By Carter B. Horsley
Christie's starts its Spring
2005 auction season with a large Impressionist and Modern Art
evening sale May 4, 2005 that is highlighted by a very beautiful
sculpture by Constantin Brancusi, an excellent painting of trees
by Paul Cézanne, a large Classical-style painting of the
head of a woman by Pablo Picasso, a good cityscape by Vincent
Van Gogh and several very nice works by Claude Monet.
In dramatic contrast to
the very disappointing Impressionist and Modern Art evening auction
at Sotheby's the night before, this was an extremely successful
sale with 52 of the 59 offered lots selling for $142,892,000,
far above the pre-sale low estimate of $111,200,000 and close
to its pre-sale high estimate of $147,600,000.
It was marked by lively
bidding and 20 lots were bought in the auction room rather than
on the telephone, also in marked contrast to the Sotheby's sale.
Questioned about the difference in the two auctions, Mr. Burge
said that Christie's "had very attractive properties,"
and "sensible estimates," adding that there had been
"very little tampering with the reserves" following
the Sotheby's auction.
Describing the sale as "wonderful,"
"extraordinary" and "incredibly lively," Christopher
Burge, Christie's honorary chairman and the auctioneer, noted
after the sale that only 52 percent of the purchasers were American,
an indication of increased international participation, probably
reflected the relatively low value of the dollar.
Lot 7, "Oiseau dans l'espace,"
is a magnificent blue-gray marble abstract sculpture on a stone
base, 48 inches tall overall, by Constantin Brancusi (1867-1957).
It was only recently rediscovered "in the attic of a venerable
Northern European mansion" and the catalogue described it
as "a keystone in the history of 20th Century sculpture.
It has a conservative estimate of $8,000,000 to $12,000,000. Described
by Mr. Burge after the sale as "an absolutely transcendental
object," it sold for $27,456,000, including the buyer's premium
as do all the results mentioned in this article, surpassing the
artist's world auction record by about $9 million while also,
and more importantly, setting a world auction record for a sculpture.
The Brancusi sculpture was
recently rediscovered in a European private collection where it
has been since 1937. It originally was in the collection of Léonie
Ricou, a Parisian collector who was a friend of many artists such
as Brancusi, Picasso, and Modigliani. The work was carved in 1922-3
and Christie's maintained in a press release that it "can
rightfully be considered a keystone in 20th century sculpture,
reflecting a critical turning point in Brancusi's sculpture evolution
in his extended series devoted to the bird subject. The present
sculpture stands between the version belonging to the Metropolitan
Museum of Art, New York, and the one at the Foundation Beyeler,
Switzerland....Apart from its art historical importance..., the
most striking element in Bird in Space is the very sophistication
and delicacy of its execution. The subject of the bird is so closely
captured within the carved marble that even the stone's white
veins play an important role, cleverly linking the two parts of
the body into a unified whole. From whichever angle the sculpture
is observed, there is a wonderful sense of balance and refinement...."
Many of the auction's best
works were consigned by the Maspro Collection. The Maspro Art
Museum in Japan was founded 30 years ago by Takashi Hashiyama,
president of the Maspro Denkoh Corporation and director of the
This group is highlighted by
Lot 22, "Les Grands arbes au Jas de Bouffan," by Paul
Cézanne (1839-1906). A fabulous example of the artist's
stylized brushwork, it is an oil on canvas that measures 28 3/4
by 23 1/4 inches. Executed circa 1885-7, it has a modest estimate
of $12,000,000 to $16,000,000. It sold for $11,776,000, a price
that one observer declared was "the bargain of the evening."
The catalogue provides the
"The present picture depicts
a group of tall trees along the western wall of the Jas de Bouffan,
a country retreat just outside of Aix-en-Provence that belonged
to Cézane's family from 1859-1899. Throughout his career,
the grounds and farmland of the Jas de Bouffan provided Cézanne
with many of his favorite landscape motifs....The group of five
trees depicted....still stand today....A closely related painting
of the same five trees..., now housed in the Courtauld Galleries
in London, probably dates to 1885-1887 as well, as aoes a watercolor
depicting the same motif....Of the three versions, the present
picture is the only one that emplys a vertical format, which enhances
the monumentality of the trees. Both this work and the Courtauld
version are noteworthy for their sensitive execution....Pigment
is applied in vertical or diagonal series of connected zigzag
strokes, each group forming an elongated spot of the same tint.
This rhythmic network of color captures both the impression of
quivering foliage and the shimmering effect of the sunlight as
it filters through the trees....The handling of the foliage...is
closely related to the system of densely packed, parallel brushstrokes
(the so-called 'constructive stroke') that Cézanne developed
around 1880. This systematic, structured approach to facture was
a breakthrough for the artist, and helped him to develop beyond
the ephereral character of Impressionism."
