By Carter B. Horsley
The opening Sotheby's auction
of the spring season is highlighted by a vibrant portrait of Dora
Maar by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) that the auction house anticipates
will fetch in "the region of $50 million."
The oil on canvas measures
51 by 38 inches and was executed in 1941 and was once in the collection
of Mr. and Mrs. Leigh B. Block of Chicago. The catalogue entry
is 16 pages long:
"The story of Dora Maar's
relationship with Picasso is legendary in the history of 20th
Century art. Picasso met Maar, the Surrealist photographer, in
the fall of 1935 and was enchanted by the young woman's powerful
sense of self and commanding presence. although still involved
with Marie-Thérèse Walter and still married to Olga
Khokhlova at the time, Picasso became intimately involved with
Maar by the end the year, and by 1937 she had ascended to the
status of the artist's primary mistress. Unlike the docile and
domestic Marie-Thérèse who had given birth to thier
daughter Maya in 1935, Maar was an artist, spoke Picasso's native
Spanish, and shared his intellectual and political concerns. She
even assisted with the execution of the monumental Guernica...."
The painting sold for $95,216,000,
including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this
article. The price was the second highest in auction history.
The highest, $104 million, was set at Sotheby's in May, 2004 and
was another Picasso, "Boy with Pipe," from his earlier
and more lyrical "Rose" period. The buyer was an unidentified
man seating on an outside aisle about two-thirds of the way back
in the very large auction room and he bid by waving his paddle.
He also bought two other works, a seascape by Claude Monet for
about $5 million and a 1978 biblical scene by Marc Chagall for
The auction room was quiet
during the long bidding in which auctioneer Tobias Meyer twice
misstated the current bid, but burst into applause at the conclusion
when Charles Moffett, co-chairman of the Impressionist and Modern
Art Department at Sotheby's indicated that his telephone bidder
was giving up.
At a news conference after
the auction, David Norman, co-chairman of Sotheby's Impressionist
and Modern Art Department, was asked if there had been "competition"
for the Picasso. William F. Ruprecht, president and chief executive
officer of Sotheby's Holdings, interjected that there was, adding
"we put a higher value on it."
The auction total for the
evening was $207,500,000, Sotheby's highest total for an Impressionist
and Modern Art auction since May, 1990. The pre-sale high estimate
for the auction was $190.8 million. The previous night Christie's
sale (see The City
Review article) totalled
approximately $180 million, also its highest total since May,
For connoisseurs who value Picasso's Cubist
works and early works more than his later Surrealist works, Lot
28, "Jeune Garcon Nu (Nu Aux Bras Levés)," might
be more preferable than the Dona Maar painting. A pastel, black
chalk and pencil on paper that measures only 9 1/2 by 7 1/2 inches,
it was executed in 1907 and has a very modest estimate of $800,000
to $1,200,000. It sold for only $800,000, the bargain of the
auction. It was formerly in the collection of Albert E. Gallatin,
George L. K. Morris and Walter P. Chrysler Jr.
Of course, for connoisseurs who appreciate
the humor in Picasso's late work, Lot 29, "Arlequin au Baton,"
an oil on canvas that measures 75 1/2 by 50 1/2 inches, might
be tempting. Dated 1969, it has an estimate of $8,000,000 to $10,000,000.
It sold for $10,096,000. The painting is the back-cover
illustration of the catalogue.
Lot 48 is a simple but cheerful study of two
children by Pablo Picasso, entitled "Enfants Dessinant."
An oil on canvas, it was executed in 1954 and measures 36 1/8
by 28 3/4 inches. It has an estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000.
It sold for $2,816,000.
The cover illustration of the catalogue is
Lot 22, a good-sized oil on canvas of a naked woman on a sofa
seen from the back by Henri Matisse (1869-1954). It measures 26
by 36 1/4 inches and was painted in 1927. It has an estimate of
$12,000,000 to $15,000,000. It sold for $18,496,000, an auction
record for Matisse despite the fact that it has little of the
grace that characterizes his finest work.
A far more alluring nude and a far better painting
is Lot 6, "La Fille du Rat Mort," by Maurice de Vlaminck
(1876-1958). An oil on canvas that measures 12 7/8 by 18 3/8 inches
is perhaps the best work in the auction and was painted in 1905-6.
