By Carter B. Horsley
This evening auction at Christie's May 6, 2008
of Impressionist and Modern Art is highlighted by two related
works by Paul Gauguin, and several works each by Claude Monet,
Henri Matisse and Alberto Giacometti. In addition, there are fine
examples by Paul Signac, Edouard Vuillard and Edgar Degas.
Lot 28 is an important and intriguing work
by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) entitled "Te fare Hymenee (La
Maison des chants)." An oil on canvas, it measures 20 1/8
by 35 5/8 inches and was executed in 1892. It was formerly in
the collections of Carleton Mitchell of Annapolis and Mr. and
Mrs. Algur H. Meadows of Texas. It has a modest estimate of $10,000,000
to $15,000,000. It sold for $8,441,000 including the buyer's
premium as do all results mentioned in this article. Both Sotheby's and Christie's have
raised their buyer's premium this season to 25 percent of the
first $20,000, 20 percent of the next $20,000 to $500,000 and
12 percent of the rest.
The catalogue has a two-page reproduction of
the canvas with 11 inset boxes pointing to figures in the painting
that reference other paintings by the artist.
The composition is very compelling, especially
the verticality of the background wall of the enclosure and the
man at the left with his back to the viewer. One is tempted to
think of Goya's "war" pictures in glorious technicolor,
but the mood here, of course, is full of warmth and camaraderie,
the hearth and the heart. Gauguin's large paintings of Tahitian
women in colorful garb are, of course, very popular, but his landscapes
are marvelous and here we have a "mystery" painting
by this most exotic and superb artist.
Lot 44 is a large version of a foreground detail
in Lot 28. An oil on canvas, it measures 13 7/8 by 25 3/8 inches
and was also executed in 1892. The catalogue entry states that
its appearance in this sale "is a most fortuitous event."
This lot has an estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000. It failed
to sell and was passed at $3,600,000.
Lot 21 is an oil on canvas by Claude Monet
(1840-1926) that measures 23 5/8 by 38 3/4 inches and was painted
in 1873. It is entitled "Le Pont du chemin de fer à
In the lead article of the Arts & Leisure
Section of The New York Times May 4, 2008, Carol Vogel
reported that "In 1988 Stavros Niarchos, the Greek shipping
magnate, sold it for $12.6 million at Christie's in London to
the Nahmads, dealers with galleries in New York and London,"
adding that "experts in the field" say that Christie's
has given the Nahmads a guarantee for this picture "around
$34 million." She said that Guy Bennett, co-head of Impressionist
and Modern Art at Christie's worldwide, said that "Monet
produced only three other comparable paintings of the subject,"
adding that "One is in the National Gallery of Art in Washington,
another in the Philadelphia Museum of At and the third in the
Musée d'Orsay in Paris."
The catalogue includes a short essay on the
painting by John House, Walter H. Annenberg Professor at the Courtauld
Instititute of Art in London that includes the following comments:
"The riverbank is bald and open, fringed
by a low man-made barrier; the only trees are relegated to the
far distance; and, most strikingly, the bridge, cutting bodly
across the whole composition, is a rigid, geometrical metal structure,
crossed by two railway trains. Monet's riverbank is unashamedly
modern. His two figures stand confidently, at ease with the scene;
the boats that pass are recreational sailing boats, for Argentueil
was a centre for amateur sailors; and the bridge, with its trains,
was the umbilical link that joined the place to Paris, only eight
miles away to the south east. The train to the right in Monet's
canvas, its funnel proudly puffing smoke into the open sky, is
heading for the city. Moreover, the bridge was absolutely new
- rebuilt after its destruction during the Franco-Prussian War
of 1870-1...' the contrast between its ruined and restored state
could not be more striking. Viewed in this light, Monet's canvas
appears optimistic; its image of sunlit leisure intersecting with
new technology can be seen as a celebration of France's rapid
revival after the country's disastrous defeat in the war. However,
the picure has another context, too - its context in the world
of art. In fine art paintings at the time, the role of landscape
was to offer a mental escape, to invite the viewer to imagine
taking refuge from the city in the unspoilt natural world, an
idea that became sitll more urgent after the destruction wrought
in and around Paris by the recent war and the Paris Commune of
1871. Critics of the Impressionist exhibitions of the 1870s lamented
their decision to paint the tainted scenerey of the environs of
Paris rather than 'true nature'. Viewed from this point of view,
Monet's canvas was an affront to the whole idea of landscape.
For Monet and his fellow Impressionists in the 1870s, this traditional
idea of landscape and 'nature' was anathema; for them, the world
to be painted was the world around them, a world that visibly
carried the marks - or scars - of both disaster and progress.
