By Carter B. Horsley
The May 4, 2010 auction at
Christie's of Impressionist & Modern Art is highlighted by
the impressive collection of Mrs. Sidney F. Brody with a large
painting by Pablo Picasso, a fine self-portrait by Edouard Vuillard
(1868-1940), a marvelous still life by Georges Braque, a nice
painting by Henri Matisse, a gorgeous small work by James Ensor,
a very fine painting by Jean Metzinger, and an important sculpture
by Alberto Giacometti.
The auction also has many works
from other consignors including a large painting by Edvard Munch,
a striking floral still life by Gustave Caillebotte, and a good
nude by Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
Christopher Burge, honorary
chairman of Christie's and its lead auctioneer, has a long essay
in the special Brody catalogue about the Brody Collection:
"I was priviledged to
meet Frances Brody for the first time at her elegant Los Angeles
house, in the fall of 1978. The meeting began inauspiciously as
she was convinced, in spite of my letter of introduction, that
I was a jewelry specialist; and she had laid out her diamonds
on the dining table for my inspection. Once we had cleared this
awkward hurdle, she graciously took me through the house to admire,
as I did unreservedly, her magnificent paitings and sculpture.
I was, of course, well aware that some of the collection had been
sold a year earlier, in October 1977; indeed, I had attended the
auction at Parke-Bernet, which included, amongst many others,
important paitings by Matisse and Courbet, a gorgeous Tahitian
Gauguin fan and perhaps Modigliani's chef d'oeuvre, his
outsized portrait of Jeanne Hébuterne in a brilliant red
shawl. It was all the more astonishing, therefore, to find the
California house still replete with art of the greatest distinction.
Here was Picasso's erotic but tender love poem to Marie-Therese
Walter. Executed in the largest scale Picasso used at this time,
the Brody picture is one of a number of superb portraits of her
the artist made in 1932 when, having just turned fifty, he was
preparing for his major retrospective at the Galeries Georges
Petit in Paris. This is a tour de force even by Picasso's standards,
driven as he was to prove to the world that he was as creative
as ever at this age. One 'of the most memorable paintings of a
memorable series,' as John Richardson has written, it is a masterpiece
by any measure.
"Nearby hung another extraordinary
work of art: Matisse's Nu au coussin bleu of 1924, the
Michaelangelesque seated nude with her elbows raised behind her
head in a favorite pose, one used again bythe artist for a celebrated
lithograph of the identical subject and also for more of his most
important suclptures, the Grand nu assis. This was as good
a Matisse oil as any in a private American collection at the time.
"Every room revealed fruits
of sophisticated connoisseurship: Vuillard's striking early self-portrait,
for one; Ensor's charming small still life for another, a great
late Braque still life of 1954 is only now coming in to its own.
"And then there was the
sculpture: two of Giacometti's greatest bronzes, his Le Chat
(then prowling in the garden!) and his Grand tete mince, two inspired
acts of collecting confidence at the time of purchase; a beautifully
chosen array of Henry Moore at his very best, a perfect hand worked
Marini bronze of a horse and rider, fine works by Degas and Calder,
and not to be forgotten, the great Matisse ceramic tile composition,
La Gerbe, in the courtyard outide, the unifying force in this
harmonious synthesis of art and architecture.
"It was only later that
I learned of the 'dynastic' collecting tradition in the family,
initiated by Frances Brody's parents, Albert and Mary Lasker,
whose extraordinary Impressioist and Modern painting collection
was one of the finest in the United States."
Lot 14 is a muted circus scene
by Georges Roualt (1871-1958). An oil on paper laid down on board,
it measures 35 1/8 by 29 inches and was painted in 1942. It has
an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It sold for $314,500 including
the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article.
The Picasso is a very fine
painting from 1932 that measures 63 1/4 by 51 1/4 inches. It has
an estimate of $70,000,000 to $90,000,000. At a press preview,
Christie's officials were particularly upbeat about the Impressionist
& Modern Art market and in a lead article in the Sunday edition
of The New York Times prior to the auction Carol Vogel
predicted that some observers felt that the Picasso might very
well break the existing world auction record of about $104 million!
Well, Carol was pretty darn
close. It sold for $106,482,500, a world auction record for
Picasso and a world record for any work of art sold at auction!
At the news conference following
the auction, Mr. Burge said that the entire auction sales total
of $335 million was the third highest in the history of Christie's
in New York and the Brody section was the biggest single-owner
auction ever held in New York. "It was an incredibly exciting
night with an extraordinary range of prices," Mr. Burge declared,
adding that it was "very thrilling." "The market
is incredibly strong for really good works," he said.
