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Impressionist and Modern Art

Sotheby's New York


7 P.M., May 2, 2012


Sale 8850

"...an infinite scream..."

Petter Olsen shaking hands with Simon Shaw of Christie's after the auction

Petter Olsen, the consignor of Edvard Munch's "The Scream," shaking hands with Simon Shaw of Sotheby's with David Norman of Sotheby's between them after the auction.  The painting, Lot 20, is a pastel on board in its original frame and the picture measures 32 by 23 3/4 inches and was executed in 1895.

Photograph by Michele Leight

By Carter B. Horsley
The May 2, 2012 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Sotheby's New York is a blockbuster, highlighted by several paintings by Edvard Munch (1863-1944), including a pastel version of  "The Scream," his most famous work and one of the seminal paintings of modern art.

The pastel, Lot 20, is in its original frame and the pastel measures 32 by 23 3/4 inches.  It was executed in 1895 and is one of four versions of the composition and the only one in private hands as the other three are in Norwegian museums.  The lead article by Carol Vogel in the April 29, 2012 Arts & Leisure section of The New York Times said, shockingly, that "Odds are 3-to1 that when Edvard Munch's 'Scream' comes up for sale at Sotheby's on Wednesday night, it will fetch $150 million to $200 million," adding that "as for who will buy 'The Scream,' bets are 5-to-2 that it will be a Russian."  Sotheby's catalogue simply says "estimate on request."

Bidding on the lot, which opened at $40 million, lasted about 12 minutes.  It sold to an anonymous buyer bidding through Charles Moffet, Sotheby's executive vice president and vice chairman of its worldwide Impressionist and Modern Art department, for $119,922,500 including the buyer's premium, a record for any work of art ever sold at auction.

The auction was successful with 61 of the 76 offered lots selling for a total of $330,568,500, far exceeding Sotheby's previous high of about $286 million for an Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction that was set in 1990 and only surpassed by a recent total of $362 million for a Contemporary Art evening sale, according to Simon Shaw, the head of the Impressionist & Modern Art Department.  Tobias Meyer, the auctioneer, said that the sale was "a phenomenal success."  At one point in the midding on "Scream" when there was a break in the bidding rhythm at the $99 million level, Mr. Meyer declared he had "all the time in the world" to take bids.  A staffer on the phone with the underbidder would occasionally look up at a large television screen with an image of the painting as of he were beseeching it for inspiration in convincing his bidder to offer one more stab at getting the painting.  His bidder took a couple of minutes to offer another bid, while Mr. Moffet's was ready, willing and able almost instantaneous.  When after a very long pause, Mr. Moffet's rival bid $106 million, Mr. Meyer gushed "Can I say I love you?" and soon after Mr. Moffet bid again, winningly, at $107 million.  Sotheyb's commissions buyer commissions, brought it to $119,922,500.  Sotheby's did not reveal the identity of the buyer.

Mr. Olsen read a statement at the news conference:

"I hope that the publicity given by this sale will increase public interest in Munch's work and awareness of the important message that I feel it conveys.

'The Scream' for me shows the horrifiying moment when man realizes his impact on nature and the irreversible changes that he has initiated, making the planet increasingly uninhabitable.

The image of the 'Scream' could make more of us fathom the magnitude of the consequences of our continuing emissions of greenhouse gases.  This will inevitably lead to the triggering of uncontrollable feedback mechanisms that lie latent in the physics of nature.

They will kick in, slowly at first, then accelerate, causing the hearth to becauome overheated.  The biosphere will shrink and there will be less oxygen, water and food.  More death, less life  And very few lifeboats left as we go down.

Munch's most important work 'The Frieze of Life,' never finalized, but existing in many verions, has as its theme Love, Anxiety and Death.  'The Scream' is about Anxiety approaching and anticipating Death.

Munch's hand painted poem on the frame ends with the words 'The great Scream in Nature.'  It is as if Munch has had a premonition of what man was going to inflict on nature.  

Meanwhile, Munch will continue to be a major force in my life.  With my own Munch project I would like to focus on Life and Love.

Next year I plan to participate in the 150th anniversary celebrations in Norway of the birth of Edvard Munch.  I am currently building a gallery which will house my private collection of local art by Munch and other artists.  I am also restoring his house and studios close by where he finished the project for the Oslo University Auditorium Decorations one hundred years ago.  I am collaborating with the Oslo Munch Museum on an exhibition wih this theme.  The opening will be on 2 June 2013.

Later we will also open a small hotel on the premises of my farm Rammegaard just a short distance south of Oslo by the fjord.  I am looking forward to welcoming admirers of art from around the world from next year on."

What is rather extraordinary is that Munch works rarely appear at auction and this auction has five of them.  Clearly, the reasoning is that "Scream" will lift the other prices, although bargain-hunting collectors will try to argue that the market is being flooded and the "Mona Lisa" impact of "Scream" is unique to that specific image's in the world's psyche.  In any event, it may well be a watershed event that overflows and justifies the very high values art is enjoying, or it may burst the bubble.  Presumably, the good folk at Sotheby's have been able to persuade the consignor, Petter Olsen, the son of Thomas Olsen of Oslo, who wants to use the proceeds to create a Munch museum in Hvitsten, to lower the reserve so that nobody looks too foolish.

The painting was executed in 1895 and not acquired by Mr. Olsen until 1937.  It had been bought in 1895 by Arthur von Franquet of Braunschweig, and then Hugh Simon of Berlin and Paris who consigned it to Kunshandel J. Goudstikker in Amsterdam in 1933.