In Le Pont du cheimi de fer à Argenteuil, Moet produced
one of his grandest and most ambitious depictions of this new
world...the resulting canvas has an immediacy and informality
that make it one of the most vivid of all the Impressionists'
evocations of this modern landscape."
Talk about puffing smoke! The Impressionists
and especially Monet are best remembered for their pure landscapes
and not their engagement with the advances of technology although
Monet's train stations are superb and certainly better than this
rather drab scene. Two of the other versions of this scene by
Monet are more interesting compositionally, which is not to say
that this is an uninteresting or unattractive composition. Monet's
interpretations of bridges in London are also more interesting.
In the last few years, the auction houses have had the strangest
estimates for Monet paintings....
The painting sold for $41,481,000, surpassing
the artist's previous world auction record of $36,561,264 set
last June at Sotheby's in London.
Of 58 offered lots 44 sold - 76 percent
- for a total of $277,276,000, slightly below the pre-sale's low
estimate, an indication that the market might be cooling from
its recent hot streak. Another indication that the recent financial
crises may be affecting the art market was the fact that only
32 percent of the buyer's at the auction were American and 52
percent were European, according to Christopher Burge, the auctioneer.
Mr. Burge said that "generally there were very strong results,"
and "a few surprises," adding that the results were
pretty close to the auction house's expectations that morning.
Lot 14 is an excellent landscape by Claude
Monet entitled "Près de Vétheuil." An
oil on canvas, it measures 25 5/8 by 31 7/8 inches and was executed
in 1881. It is extremely impressionistic in its brushwork. Despite
its fabulous brushwork which is vastly superior to the other Monet
works in this sale, it has a very modest estimate of $1,000,000
to $1,500,000. It failed to sell and was passed at $800,000.
Lot 17, "Le Rio de la Salute," is
a pleasant and warmly colorful oil on canvas by Claude Monet.
It measures 31 7/8 by 25 1/2 inches and was painted in 1908. It
has a very ambitious estimate of $8,000,000 to $12,000,000. It
failed to sell and was passed at $6,800,000.
Lot 46 is a rather pale water lily painting
by Monet that measures 36 by 37 inches and was painted in 1908.
It was owned at one time by Leonard Norman Stern. It has an estimate
of $10,000,000 to $16,000,000. It sold for $11,689,000.
Lot 47 is a fine Venetian scene by Pierre-Auguste
Renoir (1841-1919) that was painted in 1881. An oil on canvas,
it measures 21 1/2 by 26 inches. It has a modest estimate of $1,200,000
to $1,800,000 and was formerly in the collection of Janice Levin
and is being sold to benefit the Philip and Janice Levin Foundation.
It sold for $1,665,000.
Lot 25 is a very nice and very fine painting
of ballet dancers by Edgar Degas (1834-1917) that was painted
circa 1897. An oil on canvas, it measures 12 7/8 by 15 7/8 inches.
It has a very conservative estimate of $700,000 to $900,000. It
sold for $1,161,000.
The catalogue remarks that "the atomized
surface of Danseuse au tambourin does indeed point in the
direction of abstraction - specks of color circulate at times
independently of the forms they describe - yet at each turn the
paint leads us back to the artist himself....The powerful tactilty
of Degas's late color, epitomized in this uncommonly brilliant
surface, suggests a sensitive engagement both with his own, concurrent
work in pastel and with the color theories of the early post-impressionists."
Lot 26, "Route aux confins
de Paris, avec paysan portant la beche sur l'épaule,"
by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) is a Pointillist-style oil on
canvas that measures 18 1/2 by 28 1/4 inches. It was executed
The catalogue entry notes that
the man in the center of the picture was originally accompanied
by a female suggesting that this may have been part of a series
in which he depicted lovers in landscapes. "In terms of style,
the present painting bears vivid witness to van Gogh's experimentation
in 1887 with the novel pointillist technique of the Neo-Expressionists.
Jan Hulsker has described this canvas as a 'true pointillist work'....while
Ronald Pickvance has written, 'Of all van Gogh's 1887 landscapes,
this is the most determinedly pointillist, more so even that the
large painting, Le parc Voyer d'Argenson à Asnières
[Rijksmuseum Vincent Van Gogh, Amsterdam] with which there are
certain analogies." "Although Van Gogh was never close
to Seurat, the originator of the pointillist method, he enjoyed
a warm camarderie with Signac, the most active apostle of Neo-Impressionism."
The two artists met in early 1887, the entry stated, adding that
they frequently painted together.
