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Impressionist & Modern Art Auction

Sotheby's

7 PM, May 5, 2009

Sale 8546

"Rowboats at Asgardstrand" by Munch

Lot 6, "Rowboats at Åsgårdstrand," by Edvard Munch, oil on canvas, 39 1/4 by 29 1/2 inches, circa 1932-3

By Carter B. Horsley

The Spring 2009 major art auction season kicks off with considerable trepidation as a result of the fiscal crisis that started last fall with this Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Sotheby's May 5, 2009.

Estimates are markedly lower, the number of offered lots significantly reduced and catalogues smaller and scarce.

Uncertainty is the byword, but surprisingly both Sotheby's and Christie's have managed to come up with a lot of good art.

The highlight of this auction is Lot 6, "Rowboats at Åsgårdstrand," by Edvard Munch (1863-1944), a superb, bold composition with a very, very bright palette. An oil on canvas, it measures 39 1/4 by 29 1/2 inches and was executed circa 1932-1933.

The catalogue entry for the painting notes that it "epitomizes Munch's life-long fascination with the sea, one of the central subjects and key symbols of his work." "Just as the German Expressionist artists often ventured away from the city to the Baltic coast, Munch painted many of his major works, including his pivotal Frieze of Life, on the Oslo Fjord at Åsgårdstrand and Hvitsten. While his early landscapes usually mirror the artist's mood, often with somber or mystical undertones, his later treatment of this genre is a colorful celebration of nature and its power. In Rowboats at Åsgårdstrand the undulations of the water rippling against the boats and port evoke the eternal rhythm of the sea. Rowboats at Åsgårdstrand depicts the jetty of Åsgårdstrand with the Kjøsterud building in the background, a backdrop Munch used in many compositions throughout his career, including the celebrated Girls on the Bridge of 1901 and its subsequent versions. Thirty years after painting the first of this series, Munch applies the same technique of elementary simplification which he employed for earlier landscapes. The artist portrays the pier as a sharp diagonal line which extends to meet the horizontal stretch of land on the shore. The angular lines of the pier, houses and boats are softened by the fluid masses of the linden trees. Ragna Stang interprets the artist's revisiting of previous themes: "The composition is the same as before, but the colors are new, and far stronger. Although some of the emotional element is missing, his later pictures still have a great deal of power. He was not painting merely to replace works that he had sold, nor to provide carbon copies of earlier versions, but rather to make sure that he did not stray from his original intentions. Perhaps he also wanted to provide some justification for not having followed contemporary fashion and painted 'apples on a tablecloth, or a broken violin" (Ragna Stang, Edvard Munch, New York, 1979, p. 273). Alongside Van Gogh, Munch was the key pioneer of Expressionism whose influence on the course of modern art cannot be overstated. Both artists make use of the landscape as a vehicle to express inner states of being. In depicting nature in a highly individual, internalized manner, Munch draws on the tradition of stemningsmaleri, or 'mood-painting', characteristic of Nordic art towards the end of the nineteenth century. Munch abandoned the plein-air naturalism, which had dominated Norwegian landscape painting, in favor of an emotionally-charged and resonant vision of nature. "One must paint from memory," Munch proclaimed. "Nature is merely the means. They want the painter to transmit information simply as if he were the camera. Whether or not a painting looks like that landscape is beside the point. Explaining a picture is impossible. The very reason it has been painted is because it cannot be explained any other way [...] If one wishes to paint that first pale blue morning atmosphere that made such an impression, one cannot simply sit down, stare at each object and paint them exactly as one sees them. They must be painted as they were when that motif made such a vivid impression" (quoted in Sue Prideaux, Edvard Munch: Behind the Scream, London, 2005, p. 201). Munch first visited Åsgårdstrand, a resort a few miles to the south of Oslo, in the autumn of 1888. He took a holiday residence there in the summer of 1889, which he rented for some years until he purchased a house in 1897. In the following years, Munch traveled widely across Europe, making extended visits to Berlin, Paris and Hamburg, but often returned to Åsgårdstrand during the summer months. He painted his Frieze of Life there, characterized by his expressive winding line, distorted perspective and non-naturalistic colors that would ultimately inspire the Fauves in France and Expressionists in Germany and Austria. "The countryside around the little town of Åsgårdstrand near the west bank of the Oslo Fjord held an exceptional place in Munch's art. Munch was familiar with all of Asgardstrand's features: the gently undulating coastline, the large crowns of the linden trees, and the white fences which materialized like fluorescent bands in the summer night. After several summer holidays there, he was able to immerse himself in the essence of the place in a way which made it a reflection of his own inner landscape, while simultaneously expressing the moods and feelings of an entire generation" (Marit Lande in Edvard Munch, The Frieze of Life (exhibition catalogue), The National Gallery, London, 1992, p. 54)."