Lot 43, "Paysage avec
conduite d'eau," is another, smaller and earlier Cézanne
landscape. An oil on canvas, it measures 18 1/4 by 21 7/8 inches
and was executed circa 1879. It has an estimate of $2,500,000
to $3,500,000. It sold for $2,256,000.
The auction has four works
by Picasso (1881-1973), all from different periods of his career.
Lot 31 is an impressive "monumental" head and hand of
a woman in the artist's "Classical" style. An oil on
canvas that measures 25 3/4 by 21 3/8 inches, it was executed
in 1921. It has an "estimate on request" that was approximately
$13,000,000. It sold for $13,416,000.
Lot 54 is a far lovelier Picasso
work, a still life. An oil on canvas, it measures 25 1/2 by 36
1/4. Executed in 1937, it has an estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,000,000
and has been consigned by the Cincinatti Art Museum. It sold
for $2,928,000. According to the catalogue, this was the last
and most complex of a series of six still life paintings with
pitchers that Picasso did in April, 1937, "at the height
of the Spanish Civil War," adding that the day after the
present picture the artist produced the first setches for his
celebrated mural Guernica.
Lot 26, "Boulevard de
Clichy," is a 1901 Parisian cityscape by Picasso. An oil
on canvas that measures 24 1/4 by 18 1/4 inches, it has an estimate
of $1,800,000 to $2,500,000. It sold for $1,696,000.
The fourth Picasso work is
Lot 47, "Tete d'homme barbu," painted sheet metal, 12
inches high, executed 1961-2. The lot has an estimate of $300,000
to $400,000. It sold for $710,000.
Lot 4 is a Fauve cityscape
with flags by Raoul Dufy (1877-1953) entitled "Les Drapeaux."
An oil on canvas that measures 18 by 14 1/4 inches, it was executed
in 1906. It has an estimate of $600,000 to $800,000. "With
its brilliant color brushed straight from the tube, or heightened
with white, and a composition constructed on a stark white ground
from the contrasts betwen these vivid tonalities, Dufy's Les Drapeaux
defines the very essence of Fauve painting," the catalogue
entry maintained. It failed to sell and was passed at $450,000.
Lot 35 is "Femme Leoni,"
a 65 1/2-inch-high bronze sculpture by Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966).
Conceived in 1947, it was cast in 1960 and this lot is numbered
5 in a series of 6. It has an estimate of $7,000,000 to $10,000,000.
It sold for $8,416,000.
Lot 51 is a pleasant portrait
by Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920) entitled "Donna con collana
rossa." An oil on canvas, it measures 36 3/8 by 25 1/4 inches.
Executed in 1918, it was consigned by the Cincinnati Art Museum
and has an estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000. It sold for
The auction has several works
by Claude Monet (1840-1926), the best of which is Lot 37, "Le
Grève à Fécamp," an oil on canvas that
measures 18 by 31 1/2 inches. Executed in 1881, it is a very strong
composition with a marvelous impressionistic treatment of waves.
It has a modest estimate of $600,000 to $800,000. It sold for
Lot 20 is a large and decorative
floral still life by Monet, entitled "Bouquet de glaieuls,
lis et marguerites." An oil on canvas, it measures 32 5/8
by 24 1/2 inches and was executed in 1878. It has an estimate
of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. It sold for $2,704,000.
Lot 18 is a riverscape by Monet
entitled "Vétheuil, après-midi." An oil
on canvas, it measures 35 by 36 1/2 inches. Executed in 1901,
it has an ambitious estimate of $7,000,000 to $10,000,000.
It sold for $6,624,000.
Lot 27 is a very detailed cityscape
by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) thatis entitled "Vue de la
chambre de l'artiste, rue Lepic." An oil and pencil on board,
it measures 18 by 15 inches. Executed in 1887, it has a modest
estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It sold for $2,704,000.
Lot 10 is a very good painting
by Edouard Vuillard entitled "La table, la fin du déjeuner
chez Madame Vuillard," by Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940). An
oil on board laid down on cradled panel, it measures 18 1/4 by
27 1/4 inches. Executed circa 1895, it has an estimate of $2,500,000
to $3,500,000. It sold for $2,480,000.
Lot 13 is a strong still life
by Georges Braque (1882-1963). An oil on canvas, it measures 23
3/8 by 28 3/4 inches. Executed in 1939, it has an estimate of
$700,000 to $900,000. It sold for $1,304,000.
Lot 15, "Polichinelle,"
is a bright work by Edouard Manet (1832-1883). An oil on canvas
that measures 19 3/4 by 12 5/8 inches, it was painted in 1873.
It has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000 and had sold at
Christie's in New York November 8, 1999 for $2,972,500. It
failed to sale at this auction and was passed at $1,500,000.