Of the 69 offered lots,
56, or 81 percent, sold for a total of $335,548,000. The pre-sale
estimates were $262.7 million to $368 million. Americans and Europeans
each represented about 36 percent of the buyers.
Lot 9 is the small but very
beautiful oil on panel by James Ensor (1840-1949), the loveliest
work in the auction. Entitled "Nature More aux Bibelots,"
it measures 5 1/4 by 7 inches and was painted in 1937. It has
a modest estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It sold for $242,500.
It is property of The Collection of Mrs. Sidney F. Brody. "The
inxorable demons that ran rampant in Ensor's famously sardonic
and macabre paintings of the late 1880s and 1890s appear to have
been held at bay, and in place of an otrageously neurotic spectacle
there is now the moving experience of observing the elderly artist
as he finally relaxes in semi-quiescent acceptrance of the world,
and enjoys its simple, familiar pleasures, however ambivalent
and uneasy by nature he might remain. When the pesky devels come
out to play, Ensor enjoys a laugh at their shenanigans - a series
of grinning masks in profile appear along the right edge, while
in the background a couple of men leer at nude women in Nature
morte au bibelots.
Lot 2 is the large and handsome
still life by Georges Braque (1882-1963). An oil and sand on canvas,
it is entitled "La Treille" and is an oil and sand on
canvas. It is 51 1/4 inches square and was painted in 1953-4.
The catalogue entry notes that Braque was working in the 1950s
on landscapes of "startling simplicity" and "large
compositions of unsurpassed depth and complexity, which reveal
a profound visual poetry." The lot has an estimate of $3,000,000
to $5,000,000. It sold for $10,162,500, a world auction record
for the artist.
In 1951, Alberto Giacometti
(1901-1966) created two life-size sculptures of horses and one
of a cat, Lot 4, in plaster in one day. Unfortunately, he left
the large horse sculptures outside they dissolved in the rain.
The catalogue entry notes that the artist is reported to have
once remarked that "in a burning building, I would save a
cat before a Rembrandt." The lot has an ambitious estimate
of $12,000,000 to $18,000,000. It sold for $20,802,500.
Lot 30 is a bronze sculpture
of an arm by Alberto Giacometti that is 28 inches long and was
cast in 1948. It has an ambitious estimate of $10,000,000 to $15,000,000.
It sold for $25,842,500.
Lot 13 is a 25 1/2-inch high
bronze head by Giacometti that was cast in 1955 in 6 copies. It
has an ambitious estimate of $25,000,000 to $35,000,000. It
sold for $53,282,500. It is property from the collection of
Mrs. Sidney F. Brody.
The catalogue entry for Lot
1, Edouard Vuilllard's striking, small 1890 self-portrant notes
that art critic Stuart Preston once observed that the "vivid,
hallucinatory self-portrait" carries out "boldly and
simply, Gauguin's advice about eliminating superfluous detail
and empolying pure expressive color in boldly outlined areas,
decorative and arbitrary schemes with no more than perfunctory
reference to visual fact." The catalogue entry also notes
that "the radical pictorial and spatial experiments of Vuillard's
Nabi work may be seen to herald many of the most important artistic
developments of the modern era." The lot has an estimate
of $1,200,000 to $1,800,000. It sold for $2,658,500.
Lot 22, "Nu au coussin
blue," is a pleasant study of a nude in a chair by Henri
Matisse (1869-1954). An oil on canvas, it measures 28 1/3 by 23
3/4 inches and it was painted in 1924. It has an ambitious estimate
of $20,000,000 to $30,000,000. It sold for $15,090,500.
Lot 27 is a lovely small painting
of a woman with a big hat by Jean Metzinger (1883-1956). An oil
on canvas, it measures 17 5/8 by 14 1/2 inches. It was painted
in 1906-7. It has an estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000. It
sold for $1,650,500.
Lot 47, "Fertility,"
by Edvard Munch, (1863-1945) is an oil on canvas that measures
47 1/4 by 55 1/8 inches. It was painted in 1899-1900 and has been
widely pulished and exhibited. The catalogue states that the painting
is "an exceedingly rare masterpiece.