The lot has a very conservative estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000, especially given its luminosity, painterliness, size and the fact that the major place of honor at the Sotheby's May 6, 2008 Impressionist & Modern Art auction was taken by Lot 25, "Girls on a Bridge," by Munch (see The City Review article on a Munch exhibition), a very colorful, stunning and dramatic 1902 painting. It measured 39 3/4 by 40 3/8 inches and had an estimate of $24,000,000 to $28,000,000 and was formerly in the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Norton Simon and the Wendell and Dorothy Cherry Collection and sold for $30,841,000 including the buyer's premium, a record for the artist at auction. Even though "Girls on a Bridge was somewhat larger and had figures on the bridge, it was not as painterly and dramatic as this year's Munch. This Munch sold for only $1,986,500!

The auction offered 36 lots and Simon Shaw, the head of Sotheby's Impressionist & Modern Art department in New York, remarked after the sale, that there were some positive aspects to it and some disappointments. Among the positives he cited was the fact that 80.6 percent of the lots sold, a low figure historically but given the anxiousness about the fiscal crisis not an unimpressive showing as the auction house was filled and that there was some spirited bidding andclearly buyers were out there." He added that some of the offered works were not new to the market, adding that those that were "fresh" and had "attractive estimates
based on a "recalibration" of the market" fared well.

The sale total was only $61,3760,500 including the buyers' premiums as compared with pre-sale estimates of $81,500,000 to $118,800, down substantially from the May 7, 2008 auction when 78.8 percent of the 54 offered lots sold for $235,333,000, "comfortably" in the middle of the pre-sale estimates of $203,900,000 to $280,100,000.

"La fille de l'artiste a deux arns" by Picasso

Lot 15, "La Fille de l'Artiste à Deux Ans et Demi Avec Un Bateau," by Pablo Picasso, oil on canvas, 28 3/4 by 21 1/4 inches, 1938

Lot 15 is an extremely pretty and very painterly oil on canvas by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) of his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Maya, holding a boat. The painting, which is the cover illustration of the auction catalogue, measures 28 3/4 by 21 1/4 inches and was painted in 1938. It has a very ambitious estimate of $16,000,000 to $24,000,000. It passed at $12,250,000!

