By Carter B. Horsley
This evening auction of Impressionist and Modern
Art at Sotheby's May 8, 2007 is highlighted by a luminous and
great Futurist painting by Giacomo Balla, a lovely portrait of
a harlequin model by Pablo Picasso, two fine works by Amedeo Modigliani,
two very good works by Fernand Léger, two superb landscapes
by Camille Pissarro, and excellent works by Pierre-Auguste Renoir,
Lyonel Feininger, Paul Gauguin, André Derain, Edouard Vuillard,
Marc Chagall, and two good watercolors by Paul Cézanne.
Lot 42 is a brilliant Futurist painting by
Giacomo Balla (1871-1958). Entitled "Velocita d'Automobile
+ Luci," is an oil on gold paper laid down on board that
measures 19 by 26 3/4 inches and was painted in 1913. It is one
of several fine works consigned to the auction by the Neuman Family
The catalogue provides the following commentary:
"As early as 1910 Balla produced several
studies of cars, some stationary and some in movement. However,
it was not until he saw the 'photodynamics' by the Bragaglia brothers
in 1912 that his reasearch on the theme entered into a new phase,
resulting in a radical change of style, and ultimately in a number
of works that are now regarded as icons of Futurist art. In developing
his own version of Divisionism and abstraction, Balla was intially
influenced by Etienne-Bules Marey's Chronophotography, a technique
of capturing sequences of movement in a single frame. tTe main
effect that Chronophotography had on painting was the dematerialisation
of form, breaking up the image in a way that enabled the artist
to translate the visual effect of movement into a pictorial language....The
present work reflects Balla's transition from his kinetic, analytical
phhase, towards the concept of the line of speed, in which he
abandoned any kind of figurative representation of the moving
object, and reduced light and speed to simple graphic symbols....Balla's
focus has shifted from the moving object to the essence of movement
itself, and the dynamic sensation of speed has become an autonomous
entity and the main subject of the work. With its vortex of pure,
abstract lines, Velocita d'automobile + luci presents the
high point of Balla's art, and demonstrates the virtuoisty with
which he achieved the Futurist ideal."
The lot has a conservative estimate of $3,500,000
to $4,500,000. It sold for $3,960,000 including the buyer's
premium as do all results mentioned in this article, breaking
the artist's auction record of $737,000 set in 1990.
The sale was very successful with 55 of
the 61 offered lots selling for $278,548,000 including the buyers'
premiums, the highest total for an Impressionist & Modern
Art auction at Sotheby's since May, 1990 when it sold about $286,000,000
including a $78 million Renoir.
This was the first major auction in America
in which Sotheby's introduced higher buyer's premium, a move that
it initiated in London in February. Buyers must now pay a premium
of 20 percent on the first $500,000 of their purchase and 12 percent
on the remainder. Previously, they paid 20 percent only on the
The sales room was only about two-thirds
filled as Sotheby's decided, according to a spokesman, that there
had been too much standing room and so it opened a second room
with television connections. Interestingly, the press contingent
was much smaller than usual for a major auction.
David Norman, co-chair of the Impressionist
& Modern Art department at Sotheby's, said he was "ecstatic"
about the results and that bidding "was all over, an incredible
breadth of bidding.
While the Balla is certainly
the auction's most important work, Lot 18, "Tete d'Arlequin,"
by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) is certainly the auction's crowd-pleaser
and likely the most expensive lot. It has an estimate of $12,000,000
to $18,000,000. It sold for $15,160,000. Three years ago,
Sotheby's sold "Garçon à la pipe," a larger
painting by Picasso with the same model, for $104,168.000. The
catalogue notes that this lot is one of "eight portraits
of an anonymous adolescent boy, including the "Garçon
à la pipe"...that are considered the artist's most
significant productions of his Rose period....Picasso personally
identified with the persona of the harlequin, believing his unquenchable
lust for life and whimsy to be much like his own."
Lot 21 is a very vibrant gouache
and ink on card laid down on cradled panel by Picasso. Entitled
"Famille d'Arlequin," is measures 11 5/8 by 8 1/2 inches
and was painted in 1905. It is property of the family of Joan
Whitney Payson. It is signed. Its strong colors and squiggly lines
are a bit atypical for the artist of this period and it is almost
too beautiful. It has an estimate of $6,000,000 to $8,000,000.
It sold for $9,840,000.
Lot 16 is an excellent work
by Pablo Picasso that is entitled "Homme à La Pipe
Assis Dans Un Fauteuil." An oil, gouache, watercolor and
pencil on paper laid down on canvas, it measures 12 5/8 by 9 3/4
inches and was painted in 1916. It has an estimate of $2,000,000
to $3,000,000. It sold for $4,744,000.
Lot 32, "Sylvette,"
is a painted metal sculpture by Pablo Picasso that is 25 inches
high and was executed in 1954. The artist would return to this
in 1968 when he created a huge sculpture that is in the plaza
of University Towers in Greenwich Village. The lot has an estimate
of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. It sold for $4,184,000.
