Martinique. In June of 1888, despite considerable financial
hardship, the artist refused an offer of three hundred francs
for this picture, writing to Schuffenecker, `It's the apple of
my eye, and except in the case of dire necessity, I'll keep it
until my last shirt's gone."
Another striking still-life
is Lot 3, "Gâteaux," by Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894),
which foreshadows some of those by Wayne Thiebaud. The 21 ½-by-29-inch
oil on canvas was painted in 1881 and has an estimate of $800,000
to $1,200,000. The catalogue notes that Caillebotte produced a
handful of still-lifes between 1879 and 1885 "employing daring
compositional formats, of which Gâteaux may be considered
one of the finest." It sold for $1,351,500.
Another excellent Caillebotte
painting is Lot 16, "La Rue Halévy, vu d'un Balcon,"
an oil on canvas that measures 23 ¾ by 28 7/8 inches. Painted
in 1878, it has an estimate of $1,200,000 to $1,600,000. It is
a very strong and luminous work. It sold for $1,407,500.
Lot 5, "Vagues à
la Manneporte," by Claude Monet (1840-1926) is a very strong
seascape that is extremely free in its brushwork. The painting
was once owned by John Singer Sargent who wrote Monet that "I
could remain in front of it for hours on end in a state of voluptuous
stupor, or of enchantment if you prefer." An oil on canvas,
it measures 29 by 36 ½ inches and was executed circa 1885.The
Etretat scene has a very modest estimate of $600,000 to $800,000,
which is very surprising since it is much more painterly than
Lot 8, "Poste de douaniers a Dieppe," another Monet,
which is smaller, much less exciting and has an estimate of $2,000,000
to $3,000,000. Lot 5 sold for $669,500 and Lot 8 sold for $1,799,500.
Lot 9, "Quai Malaquais,
Matin, Soleil," is a very fine and luminous urban scene by
Camille Pissarro (1830-1903). The 21 ½-by-25 ¾-inch
oil on canvas was painted in 1903 and has an estimate of $2,000,000
to $3,000,000. It failed to sell and was passed at $1,800,000.
Nice companion pieces to the Pissarro are Lots 10 and 18, very
lush landscapes by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919). Painted
between 1903 and 1905, Lot 10, entitled "Jeune Fille dans
un Jardin, Cagnes," is an oil on canvas that measures 18
¼ by 21 ¾ inches and has an estimate of $1,000,000
to $1,500,000. It sold for $1,234,649. Lot 18, "La
Baie d'Alger," is a richly colored bay scene. An oil on canvas
that measures 20 by 20 5/8 inches, it was painted in 1881 and
has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for $612,300.
There are two good works
by Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) (see The
City Review article on a retrospective on the artist at the Museum
of Modern Art) in the auction: Lots 21 and 25. The former
is a 23 ½-inch high painted bronze that was cast in 1950
and is numbered 1/6. It is entitled "La Clarière"
and was once in the collection of Frederick R. Weisman of Beverly
Hills. The work has 9 figures of different heights on different
small pedestals on a large flat base. It has an ambitious estimate
of $8,000,000 to $12,000,000. It failed to sell and was passed
$7,200,000. Other coasts are in the Alberto Giacometti
Foundation and the Fondation Maeght. The catalogue notes that
the artist's inspiration for the work may have come from landscape
near his hometown of Stampa, or from Cycladic Art that he admired
in the Louvre or from his experiences in Le Sphinx, a Parisian
brothel in which prostitutes lined up for the customer. A similar
work is also up for auction this spring at Sotheby's (see The City Review article) and it too
failed to sell and had a slightly lower estimate because it had
not been painted by the artist.
Lot 25, "Homme Qui Marche III," is an 18-inch-high painted
bronze figure by Alberto Giacometti that was conceived in 1950
and cast shortly thereafter. It has an estimate of $3,000,000
to $4,000,000. It sold for $4,039,500.
Another sculpture in the auction is Lot 11, "Petite Danceuse
de Quatorze Ans," by Edgar Degas (1834-1917). The 38 ½-inch-high
bronze statue of a young ballerina has a muslin skirt and a satin
hair ribbon. It was executed in wax circa 1879-1881 and this bronze
version was cast in 1922. It was once in the collection of Mr.
and Mrs. William Goetz of Los Angeles. It has an estimate of $8,000,000
to $12,000,000. It sold for $10,311,500 to the Richard Gray
Gallery. It has been consigned by François Pinault,
the owner of Christie's who purchased it for $12.3 million in
1999 at Sotheby's.
He noted in his post-auction
remarks that the auctions "couldn't have been at a worse
time and the results should give people confidence that great
art sells at any time. He observed that the firm's London major
sale already has 50 lots of which 20 had been consigned in the
last 10 days, an indication that attitudes are becoming more relaxed
and less nervous.