"Painted only months after he had finished his harrowing Guernica," the catalogue entry for this lot remarked, "this picture clearly evidences that Maya was a great source of joy in Picasso's life, even on the eve of the Second World War. Maya was the daughter of Picasso's young mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter, born in secrecy in 1935 while Picasso was still married to Olga. The baby girl presented new and delightful artistic challenges for her father, as Maya once explained in a reminiscence: "I was to bring something new to his interpretation of a child: I was a girl. From one point of view it was marvelous – a child he had had with Marie-Thérèse, a daughter, the worst woman in a man's life apart from his mother – the impossible mistress! He had to find a way of seducing this little goddess!" (quoted in Werner Spies, ed., Picasso's World of Children, New York, 1991, p. 60). Picasso's palette for this picture captures the liveliness and playfulness of Maya's nursery. For the background he has chosen a robin's egg blue, which he also uses for the highlights of her blonde hair. He depicts her holding a favorite toy boat, which features in other portraits from this time, and a colorful pinwheel in her chubby hand. Although her face is depicted with the Surrealist distortion that was common in Picasso's pictures of Dora Maar and Marie-Thérèse from this era, her body is distinctly that of a child.'With a dab of color, a particular gesture, or the placing of a foot, he was able to capture the character of each of us' Maya remembers. 'I, for example, am rather a fidget, and some portraits of me show me with arms and legs as if dislocated through such agitation. That's how I was then. That's how I am still.'....The playful essence of Picasso's daughter, who was a constant presence in his studio, has been captured in this bold composition. While her father worked on the large canvas for Guernica, Maya would innocently pat her hands on the surface, recognizing the distinguishable profile of her mother in the faces of the anguished victims of the massacre. Maya, in fact, bore many of the physical characteristics of Marie-Thérèse, and Picasso preserved those features in his portraits of the toddler....Portraiture captured Picasso's imagination perhaps more than any other subject in his oeuvre. These canvases were a means for him to express any given emotion, be it his passion for Marie-Thérèse, his resentment towards Olga or his adoration for his children. In fact, it is in Picasso's portraits of his children - Paulo, Maya, Paloma and Claude - that we see the artist at his most joyous and content, and his depictions of children at play are perhaps the most exuberant of all of his canvases. It was no secret that Picasso revered childhood, and in his art he attempted to capture the spirit and freedom that usually eludes adults. Playing with his children presented him with an opportunity to reclaim his lost youth, and his portraits of them were extensions of that cherished playtime....As was the case for his favorite portraits of family members, this stunning picture remained in Picasso's collection until his death in 1973. After that, it was inherited by Maya's niece, Marina, the daughter of her half-brother Paulo."

"Le Chat" by Giacometti

Lot 12, "Le Chat," by Alberto Giacometti, bronze, 31 1/2 inches long, cast in 1959

The estimate for Picasso's portrait of Maya is matched by the estimate for Lot 12, "Le Chat," a bronze sculpture by Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966), 31 1/2 inches long, conceived in 1951 and cast in an edition of 8 plus one cast for the Fondation Maeght. This bronze. which is the illustration of the rear cover of the auction catalogue, was cast in 1959. It, too, was a major casualty of the evening as it failed to sell and was passed at $14,750,000.

Other casts of Le Chat are in major public collections including The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; the Fondation Marguerite et Aimé Maeght, Saint-Paul-de-Vence; The Berggruen Museum in Berlin, and the Stiftung Alberto Giacometti in Zürich.

In a May 3, 2009 article in The New York Times Carol Vogel described this lot as "one pricey cat," noting that "it is being sold by an unidentified Swedish collector who bought it in the 1960s." She also wrote that "earlier this year, dealers say, Sotheby's tried to sell the sculpture privately for a higher price," adding that "Whether this will be catnip for collectors is anyone's guess. A second cat from the same edition is reumored to be for sale privately in New York."

