By Carter B. Horsley
The evening sale of Impressionist
and Modern Art at Sotheby's May 7, 2008 has several masterpieces
included major works by Edvard Munch, Fernand Leger, Lyonel Feininger,
and Alberto Giacometti and good ones by Paul Signac, Henri Matisse,
Paul Signac, Vincent Van Gogh.
The major place of honor at
the auction's exhibition was taken by Lot 25, "Girls on a
Bridge," by Edvard Munch (1863-1944)(see The City Review article on a Munch exhibition), a very colorful, stunning and dramatic
1902 painting. It measures 39 3/4 by 40 3/8 inches and has what
is probably a modest estimate of $24,000,000 to $28,000,000. It
was formerly in the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Norton Simon and
the Wendell and Dorothy Cherry Collection. It sold for $30,841,000
including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this
article, a record for the artist at auction. 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.
Like Christie's the night
before, the auction was less than spectacular with only 78.8 percent
of the 54 lots selling for $235,333,000, "comfortably"
in the middle of the pre-sale estimates of $203,900,000 to $280,100,000,
Simon Shaw, the head of Sotheby's Impressionist & Modern Art
department in New York, remarked after the sale.
The bridge in the painting
is the same one in his "legendary" composition, "The
Scream." Other "bridge" paintings of somewhat lesser
quality are illustrated in the catalogue and are at the Nasjonalgalleriet
in Oslo and Bergen Billedgalleri and the catalogue notes that
the artist did a total of 12.
The catalogue provides a commentary
by Ranga Stang from her 1979 book, "Edvard Munch, The Man
and His Art":
"Munch makes use of a
handrail to accentuate the perspective - our eyes instinctively
follow it towards the landscape in the background, even though
we are unable to make out precisely where the railing ends and
the road, which leads past the large sleeping house into the small
town beyond, actually begins. The composition of this first version
shows clearly how Munch has applied the same technique of elementary
simplification that we have already seen in landscapes of the
period. He has achieved a perfect sense of equilibrium in the
way that the sharp diagonal of the handrail is matched by the
white horizontal line in the water below the swirling lines of
the shore. Munch specialized in the portrayal of still summer
nights, and in this painting he has succeeded, by the use of subtle
shades of pink, deep green and blue, in recapturing that mood
as never before, the whole effect being further enhanced by the
small, watery gold shape of the moon. Against this mellow and
restrained background, the green, red and white dresses of the
girls ring out as a fanfare of color, and we are reminded by the
of the question once posed by Christian Krohg: 'Has anyone ever
heard such resonant color...?"
In the lead article in the
Arts & Leisure section of the May 5, 2008 edition of The
New York Times, Carol Vogel reported that Wendell Cherry had
bought the painting for $2.8 million at Christie's in 1980 and
that Graham Kirkham, the founder of the DFS Furniture chain, bought
it at Sotheby's in 1996 for $7.2 million.
The cover illustration of this
auction's catalogue is Lot 16, "Etude Pour "La Femme
en Bleu," a 51-by-38-inch oil on canvas executed 1912-3 by
Fernand Léger. A beautiful painting, it has an ambitious
estimate of $35,000,000 to $45,000,000 as it is one of three versions.
It sold for $39,241,000, a record for the artist at auction,
to Doris Ammann, a dealer in Zurich.
The catalogue entry describes
it as "heroic," adding that "this spectacular imageis
one of the movement's most enduring achievements, and a milestone
on the path to abstraction." The first version of this work
is the same size and was kept by the artist in his private collection
until his death when it was given to the Musée National
Fernand Léger in Biot. The second version, which was the
largest, was included in the annual Salon in Paris and in the
Armory Show in New York in 1913 and eventually wound up inthe
Lot 11 is "Le Géranium,"
an oil on canvas by Henri Matisse (1869-1954). It is one of several
superb paintings in the auction from the estate of Catherine Gamble
Curran. It measures 17 7/8 by 21 5/8 inches and was executed in
The catalogue provides the
"Looking at this tranquil
subject and the resonant palette of purple, green and pink, it
is fascinating to consider that this composition dates from one
of the most inventive and turbulent peirods of Matisse's carrer.
