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