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Giacometti's Le Chat is one of the most recognizable and profound compositions of his post-war production. Slinking along, with its body in perfect alignment, this graceful creature possesses an elegance akin to the artist's elongated female nudes. Giacometti was fascinated by the dexterity and anatomical pliancy of the animal, which in its very nature embodies the illusionistic properties of so many of his narrow busts and standing figures. "A cat is narrow and can pass between two very close objects," Giacometti once marveled, holding his hands about five centimeters apart. The cat's physical elusiveness was also fascinating to the Existentialists, which made Giacometti's cat all the more relevant when it was created in 1951. Observing how the animal could defy the boundaries of form and space, the writer Jean Genet once observed that Giacometti's sinewy cat could even "pass through a mouse hole" and that "his rigid horizontality perfectly recreates the form of a cat, even when curled up in a ball" (J. Genet, L'Atelier d'Alberto Giacometti,1958, reprinted in Alberto Giacometti, sculptures, peintures, dessins (exhibition catalogue), Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 1991, p. 232, translated from the original French)....Referring to its companion sculpture Le Chien, Giacometti told the writer Jean Genet: "The dog is myself. One day I saw it like that in the street. I was that dog" (quoted in ibid., p. 50). Similarly, the image of the cat can be interpreted as a symbolic representation of the artist himself and, in a wider context of the post-war period, as a reflection of the lonely and vulnerable human condition, a theme that very much preoccupied the artist at this time. In its treatment of the animal's body, Le Chat is closely related to Giacometti's lean, wiry figures that reached their apex during this period. In the years after the Second World War his figures, both human and bestial, were reduced to their essential form, displaying an austerity that embodies the artist's existentialist concerns. This sentiment is perhaps most powerfully expressed in Giacometti's image of a falling man, L'Homme qui chavire. Both Le Chat and L'Homme qui chavire were executed at the beginning of the artist's mature period, when his work was impacted by interactions with the prominent intellectuals of post-war Paris. Most notable among them was the Existentialist writer Jean-Paul Sartre, whom Giacometti had met in 1939. After the war, the two men engaged in long discussions about the philosophical dilemmas of existence in the modern world. Along with Samuel Beckett and Albert Camus, Giacometti incorporated these Existentialist concerns into his art....It was in 1951, the year he executed Le Chat, that Giacometti had his first solo exhibition at Galerie Maeght, Paris. The show, which included the plaster cast of Le Chat, was a tremendous success and helped propel Giacometti to his status as one of the foremost avant-garde artists working in Paris....Writing about his personality and his disregard for conventions, Bernard Lamarche-Vadel recounted an anecdote: when asked whether in a burning house, he would save a painting by Rembrandt or a cat, Giacometti said that he would save the cat, an answer that reflects his personality better than any analysis (B. Lamarche-Vadel, op. cit., p. 143). It is this sense of humanity, coupled with the philosophical undertones that marked this era, that is so powerfully embodied in this work."

"Composition in Black and White, with Double Lines" by Mondrian

Lot 10, "Composition in Black and White, with Double Lines," by Piet Mondrian, oil on canvas, 23 3/8 by 23 3/4 inches, 1934

Lot 10 is a black-and-white abstraction by Piet Mondrian (1872-1944). Entitled "Composition in Black and White, with Double Lines," it is a 1934 oil on canvas that measures 23 3/8 by 23 3/4 inches. It is property from the collection of Eugene J. Lux and Gizella Lux. It has an estimate of $3,000,000 to $5,000,000. The artist created the work's frame in which the painting projects forward with the white liners receding. As now offered, the painting and its original artist's frame are set, rather tastefully, within another white frame. The framing adds a dimension of depth that is not usually present in Mondrian's abstractions, many of which are highlighted however with a bright primary color. The painting has been on loan to the Dallas Museum of Art from 1967 to this year. The lot sold for $9,266,500, the highest price achieved at the auction.

"Jeune Femme à L'Ombrelle" by Renoir

Lot 3, "Jeune Femme à L'Ombrelle," by Pierre-August Renoir, oil on canvas, 13 by 10 1/2 inches, 1868

Lot 3 is a fine small sketch of a young lady with an umbrella by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919). An oil on canvas, it measures 13 by 10 1/2 inches and was painted in 1968. The painting was once in the collection of Alphonse Kann of Paris. "This picture once belonged to the esteemed collection of Jules Strauss, a successful Parisian banker with a taste for high-quality Impressionist art," the catalogue noted, adding that "During the 1920s, Strauss's collection of Renoirs, Monets and Manets was one of the most prestigious in France."

"Jeune femme à l'ombrelle was painted in 1868," the catalogue entry continued, "during Renoir's first involvement with the Impressionist group. It was around this time that the artist began experimenting with painting en plein air, preferring the freshness of natural light to the staid atmosphere of his studio. This technique presented a departure from the traditional, academic practice of painting from sketches and depictions of interiors, and it launched Renoir and his fellow Impressionists into the forefront of the avant-garde. With its quick, spontaneous brush-strokes depicting a young woman in nature, the present work is a fine example of the aesthetic that would come to define Impressionist painting of the 1870s and 1880s. The model who posed for this composition was Lise Tréhot (1848-1922), who appeared in several of Renoir's pictures during this era."

Although Renoir painted an awful lot of awful small pictures or studies, he was capable of producing bravura works of brushwork as is the case with this lovely work that has a modest estimate of $700,000 to $900,000. It sold for $1,142,000.