Tge catalogue entry provides
the following commentary:
"In 1898, Munch commenced
a relationship with Tulla Larsen, the beautiful daughter of a
wealthy Kristiania wine merchant....Unlike Munch, Tulla came from
the moneyed bourgeois class of Kristiania society. While at home
the Norwegian critics continued to attack him, Munch made a nomadic
progress across Eugope in the late 1890s, vacationing with Tulla
at fashionable spas as well as paying visits to sanitoriums. Tulla
seemed set on marriage and there are plans made for a ceremony,
although Munch later denied having played any role. Their tumultuous
affair was to end in 1902 with gunfire and the lost of part of
the artist's finger. For Munch, Tulla seems to have represented
the role of an 'earth mother,' a primal force of nature who whom
reproduction is a raison d'etre. Wriiting, surely with Tulla in
mind, around 1900, Munch said, 'It is an unhappy event when an
earth mother meets someone such as me, who finds the earth too
miserable to breed children....'"
The painting has an ambitious
estimate of $25,000,000 to $35,000,000. The painting failed to
sell and was passed at $23 million.
The non-Brody works in the
auction include a fine Caillebotte, a very good Renoir amd a pleasant
Lot 35 is a very lovely still
life by Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894) entitled "Quatre
vases de chrysanthemes." An oil on canvas, it measures 21
by 25 3/4 inches and was painted in 1893. It has an estimate of
$500,000 to $700,000. It was passed at $380,000!
Lot 34 is a large painting
of a nude woman on a sofa by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919).
An oil on canvas, it measures 25 3/4 by 61 1/4 inches and was
painted in 1903. It has been widely published and exhibited. It
has an estimate of $7,000,000 to $9,000,000. It sold for $10,162,500.
The catalogue entry notes that Renoir sent this work to the
1905 Salon d'Automne, "where it was the most notable of his
nine contributions that year."
"Renoir strove in Femme
nue couchée to emulate the painterly qualities of Titian's
Venuses. The flesh of the young woman in the present painting
has a delectiably glowing and milky appearance, replete with the
perceptible sheen that emanates from healthy and youthful skin.
One is reminded here of the reasons why oil paints evolved during
the early Renaissance to become the preferred medium of many artists
by the time of Titian and Tintoretto - no other medium permitted
them to paint the skin of their human sujects in such subtle tones,
capturing the translucent layering of tints and the radiant blush
of living flesh," the catalogue entry gushed in appreciative
"Renoir's particular success
in this picture owes much to the earthy and winsome appeal of
his model. Devotees of this artist's work will instantly recognize
that the young woman in the this painting is Fernande-Gabrielle
Renard..., the best-known of the models who appeared in Renoir's
later paintings - she features in about two hundred of his works,
far more than any other. Known as Gabrielle, or simply called
'Ga,' she was born in the town of Essoyes, which was also the
birthplace of Renoir's wife, Aline....Jean Renoir later recalled
that 'at ten she could tell the year of any wine, catch trout
with her hands without getting caught by the game warden, help
bleed the pigs, gather greens for rabbits and collect manure dropped
by the horses as they came in from the fields - a treasure which
everyone coveted," the catalogue entry continued.
Ah, those were the days!
Lot 11 i a lovely cityscape
by Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) entitled Impasse our Le Ruelle (Le
cannet). An oil on canvas, it measures 29 1/4 by 20 3/ 4 ionches
and it was painted in 1925. It has an estimate of $800,000 to
$1,200,000. It sold for $842,500. It is property from the
collection of Mrs. Sidney F. Brody.
Lot 33 is a very pleasant oil
on canvas of two abstinthe drinkers by Jean-Francois Raffaeli
(1850-1924). An oil on canvas, it is 42 1/2 inches square and
was painted in 1842. It has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000.
It sold for $2,994,5000 to the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco.
Lot 54 is a good gouache and
watercolor on paper by Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)(See The City Review article on
the recent Kandinsky exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
in New York.) Entitled
"Festes III," it measures 12 /14 by 19 inches and was
painted in 1925. It has an estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000.
It sold for $1,538,500.
Lot 62 is a quite good forest
scene watercolor by Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) that measures
13 1/8 by 20 1/8. It was drawn circa 1890 and has a modest estimate
of $700,000 to $1,000,000. It sold for $992,500.
The evening sale had about
70 works and bidding on many of them was very protracted. At one
point during the bidding on Lot 29, a Wassily Kandinsky, Mr. Burge
could be heard muttering "so much work so little reward"
at the small and slow incremental bids. Mr. Burge, nonetheless,
never flagged and at the end of the news conference when asked
how he managed to cope with so many lots and so much bidding he
explained, calmly but with a twinkle in his eye, that he had had
"sausages and eggs" for breakfast, "and catsup!"
He then dashed off to have dinner with his daughter.
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