Lot 46 is a delightful, large
oil on canvas by Pablo Picasso entitled "La Plage à
La Garoupe (II)." Executed in 1955, it measures 31 by 75
inches. It has an estimate of $7,000,000 to $9,000,000. It
was passed at $6 million. The first version of this work is
in the collection of The National Museum of Art in Tokyo. They
were executed while Henri-Georges Clouzot was filming Picasso
Lot 8 is a superb still life
with a green melon by Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) that measures
12 3/8 by 18 3/4 inches. Executed in 1902-6, it is one of several
Cézanne watercolors in this auction from the Eskenazi Collection.
It was formerly in the collections of Paul Rosenberg, Robert von
Hirsch, and the British Rail Pension Fund. It has an ambitious
estimate of $14,000,000 to $18,000,000. It sold for $25,520,000
in a prolonged telephone bidding war in which Tobias Meyer, the
auctioneer, inched the bids up only $250,000 each time. It broke
the artist's previous auction record for a work on paper of $4301,990
when Mr. Eskenazi , a well-know dealer of Chinese Art, bought
Another Cézanne watercolor,
not fromthe Eskenazi Collection, is Lot 15, "Groupe de Baigneurs."
It measures 7 1/4 by 10 1/2 inches and was executed circa 1900.
It has a very conservative estimate of $900,000 to $1,200,000
given the fact that the subject is one of the artist's most famous.
It sold for $1,608,000.
The cover illustration of the
auction catalogue is Lot 22, "Jesuiten III," an oil
on canvas by Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956). It measures 29 1/2
by 23 1/2 inches and was painted in 1915. It has an estimate of
$7,000,000 to $9,000,000. It sold for $23,380,000, almost triple
the artist's previous world auction record that was set only a
year ago. The first version of this subject was painted by
Feininger in 1908 and is in a private collection. The second version
was painted in 1913 and is the Saint Louis Art Museum.
The catalogue provides the
"He was extraordinarily
capable of conveying spatial depth without being reliant upon
gradations of color or excessive details. with its pictorial style
and its color scheme,the present work represents a synthesis of
the various developments that shaped the artist' oeuvre.
Like his future Bauhaus colleague Kandinsky, Feininger believed
in the association of music and oclor and inthe importance of
fantasy in art."
Lot 26 is a small but very
striking portrait of Jeanne Hébuterne by Amedeo Modigliani
(1884-1920). An oil on canvas, it measures 18 1/8 by 11 1/2 inches
and was executed in 1918, two years before the artist's death.
Hébuterne was the artist's lover and she committed suicide
in 1922. The lot has an estimate of $8,000,000 to $10,000,000.
It failed to sell and was passed at $7,250,000.
Lot 38 is an unusual Modigliani
for its rather pale, albeit pleasing, palette that is much less
dramatic than most of his oeuvre and Lot 26. Entitled "Jeune
Fille Assise, Les Cheveux Dènoués (Jeune Fille en
Bleu)," it is an oil on canvas that measures 39 5/8 by 25
1/8 inches and was executed in 1919. It was formerly in the collections
of Roger Dutilleul, Sam Salz, Nate B. and Frances Springold and
Acquavella Galleries. It has an estimate of $12,000,000 to $15,000,000.
It failed to sell and was passed at $9,250,000.
Lot 30 is a magnificent and
very colorful abstraction by Fernand Léger (1881-1955)(see
The City Review article
on a Léger exhibition),
entitled "Les Usines." An oil on canvas, it measures
27 1/8 by 21 inches and was executed in 1918. It was formerly
in the collection of Solomon R. Guggenheim. It has a modest estimate
of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000. It sold for $14,320,000.
Another fine work by Léger
is Lot 33, "La Gare," an oil on canvas that measures
25 1/2 by 31 7/8 inches. It was painted in 1918. It has an estimate
of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. It sold for $4,520,000.
Lot 14 is a fine oil on canvas
by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) entitled "Cavalier Devant La
Case." It measures 21 5/8 by 13 3/8 inches and was painted
in 1902. It has an estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000. It
sold for $4,856,000.
Lot 20, "La Lecture,"
is a gorgeous pastel on paper by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919).
It measures 31 7/8 by 25 5/8 inches and was executed circa 1889.
It has a modest estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000. It sold
The catalogue notes that this
work is relatedto an oil painting by Renoir that sold at Sotheby's
in London last February and to a nearly identical pastel that
was formerly in the Thannhauser Collection in Berlin, adding that
the two models are probably the same who posed for the artist
in "La Leçon de piano" and "Jeunes filles
au piano," versions of which are in the Metrpolitan Museum
of Art and the Musée de l'Orangerie and the Musée
d'Orsay in Paris.