"Claude Monet et Mme Henriot" by Renoir

Lot 2, "Claude Monet et Mme. Henriot," by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, oil on canvas, 21 3/8 by 28 3/4 inches, 1880

Lot 2 is another very lovely work by Renoir that depicts his Impressionist colleague, Claude Monet, and "Mme. Henriot" rowing in a long boat. An oil on canvas, it measures 21 3/8 by 28 3/4 inches and was painted in 1880. It is a very impressionistic work with particularly fine brushwork in its lower half and it is a strong and bold composition with the yellow rowboat slightly angled in the middle of the composition stretching nearly the full width of the picture.

"A leisurely Claude Monet and the stage actress Mme Henriette Henriot are the subjects of Renoir's plein-air composition," the catalogue entry notes, adding that "Renoir and Monet were considered the pillars of the Impressionist movement, and by 1880, the two artists were ready to leave the group officially and exhibit their work on their own. Renoir received numerous portrait commissions that year, resulting in his much-celebrated depictions of Mademoiselle Irene Cahen D'Anvers and the Grimprel children. The present composition, however, is a departure from Renoir's commercial pursuit and demonstrates the artist's pleasure for painting for its own sake. Selecting two of his friends as models, he sets the scene amidst a swirl of greens, blues and blacks, while using a pink ground to convey the effect of the golden afternoon light reflecting off the water. It was not unusual for Renoir to seek out models among his friends and acquaintances. Mme Henriot, an actress from the Théatre de l'Odéon, appeared in several of the artist's paintings in the 1870s, most famously in the eponymous portrait that is now in the collection of the National Gallery in Washington, D.C."

The lot has a conservative estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It sold for $3,218,000.


"Voilier Sur Le Petit Bras de la Seine, Argenteuil" by Monet

Lot 18, "Voilier Sur Le Petit Bras de la Seine, Argenteuil," by Claude Monet, oil on canvas, 20 1/8 by 25 inches, 1872

One of the auction's highlights is a group of three Impressionist paintings from the H. O. Havemeyer Collection, the best of which is Lot 18, "Voilier Sur Le Petit Bras de la Seine, Argenteuil," by Claude Monet (1840-1926). An oil on canvas, it measures 20 1/8 by 25 inches and was painted in 1872. It was bought by Mr. and Mrs. Havemeyer from Durand-Ruel in Paris in 1901 and was acquired in 1929 by descent in the family by Adaline Havemeyter Frelinghuysen of Morristown, N.J. It was exhibited in the "Splendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection" in 1993 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where it was on loan from 1994 to this year. It ha a very modest estimate of $1,200,000 to $1,800,000. It sold for $3,498,500.

"Voilier sur le petit bras de la Seine, Argenteuil, created at the dawning of the Impressionist movement in the early 1870s, is one of Monet's first major landscapes of his new home, just outside of Paris. Argenteuil was famous for its annual regatta," the catalgoue entry declared, "and Monet took full advantage of the town's nautical resources to depict scenes of sailboats on the Seine....The present work, painted in 1872, was one of Monet's first major compositions depicting the theme of boats on the water. Monet devoted several canvases to the subject in the early 1870s, most famously in his renowned Le Havre composition, Impression, soleil levant, which would launch the avant-garde movement named after a derivative of that painting's title. For his execution of Voilier sur le petit bras de la Seine, Argenteuil, Monet chose a location along the Seine known as the Petit Bras, literally a small arm or tributary of the river that encircled the island of Marante. The view here is nearly identical to one that Monet painted in the spring of 1872, leading Daniel Wildenstein to conclude that the present canvas must have been mistakenly dated by the artist at a later point. In both pictures, we are looking towards Bezons with the Colombes bank on the left and the Ile Marante in the foreground. This was a favorite spot for Monet to paint, and it is one of three particular locations, including the wide river basin and the heavily trafficked boat rental area, that figure into Monet's pictures of Argenteuil during the 1870s....As was characteristic of his best Impressionist landscapes, Monet painted Voilier sur le petit bras de la Seine, Argenteuil on location, setting up his easel along the banks of the river in order to capture the fleeting effects of light and shadow glistening on the surface of the water."