The unsigned painting has an estimate of $13,000,000
to $16,000,000. It failed to sell and was passed at $11,500,000.
Lot 11 is a spectacular Neo-Impressionist Pointillist
work by Paul Signac (1863-1935) that is entitled "La Corne
d'or (Constantinople). Painted in 1907, it is an oil on canvas
that measures 35 by 45 3/4 inches. The catalogue describes it
as "A consummate work from thisperiod," it "bridges
Signac's earlier, theoretical understanding of Neo-Impressionism
with his more liberal application of its principles in his mature
period. Taking a cue here not only from Matisse but also from
the popular 'Byzantomania' that was then sweeping France, Signac
created a brightly harmonious seascape out of Oriental color and
Mediterranean light - a pictorial synopsis of his fertile and
far-ranging frame of mind in 1907."
The lot has a modest estimate of $5,000,000
to $7,000,000. It sold for $6,649,000.
Lot 20 is a strong and bold, but dark composition
of two girls walking by Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940). An oil on
canvas, it measures 31 1/2 by 25 18 inches and was executed circa
1891. While work's patterning and rear view of its subjects is
classic Vuillard, the painting has little sense of depth and its
"flatness" misses the warmth of sensual spaciousness
of the artist's best, and usually small, works. This lot has a
very ambitious estimate of $7,000,000 to $10,000,000. It sold
for $7,993,000, slightly over the artist's previous auction record
set at Christie's in New York in November, 1989.
The catalogue provides the following commentary:
"Fillettes se promenant is one
of the masterpieces of Edouard Vuillard's oeuvre, and an iconic
image of Post-Impressionist painting. Long part of the canon of
Nabi art, this painting combines the decorative qualities that
were most esteemed in the 1890s with the bright colors and abstract
forms that look forward to the abstraction of Matisse. Though
Vuillard is known for his small paintings of interiors and decorative
ensembles, Fillettes se promenant is rare in his oeuvre
for its mastery of color and form and for its scale. Works of
this synergy of subject and form seldom come on the market, and
remain iconic images not just for the artist but also for the
Lot 57 is a lovely, soft floral still-life
by Edouard Vuillard. An oil on board, it measures 9 1/4 by 9 7/8
inches and was painted circa 1910. It has a modest estimate of
$400,000 to $600,000. It sold for $481,000.
Lot 18 is a double-sided watercolor by Paul
Cézanne (1839-1906) that measures 13 3/8 by 20 1/2 inches
and was executed circa 1890. The side that depicts a forest is
classic Cézanne and one of his finest compositions. The
lot has a modest estimate of $700,000 to $1,000,000. It was once
owned by Henri Matisse. It sold for $713,000.
Lot 37 is a strong and very good painting by
Fernand Léger (1881-1955) (see The
City Review article on a Léger exhibition) that is
entitled "Les femmes à la toilette." An oil on
canvas, it measures 36 3/8 by 28 7/8 inches and was painted in
1920. The catalogue notes that it was "the penultimate work
in a rare and mportant sequence of eight canvases done in 1920,
half of which are now in museum collections, on the theme of a
woman seated at her boudoir table and looking into her mirror,
as he attends to her daily toilette." "The volubility
and plaufulness that one discovers in this painting, in its lively
amalgam of contrasting colors and forms, gives a strong indication
of how exhilarating and liberating it must have felt for Léger
to finally witness the end of the war," the catalogue entry
continued. The lot has an estimate of $9,000,000 to $12,000,000.
It sold for $10,121,000.
Lot 12 is a bare-chested female dancer by Kees
van Dongen (1877-1968). An oil on canvas that is entitled "Anita
en aimée," it measures 76 3/4 by 44 3/4 inches and
was painted in 1908. It is very lumimous and painterly but not
quite as fine as "Anita - La belle Fatima et sa troupe"
that is in a private collection and illustrated in the catalogue.
Van Dongen is an uneven artist but many of his bolder portraits
have recently skyrocketed in value. This lot has a very ambitious
estimate of $12,000,000 to $16,000,000. It failed to sell and
was passed at $10,400,000.
Lot 2 is a gay, little, untitled gouache by
Joan Miró (1893-1983). The work on paper measures 12 5/8
by 18 inches and was executed circa 1953. It has an estimate of
$800,000 to $1,200,000. It sold for $1,217,000.
Lot 51 is a strong portrait of the artist's
sister, Lola, by Pablo Picasso. An oil on panel, it measures 13
7/8 by 8 5/8 inches and was painted in 1901. It was formerly in
the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon of Virginia. It has
an estimate of $3,000,000 to $4,000,000. It failed to sell
and was passed at $2,700,000.