Lot 19 is a jewel by Edgar
Degas (1834-1917). Entitled "Mlle Bécat aux Ambassadeurs,"
it is a pastel over lithograph that is only 6 3/8 by 4 3/4 inches.
Executed circa 1877-9, it has been consigned by the family of
Joan Whitney Payson. It has an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000.
It sold for $1,384,000.
Lot 7 is a strong Fauve landscape
of the neighborhood around Chatou, France by André Derain
(1880-1954). An oil on board laid down on cradled panel, it measures
22 1/8 by 28 1/8 inches and was painted circa 1904-5. It has a
conservative estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It sold
for $2,168,000. The catalogue notes that "although the
present work is among the best of Derain's proto-Fauve works,
it has escaped attention because it hung discretely in an American
private collection for most of the 20th Century."
Lot 13 is a good river scene
by Maurice de Vlaminck (1874-1958) that was executed in 1903.
Entitled "L'Etang de Saint-Cucura," it is an oil on
canvas that measures 21 1/4 by 25 5/8 inches. Although its palette
is a bit dark compared to the Fauve works that Valminck and Derain
and Matisse would produce in the next few years and its impasto
brushwork is reminiscent of Van Gogh, this is a strong landscape.
It has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It failed to
sell and was passed at $1,600,000.
Lot 23, "Weisser Kland
(White Sound)," is a stunning painting by Wassily Kandinsky
(1866-1944). An oil on board mounted on cradled panel, it was
executed in 1908 and measures 27 1/2 inches square. It was at
one time in the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Charles R. Lachman
of New York. It has an estimate of $6,000,000 to $8,000,000. It
sold for $5,416,000. Kandinsky was very interested in music
and the Jugendstil poetry of Stegan George, a German Symobolist,
who focused the imagery of his poems on the sound of words rather
than their meaning and emphasized the visual harmony of their
design of the page. The catalogue suggests that the reclining
figure in the painting may be the "dreamer" in George's
poem "Weisser Gesang (White Song)."
Lot 41 is a fine, untitled
abstraction by Wassily Kandinsky. A watercolor, pen, brush and
ink and pencil on paper, it measures 13 by 18 3/4 inches and was
executed in 1922. It has an estimate of $700,000 to $900,000.
It sold for $936,000.
Lot 59 is a beautiful pair of distemper on
canvas paintings by Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940) that each measure
39 3/8 by 19 3/4 inches and were painted in 1917 and reworked
in 1918. At one point, there were in the collection of John T.
Dorrance Jr. of Gladwyne, Pennsylvania. The lot has a modest estimate
of $900,000 to $1,200,000. It sold for $1,272,000. These
paintings are two of the three paintings commissioned by Jean
Laroche, who originally wanted the pair to have the shape of a
violin, but their were subsequently reworked to their present
Lot 5 is a superb landscape
by Camille Pissarro (1830-1903). Entitled "Le Fond de L'Hermitage,
Pointoise," it is an oil on canvas that measures 25 3/4 by
21 1/4 inches. It was painted in 1877. The vertical composition
is very dramatic. The lot has a conservative estimate of $1,500,000
to $2,000,000. It sold for $1,720,000.
Another Pissarro landscape
of Pontoise done in the same year is Lot 56, "Le Jardin de
Maubuisson, Pontoise, Poirers en fleur," is a fabulous Impressionist
painting. An oil on canvas, it measures 25 5/8 by 31 7/8 inches.
It has a modest estimate of $1,800,000 to $2,500,000. It sold
Lot 57 is a charming work by
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) that depicts "Margot,"
a dog. An oil on canvas, it measures 23 7/8 by 19 1/2 inches and
was painted in 1881. It was once in the collectionof John and
Frances Loeb. It has a modest estimate of $700,000 to $900,000.
It sold for $712,000.
Lot 40 is an enormous and superb
oil and gouache on canvas by Marc Chagall (1887-1985) that is
entitled "Le Grand Cirque." It measures 62 3/4 by 121
1/2 inches and was executed in 1956. It has an estimate of $8,000,000
to $12,000,000. It sold for $13,760,000.
Lot 36 is a large and impressively
simple abstraction by Joan Miró (1893-1983), entitled "Peinture
(Le Cheval de Cirque)." Painted in 1927, it is an oil on
canvas that measures 51 1/8 by 38 1/8 inches. It has an estimate
of $8,000,000 to $10,000,000. It sold for $8,440,000.
Lot 47 is a very large and
impressive polychrome wood sculpture entitled "L'Idea del
Cavaliere" by Marino Marini (1901-1980). It is 85 inches
high and has an estimate of $6,000,000 to $8,000,000. It sold
for $7,040,000, breaking the previous world auction record of
$2,996,000 for the artist. The artist had made a version of this
work the previous year in plaster, a version that was cast in
bronze in an edition of four.
Lot 43, "Contra-Composition
VII," by Theo van Doesburg (1883-1931), sold for $4,184,000,
way above his previous world auction record of $607,500.