"The masterpieces amassed by Henry O. and Louisine Waldron Elder Havemeyer in the late 19th and early 20th centuries," the catalogue remarked, " stand as one of the most historically signficiant and prestigious collections of Impressionist t. The Havemeyers acquired their first work of art in 1875, when Louisine was persuaded by her friend Mary Cassatt to purchase Edgar Degas' Répétition de Ballet at a time when the artist's work was not nearly as renowned as it is today....Their collection revealed a bold passion for works of the artists that today are considered the pillars of the Impressionist movement and the foundation for the Modern movement that followed....Follpwing Louisine Havemeyer's death in 1929, over one thousand works from the esteemed collection were bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art while a selection of other works were chosen by their three children to remain in the family."

Early in his career, Mr. Havemeyer was president of the Long Island Railroad and would subsequently head the American Sugar Refining Company and the American Coffee Company. He divorced his first wife, Mary Louise Elder, and in 1883 married her niece, Louisine Elder.

"Inondation à Pontoise" by Pissarro

Lot 20, "Inondation à Pontoise," by Camille Pissaro, oil on canvas, 21 1/4 by 25 5/8 inches,1882

Another of the Havemeyer paintings in the auction is Lot 20, "Inondation à Pontoise," by Camille Pissarro (1831-1903). An oil on canvas, it measures 21 1/4 by 25 5/8 inches and was executed in 1882. It has an modest estimate of $900,000 to $1,200,000. It sold for $2,994,500.

"La Vallée de la Seine aux Damps,Jardin d'Octave Mirbeau" by Pissarro

Lot 1, "La Vallée de la Seine aux Damps, Jardin d'Octave Mirbeau," by Camille Pissarro, oil on canvas, 25 5/8 by 36 5/8 inmches, 1892

An even lovelier and more Impressionist work by Pissarro is Lot 1, "La Vallée de la Seine aux Damps, Jardin d'Octave Mirbeau," an oil on canvas that measures 25 5/8 by 36 5/8 inches. It was painted in 1892 and is property of a private collector. It has a modest estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It sold for $2,546,500.

The Impressionist landscapes were at the start of the sale and did well although it is interesting that the finest one, the Argenteuil landscape by Monet, was far better than the rest.

"Portrait of Marjorie Ferry" by Lempicka

Lot 24, "Portrait de Marjorie Ferry," by Tamara de Lempicka, oil on canvas, 39 3/8 by 25 5/8 inches, 1932

This season Sotheby's is auctioning 10 paintings by Tamara de Lempicka (1898-1980) from the collection of Wolfgang Joop, a fashion designer. Four are in this auction and six are in the day auction. Christie's happens to be offering only two paintings by Lempicka this season (see The City Review article) and that adds up to a heck of a lot of Lempickas to swallow in a fell swoop.

The highlight of this group is Lot 24, "Portrait of Marjorie Ferry, a 1932 oil on canvas that measures 39 3/8 by 25 5/8 inches. It has an estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000. It sold for $4,898,500, setting an auction record for the artist.

Although Lempicka was exhibited in 1932 at the Tuileries in Paris and the Galerie du Luxembourg in Paris in 1972, her fame in the Depression era faded quite a bit until the Royal Academy of Arts in London and the Kunstforum Wien in Vienna gave her an exhibition in 2004-5.

The catalogue provides the followig commentary about this painting:

"...this sultry portrait exemplifies the sleek and sexy aesthetic that defined Lempicka's art. The model is the English-born Marjorie Ferry, a cabaret singer living in Paris, whose financier husband commissioned this portrait at the beginning of the Great Depression. Lempicka transforms Ferry here into a modern-day goddess, cloaked in marble-crisp drapery in front of a Doric column. Although loosely tied to the geometric aesthetic of Cubism and the proportionality of neo-Classicism, Lempicka's painting, characterized by its razor-sharp draftsmanship, theatric lighting and sensual modelling, was unlike that of any artist of her day. Her most striking portraits, including Portrait of Marjorie Ferry, have come to personify the age of Art Deco. In Portrait de Marjorie Ferry, every curve of the figure's flesh is rendered with imperceptible brushstrokes. Her skin appears to be incandescent as if she is bathed in silver moonlight, and her hair glows with a metallic sheen. Lempicka was receptive to the influence of her colleagues in Weimar Germany, and she readily incorporated the hyper-realism of Neue Sachlichkeit into her own work. But it was her love of the precision and classicism of the Italian Renaissance that had the most profound impact on her compositions. Lempicka frequently acknowledged her indebtedness to the Italian Old Masters and how their style profoundly impacted her art: "I discovered Italy when I was a youngster and my grandmother took me away from the cold climate of Poland, where I was born and lived, to take me to the sunny cities of Florence, Rome, Naples, Venice and Milan. It was under her attentive guidance that my eyes took in the treasures of the Italian old masters, from the Quattrocento, the Renaissance" (quoted in Alain Blondel, Tamara de Lempicka, Lausanne, 1999, p. 22). While much has been written about Lempicka's reverence for the old masters, equally important to her as an artist were the aesthetic forces of her era, the most influential of which was the American film industry. Lempicka was enthralled with the mystique of Hollywood, eventually moving there in the 1940s with her second husband, Baron Kuffner. She invited film crews to her studio in Paris, where she staged grand entrances and posed for pictures with all the theatricality and panache of a silent film star. One oft-repeated anecdote is that Lempicka was thrilled to be mistaken once for the film actress Greta Garbo. The artist was enamored by this type of modern glamour, and it is no accident that the models in her portraits often resemble film icons from the early days of Hollywood. This platinum bombshell, trailing her bejeweled fingers along a balustrade as she casts a knowing glance over her bare shoulder, calls to mind such 1930s silver-screen legends like Garbo or Carole Lombard."

"Portrait de Mademoiselle Poum Rachou" by Lempicka

Lot 27, "Portrait de Mademoiselle Poum Rachou," by Tamara de Lempicka, oil on canvas, 36 1/4 by 18 1/4 inches, 1933

A smaller but even better Lempicka is Lot 27, "Portrait de Mademoiselle Poum Rachou," a 1933 oil on canvas that measures 356 1/4 by 18 1/4 inches. It has an estimate of $1,800,000 to $2,500,000. It sold for $2,994,500. This painting should have been owned by Marilyn Monroe during her "Seven Year Itch" period of skirts akilter by updrafts from subway vents. The catalogue notes that "One can readily see the geometric basis of the composition, especially the cylindrical limbs of the stuffed bear and the repetitive spirals of the little girl's ringlets. Lempicka also invests the composition with a distinct sense of motion, positioning the girl in mid-step and billowing her dress as if it is blown by a gust of wind from the left."

"Femme et oiseau" by Miró

Lot 30, "Femme et oiseau," by Joan Miró, painted bronze, 102 3/8 inches high

Lot 30, "Femme et oiseau," by Joan Miró (1893-1983), is an amusing painted bronze, 102 3/8 inches high, which was conceived in 1967 and cast during the artist's lifetime in a numbered edition from 0-4 and a nominative cast for the Fondation Maeght. It has an estimate of $1,250,000 to $1,750,000. It sold for $1,314,500. The catalogue explains that "the red ball represents feminity and fertility" and that "the beak of the bird is represented by the green, cone-like element, and the pitchfork evokes the bird's wing or plume."


"Femmes et oiseau dans la nuit" by Miró

Lot 32, "Femmes et oiseau dans la nuit," by Joan Miró, oil on canvas, 9 1/2 by 13 inches, 1946