Indeed, this lush depiction of a potted geranium was a truly avant-garde
picture when Matisse painted it in 1910 During this period, Matisse's
bold use of color and loose brushwork - remnants of Fauvism -
were now taken to new extremes in sharp contrast to the monochrome
tonality preferred by the Cubists."
The very beautiful work has
a very conservative estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. It
sold to Acquavella Galleries for $9,561,000.
One of the masterpieces in
the auction is Lot 15, "Umpferstedt III," by Lyonel
Feininger (1871-1956), an oil on canvas that measures 39 3/4 by
31 1/2 inches. In recent years, several large paintings by the
artists with his highly expressionistic street scenes with memorable
charactes have fetched fancy prices. This is just a monumental
Cubist work that is simply thrilling. It has a very conservative
estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It sold for $1,945,000.
It was executed in 1919 when he was invited by Walter Gropius
to be the head of the graphic workshop at the Bauhaus, the avant-garde
art school located in Dessau.
Lot 28 is a mild landscape
by Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) entitled "Environs de
Gardanne." An oil on canvas, it measures 23 by 28 1/4 inches
and was painted 1886-1890. It was once owned by Mrs. Charles Shipman
Payson of New York. It has an estimate of $6,000,000 to $8,000,000.
It sold for $10,457,000.
Lot 30 is an excellent riverscape
by Alfred Sisley (1839-1899) that is entitled "Le Pont de
Moret - Matin d'Avril." Executed in 1888, it is an oil on
canvs that measures 25 1/2 by 36 1/4 inches. It has an estimate
of $3,000,000 to $5,000,000. It sold for $3,625,000.
Lot 18 is a small but just
about perfect work by Joan Miró (1893-1983) that is entitled
"Femmes Dans La Nuit." An oil on canvas, it measures
13 3/4 by 10 5/8 inches and was executed in 1946.
The catalogue entry notes that
"The demand for Miró's work in the United States had
become so great that in August 1946 [New York dealer Pierre] Matisse
offered to purchase the artist's entire production of 1942-46
and to finance him for the next two years. Better yet, Miró
was invited to the Untied States to create what would be his first
public commisson - a mural for the Terrace Plaza Hotel in Cincinnati.
What the pubic, his dealer and his critics recognized in Miró's
paintings from this era was a certain zeal and optimism that was
in sharp contrast to the somber mood of post-war Europe."
"The modest size of the
present canvas...was typical of Miró's work form the wartime
era, when art supplies were limited. During these years he made
a virtue of thse small-formated, intensely colorful canvases,
with their jewel-like splendor and precision," the entry
The lot has an estimate of
$6,000,000 to $8,000,000. It sold for $6,761,000.
Another highlight of the auction
is Lot 9, a river scene in Asnieres, by Paul Signac (1863-1935)
that was painted in 1887. The suburb of Asnieres northwest of
Paris attracted several painters included the great Pointillist,
Georges Seurat, who completed his first major painting there,
and Vincent Van Gogh who also depicted the town's river. This
is a superb work with wonderful light and a fine composition.
It has an estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000. It sold for
$5,641,000. At the May 11, 1999 sale at Sotheby's it had a
very low estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000 and sold
for $1,800,000, not counting the buyer's premium.
Lot 33 is an excellent work
by Paul Signac entitled "Venise, La Douane de Mer."
Executed in1908, it is an oil on canvas that measures 25 3/4 by
32 inches. It has an estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000. It
is a superb example of the artist's "mosaic-like" brushwork.
It sold for $4,633,000.
There are several works by
Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) in the auction.
Lot 13 is an excellent painted plaster sculpture
by Alberto Giacometti, entitled "Composition Dite Cubiste
II." It is 15 5/8 inches high and was executed 1916-7. It
has a quite modest estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It
sold for $1,833,000.
In his 1985 biography of the artist, James
Lord discusses these plasters:
"About himself he learned that the solution
of such problems could not provide him with the kind of fulfillment
he sought. As he was often to say in years to come,what interested
him was not art but truth. Still, one regrets that he produced
only ten or twelve Cubist constructions, for they possess a bluff
beauty unlike any other works in Giacometti's production. The
juxtaposition of convex and concave, of angle and line, of inert
mass and animated space are so tensile and inventive that they
leave no questions as to Alberto's mastery of the Cubist idiom.