It has a very modest estimate of $600,000 to $800,000. It sold
for $575,000. Asked after the auction why it did not fare better,
David Norman, co-chairman of Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern
Art department, suggested that many collectors of Fauve paintings
prefer landscapes and not all collectors are crazy about, or comfortable
"Painted with remarkable spontaneity and
verve," the catalogue entry noted, "Vlaminck's portrait
of a reclining nude is one of his most powerful and visually arresting
compositions. the pale white tones of the model's skin emerge
from a welter of large patches of undiluted color which unites
the figure with the vibrant background. The model depicted was
a young dancer from the cabaret, 'Rat Mort,' which had also been
frequented by Toulouse-Lautrec."
Vlaminck worked often during his Fauve period
with André Derain (1880-1954), who is represented in the
auction with an Estaque landscape, Lot 15. An oil on canvas that
measures 21 1/4 by 25 3/4 inches, it was painted in 1906. It has
an estimate of $3,000,000 to $5,000,000. It sold for $6,848,000.
While it is a classic Fauve landscape of brilliant colors,
it is not one of Derain's masterpieces as its composition is a
bit conventional and the foreground a bit weak. Fauve landscapes,
of course, are fantastic.
One of the finest and most surprising works
in the auction is Lot 18, "Les Toits," a very beautiful
and detailed watercolor and gouache on paper by Vincent van Gogh
(1853-1890). It measures 15 3/8 by 22 1/4 inches and was executed
in 1882. It has a modest estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000.
It sold for $4,720,000. The work does not have the typical
van Gogh style and, according to Mr. Norman, is probably the finest
of about 20 such village scenes he did during this period. Its
composition, however, is superb. The scene depicted is from the
artist's attic windowoverlooking the roof tops of The Hague.
The auction has several fine still-life paintings.
Lot 13 is a very lovely and superb still-life by Pierre-Auguste
Renoir (1841-1919). An oil on canvas that measures 25 3/4 by 21
1/2 inches, it was painted circa 1889. It has an estimate of $2,500,000
to $3,500,000. It sold for $2,816,000. The work was once
in the collection in Colonel and Mrs. Edgard w. Garbisch and Sam
Lot 1, "Nature Morte Avec Leda,"
is a lovely, large and luminous still-life by Edouard Vuillard
(1868-1940). It measures 23 1/2 by 31 1/4 inches and was painted
circa 1902. It has a modest estimate of $400,000 to $600,000.
It sold for $408,000.
Another fine still-life is Lot 2, "Azalées
Blanches en Pot," by Claude Monet (1840-1926). An oil on
canvas, it measures 20 1/4 by 15 inches and was painted in 1885.
It has a modest estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000. It sold
Lot 23, "Fleurs," is a classic and
beautiful floral still life by Odilon Redon (1840-1916). A pastel
on paper, it mesaures 23 by 18 1/2 inches and was executed circa
1905. It has a modest estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000. It
sold for $912,000.
One of the strongest works in the auction is
Lot 24, "Soldats," a gouache on cardboard that measures
15 by 12 3/4 inches. At first glance, many observers might assume
it was an excellent work by Max Beckmann, but, in fact, it is
by Marc Chagall (1887-1985). It was executed in 1912 and has an
estimate of $1,800,000 to $2,500,000. It sold for $2,032,000.
Lot 45 is a very elegant still-life oil on
canvas of a compass by Fernand Léger (1881-1955). It measures
36 1/4 by 25 3/4 inches and is dated 1926. It has an estimate
of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It sold for $2,032,000.
Lot 5, "Baigneuses," is a lovely
and excellent example of "Divisionism" by Henri-Edmond
Cross (1856-1910). An oil on canvas, it measures 21 1/8 by 28
3/4 inches and was executed circa 1892-5. The catalogue entry
for this lot notes that "The present work, with its two frolicking
nudes in a spectacularly colorful settingcan be considered a forerunner
to Matisse's famous Fauvist pictures of nudes completed a decade
later." It has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It
sold for $1,136,000.
Lot 40, "La Foret Claire," is a fine
work by Max Ernst (1891-1976). An oil on canvas that measures
28 3/4 by 36 1/4 inches, it was executed in 1925-6 and has an
modest estimate of $300,000 to $500,000. It sold for $777,600.
Lot 12, "La Danse Grecque," is a
pastel on joined paper laid down on board by Edgar Degas depicting
three ballerinas. It measures 22 3/4 by 19 1/4 inches and was
executed between 1885-1890. The lot once belonged to Dr. Albert
Barnes of Merion, Pennsylvania, Ralph M. Coe, and Thelma Chrysler
Foy. It has an estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000. It was
withdrawn from the auction.