A work with a similar title, Lot 32, by Miró is much smaller but has a much larger estimate. Entitled "Femmes et oiseau dans la nuit," it is an oil on canvas that measures 9 1/2 by 13 inches. It was painted on October 16, 1946 and has an estimate of $3,000,000 to $4,000,000. It was passed at $2,700,000.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"When Miró painted this canvas in 1946, he was at the height of his international celebrity. The previous year, the New York dealer Pierre Matisse had exhibited the artist's famous wartime series of Constellations to critical praise. Demand for Miró's work in the United States had become so great that in August 1946 Matisse offered to purchase the artist's entire production of 1942-46 and agreed to finance him for the next two years. Better yet, Miró was invited to the United States to create what would be his first public commission - a mural for the Terrace Plaza Hotel in Cincinnati. What the public, 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. Miró was in fact responding to that very mood, and he expressed his determination to persevere in his art. "I am entirely committed to risking it all," Miró had written to Matisse in June 1945. "Either I find a way to live like men of my age (fifty-two years) from the preceding generation - Picasso, Matisse, Braque - or I find a way to settle my debts...[and go] to live in Montroig, where I will continue to work with the same passion and enthusiasm as always - which constitutes a need for me and my reason for living....Excuse me for speaking to you in this tone, but life has been too hard for me these past years for me to do otherwise. I have to plan my future in a clear and courageous way, one that is worthy of my age" (quoted in Joan Miró (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1993, p. 337). Femmes et oiseau dans la nuit is one of the compositions which Pierre Matisse and the public found so refreshing in the aftermath of these hard times. This jewel-like picture is populated by Miró's Surrealist characters who are recognized easily for who they are - women cocooned by the night sky. Miró gave up his practice of assigning poetic or elusive titles to his pictures as he had done in the 1930s, and now he favored more straight-forward classifications for his work. Women, birds, stars and moons festooned these pictures, but the artist did not compromise his imaginative impulses when rendering these forms. In fact, it was these compositions from the the mid-1940s that would inspire the creative production of the Abstract Expressionist artist Arshile Gorky in New York. After his trip to America in 1947, Miró himself would respond to the style of the Abstract Expressionists and begin a series of large-formatted paintings. During these years he made a virtue of these small-formatted, intensely colorful canvases, with their splendor and precision."

"Frau Mit Blumen" by Beckmann

Lot 7, "Frau Mit Blumen (Woman with Flowers)," by Max Beckmann, oil on canvas, 31 3/4 by 23 5/8 inches, 1940

Lot 7 is a superb painting by Max Beckmann (1884-1950) of a women with flowers. An oil on canvas, it measures 31 3/4 by 23 5/8 inches and was painted in 1940. It is a very striking and painterly composition in which a wooden door is angled at the right side of the painting and large flowers in a clear glass bowl dominated the center of the painting in front of an oval mirror with a very yellow frame while at the left of the painting a red-haired woman is reading through a broadly spaced black veil. This is one of Beckmann's finest works. It has a conservative estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. It failed to sell and was passed at $2,200,000!

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Beckmann and his wife Quappi came to Amsterdam from Berlin on July 19, 1937, the same day that the infamous 'Degenerate Art' exhibition opene3d at the Kunsthaus in Munich. Their relocation was one of political necessity, as the avant-garde Beckman nn was already being singled - out by authorities as a potentially subversive presence within the Reich. The artist was constantly ill at ease during the ten years he spent in Amsterdam, where his gruff countenance and thick German accent were considered off-putting by his wary Dutch neigbhors. But what he mightave lacked in satisfying experiences, Beckmann made up for in his art. Before moving to the United States in 1947, the artist summed up his time in Holland in a letter to his friend, Stephan Lackner: 'May I report about myself that I have had a truly gruesome time, full to the brim with work, Nazi persecutions, bombs, hunger and always again work - in spite of everthing.'"

The catalogue suggests that the painting may have been influenced by some of Vermeer's "letter" paintings.

The fact that the sale's "top lots" in terms of high estimates - the Picasso portrait of Maya and the cat sculpture by Giacommeti - failed to sell and the relative success of the Havemeyer landscapes to sell is not as surprising as the low relatively low price for the Munch and the passing of the Beckmann, two sensational paintings at fractional values, an indication that major collectors are letting masterpieces go begging or are just not connoisseurs. It was encouraging, however, that the two fine Renoirs did well, an indication that generalities and forecasts in this market are wobbly at best.

The good news is that none of the works had been consigned with a guarantee, leading Mr. Shaw to remark afterwards that the same was relatively "profitable."

 

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