Lot 8 is a sweet and good portrait of Claude
and Paloma Picasso by Picasso. Painted in 1954, it is an oil on
canvas that measures 36 1/8 by 28 5/8 inches. It has an estimate
of $7,000,000 to $10,000,000. It sold for $8,889,000.
Lot 34 is a very beautiful gouache, watercolor,
pen and India ink drawing on paper of Dora Maar, Picasso's lover,
in 1943. It measures 25 3/4 by 19 7/8 inches. It has a conservative
estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000. It sold for $1,105,000.
Lot 6 is a strong and pleasant portrait by
Henri Matisse (1869-1954) of Lydia Delectorskaya, one of his models
who would subsequently be depicted by the artist as an odalisque
in Oriental garb and therefore more colorful costumes. It is an
oil on canvas that measures 35 7/8 by 23 1/2 inches and was painted
in 1935. It has an ambitious "estimate on request."
It sold for $22,441,000.
Lot 35 is a rather charming oil sketch by Matisse
of a girl with an open book beside a table covered with a gray
cloth. It measures 21 1/4 by 25 1/2 inches and was executed in
1919. It has an estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000. It failed
to sell and was passed at $3,600,000.
Lot 30 is a 18 1/8-by-24-inch pastel on paper
by Henri Matisse. Entitled "La Danceuse," it was executed
in 1927. While the composition is nicely decorative, the figure's
face is less than perfect and the gray tutu is a bit drab and
Matisse's great vibrancy is missing. It has an ambitious estimate
of $8,000,000 to $12,000,000. It sold for $8,441,000.
Although Giacometti is famous
for his lanky and knobby statues of thin figures, his early abstract
sculptures are much, much better as evidenced by this very refined
and lovely 16 1/4-inch high plaster sculpture that was created
in 1929. According to the catalogue entry, "He modeled the
head of the man like a small bowl, echoing the concave form he
derived from African tribal art and had employed on a large scale
in Spoon Woman, 1926-1927. The brace-like diagonal elements
within the frame as the man's angled arms. The presence of the
window-like lattice creates an ambitious formal context with pyschological
implications: Giacometti has divested the figure of its customary
free-standing status and placed it within this rigid, grid-like
structure, which may be perceived as either supporting or confining
the body withi in it."
The lot has a very conservative
estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000. It sold for $3,625,000.
Lot 36 is a 107 7/8-inch-high bronze statue
of a standing woman by Alberto Giacometti. It was cast in 1960.
It has an "estimate on request." It sold for $27,581,000,
shattering the artist's previous world auction record of $18,520,000
set at Christie's in New York last May.
Lot 32 is a group of five thin, standing bronze
figures by Alberto Giacometti on a 25 1/2-inch-long base. The
work was executed in 1949 and has "an estimate on request."
It sold for $14,601,000.
Lot 41 is a good grisaille painting on canvas
of a standing man by Alberto Giacometti. It measures 21 1/2 by
18 inches and was painted circa 1950. It has an estimate of $2,500,000
to $3,500,000. It sold for $2,841,000.
Lot 15, "Eve, grand modèle-version
sans rocher," a bronze sculpture by Auguste Rodin (1849-1917),
sold for $18,969,000, smashing the artist's previous auction record
of $9,114,624 set at Sotheby's in London last June. The 68 1/8-inch-high
sculpture was cast in 1897 and had an estimte of $9,000,000 to
Lot 33, "La caresse des étoiles,"
an oil on canvas by Joan Miró, sold for $17,065,000, just
surpassing the artist's previous world auction record of $16,673,650
set last December.
Lot 45 is a very fine portrait of a young woman
by Berthe Morisot (1841-1895). An oil on canvas, it measures 21
5/8 by 18 inches and was painted in 1871. It has an estimate of
$1,200,000 to $1,600,000. It failed to sell and was passed
Lot 52, a bronze sculpture of a tiger by
Rembrandt Bugatti (1885-1916), sold for $$2,617,000 setting a
new world auction record for the artist.
Lot 33, "La caresse des étoiles,"
by Joan Miró (1893-1983), had an estimate of $12,000,000
to $16,000,000. An oil on canvas that measures 23 3/4 by 28 7/8,
it was painted in 1938. It sold for $17,065,000, a new auctio
record for the artist.
In a statement released after the auction,
Marc Porter, president of Christie's Americas, said that "We
saw very strong prices in many areas this evening as the global
market responded positively, and we are pleased with the overall
result for the sale. Christie's set new auction records for major
masters, and it was particularly gratifying to note sculpture
continued its ascent in the marketplace, and now commands prices
equivalent to great pictures."