It was not an original expression, but with vigor and sincerity
he made something personal of it."
Indeed, as a work of art it is an exquisite
example of Cubist sculpture. It wa later cast in a bronze version.
Lot 55, "Buste de Diego," is a 15
1/2-inch high bust of Diego Giacometti that was cast in 1961 and
has an estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000. It failed to sell.
Another Giacometti sculpture is Lot 20, "Femme
de Venise VIII," a 48-inch high work cast in 1957. It has
a somewhat ambitious estimate of $8,000,000 to $12,000,000 as
the figure is a bit more "broad in the hip" than many
of his other scrawny, totemic figures. The present bronze is numer
4 of an edition of 6. It sold for $10,121,000.
Giacometti's paintings are more interesting
than his popular and much more famous knobby sculptures. Lot 23,
"Portrait de Caroline," is a superb example of his essentially
monochromatic and sketchy painting style. An oil on canvas, it
measures 51 1/4 by 35 inches and was executed circa 1963. It has
an estimate of $10,000,000 to $15,000,000. It sold for $14,609,000,
an auction record for a painting by the artist.
Caroline's maiden name, according to the catalogue,
was Yvonne Poiraudeau. The catalogue says she referred to the
artist as her "grisaille," but adds that in his biography
of the artist, James Lord states that he believed that "this
was Giacometti's nickname for Caroline." The couple met in
1959 at Chez Adrien, "one of the artist's frequent haunts
in Paris" and her "aloofness intrigued him as he chatted
with her until dawn." She was then 25 and he was 63. "He
adored the young woman, supposedly even turning down an evening
with Marlene Dietrich at her insistence," the entry states,
adding that "Over the next six years Caroline would become
a fixture in Giacometti's life, ever-present with him in the studio,
on the town, and finally at his deathbed."
Lot 14 is a delightful painted bronze sculpture
of a bird, entitled "La Grue," by Pablo Picasso (1881-1975).
It is 28 1/2 inches high and was cast in an edition of four, which
were separately painted, 1952-4. It was once in the collection
of David Wolper of Los Angeles. It has an estimate of $10,000,000
to $15,000,000. It sold for $19,193,000 to Doris Ammann.
The catalogue notes Picasso created his sculpture out of a shovel,
a piece of twisted wicker, two forks, a gas spigot and a spike,
all of which he set in plaster and then cast in bronze. It added
that "the present sculpture of an elegant crane was one of
the prized possessions that he kept in his home."
Lot 37 is a bright and energetic 1961-2 oil
on canvas by Picasso entitled "L'Atelier. It measures 29
3/8 by 36 1/4 inches and comes from the Raymond and Patsy Nasher
Collection. It has an estimate of $6,000,000 to $8,000,000. It
sold for $6,481,000.
Lot 42 is a pleasant, cool
oil on canvas by Picasso that is one of several versions he did
recalling Manet's famous painting, "Le Déjeuner sur
l'Herbe." Executed in 1961, it measures 51 1/4 by 38 1/4
inches and has an estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000. It
sold for $5,193,000.
Lot 35 is a 38 1/4-by-51 1/4-inch oil on canvas
by Pablo Picasso entitled "Le Baiser." It was executed
in 1969 and isproperty of the Raymond and Patsy Nasher Collection.
The catalogue entry states that it "is one of Picasso's boldest
and final interpretations of lovers in a passionate embrace. This
lot has a very ambitious estimate of $10,000,000 to $15,000,000
as it is not particularly beautiful or painterly and pales beside
a more colorful version done the same year in the collection of
the Musée Picasso in Paris and illustrated in the catalogue.
Some collectors should remember that Picasso was terribly prolific
and not a few as his works, such as this, are horrible! Nevertheless,
it did very well and sold for $17,401,000.
Lot 44 is a wild and crazy work entitled "Tableau
Autobiographique - ultratableau Biosensible," by Victor Brauner
(1903-1966). An oil, pen, pencil and wash on canvas, it measures
34 7/8 by 45 5/8 inches and was painted in 1948. It has an estimate
of $700,000 to $1,000,000. It sold for $993,000.