The catalogue entry notes that the pastel "numbers among the most celebrated images in art history," adding that "It is one of few masterpieces that require no introduction, as it has been analyzed, reproduced, referenced, interpreted and commercialized more often than perhaps any picture bar Leonardo's Mona Lisa."  The painting, it continued, "has become a cornerstone of our visual culture, burned into our collective retina as the definitive image of horror at modernity's core.  In one image, Munch initiates the Expressionist gesture which will fuel art history through the twentieth century and beyond."

In her May 2, 2012 article in The Wall Street Journal Kelly Crow noted that "the work depicts a bald, skeletal figure standing at a suicide spot on Oslo's horseshoe-shaped bay where people could often hear screams from a nearby insane asylum, according to art historians," adding that "Munch's sister, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, was housed in that asylum."

The original frame bears the text of an 1892 poem by Munch in which he wrote that he was walking beside the bay when he sensed "an infinite scream passing through nature."

It was subsequently revealed that Leon Black was the buyer of the painter.  An October 14, 2012 article in The New York Post by Isabel Vincent and Melissa Klein said that the painting will go on display at th emuseum of MOdern Art in New York.  Mr. Black is a trustee of the museum.

The Post article, however had a headline that read "MoMA urged to reveal work's 'Nazi past - Hidden Horror of 'Scream.'"

It noted that "relatives of German-Jewish banker Hugo Simon, who owned the work in the 1920s and 30s,came forward before a Sotheby's auction to contest its sale, and they say it's wrong for the museum to display it without at least explaining its tragic history."

Rafael Cardoso, the article continued, "a Brazilian curator and Simon's great-grandson, says his forbear had to sell the treasure when he declared an enemy of the state and driven from Germany after the Nazis came to power to 1933."  "When Cardozo contested the Sotheby's sale," the article said, "he was offered $250,000 by the seller, Petter Olsen, to go to a chairty of his choice.  The donation, however, would be in the seller's name.  'The conditons of the offer were insulting,' Cardoso said, adding is family felt it would have been appropriate for the donation to be made in Simon's name."

Woman by a window by Munch

Lot 52, "Kvinne Som Speiler Seg (Woman Looking in the Mirror)," by Edvard Munch, oil on canvas, 36 1/4 by 28 3/4 inches, 1892

Lot 52 is a very strong painting of a "Woman Looking in the Mirror" by Munch.  An oil on canvas, it was painted in 1892 and measures 36 1/4 by 28 3/4 inches  It  is property of "an important prive collection in Europe" and has a conservative estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000.  It sold for $5,122,500.

Couple in a landscape by Munch

Lot 41, "Sommernatt (Summer Night)," by Edvard Munch, oil on canvas, 29 1/4 by 38 3/4 inches, 1917

Lot 41 is a very nice painting by Munch depicted a couple walking in a landscape.  An oil on canvas, it measures 29 1/4 by 38 3/4 inches and was paintted in 1917.  It has an estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000.  It failed to sell and was passed at $1,900,000.  It is property from a European private collector.  


Farmer by Munch

Lot 55, "Samannen (The Sower)," by Edvard Munch, oil on canvas, 35 3/4 by 45 1/2 inches 1913

Lot 55 is a less vibrant but still quite stunning painting of a sower by Munch.  An oil on canvas, it measures 35 3/4 by 45 1/2 inches and was painted in 1913.  It has a very modest estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000.  It is property "from an Important Private Collection, Europe."  It sold for $2,882,500.

"Clothes on a line in Asgardstrand" by Munch

Lot 53, "Klestork I Asgardstrand (Clothes on a Line in Asgardstrand)," by Edvard Munch, oil on canvas, 26 1/2 by 28 1/2 inches, 1902

Lot 53, "Klestork I Asgardstrand (Clothes on a Line in Asgardstrand)," is an another Munch oil on canvas.  It measures 26 1/2 by 28 1/2 inches and was painted in 1902.  It has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000.  It sold for $2,098,500.  It is also property from an important private collection, Europe.  

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Munch's works of this period had a strong influence on German Expressionist painters, who had the opportunity to see his work in several exhibitions in Germany between 1905 and 1908.  The brilliant, wild palette that dominated Munch's canvases had a powerful impact on the Die Brucke artists who were eager to move away from their urban surroundings in Berlin and other cities, and to embrace the more primitive life-style and wild nature of the northern German coast.  It was the daring, expressive power of Munch's landscapes, pulsating with unudlating lines and vivid dramatic brush-strokes, that had such a profound effect on some of the major figures of twentieth century art including Kirchner, Schmidt-Rottluffe, Pechstein and Hecker."

The most recent  painting by Munch to appear at auction in New York was "Fertility," Lot 47 in the November 3, 2010 auction at Christie's.  It was 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 stated that the painting is "an exceedingly rare masterpiece."

The 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 had an ambitious estimate of $25,000,000 to $35,000,000. The painting failed to sell and was passed at $23 million.

This auction has a very impressive group of wonderful paintings from the estate of Theodore J. Forstman, a founding partner in the private equity firm of Forstmann Little  & Co.  He also co-founded with the late John Walton the Children's Scholarship Fund and was well known in the Hamptons for hosting the Huggy Bear Invitational pro-am tennis event starting in 1984 that raised more than $20 million to aid needy children through the work of more than 30 charities.

David Norman discussing large Picasso

David Norman of Christie's discussing Lot 4, "Femme Assisse dans un fauteuil," by Pablo Picasso at press preview


Lot 4 is a striking painting of a woman seated in an armchair by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973).  The oil on canvas measures 36 1/2 by 28 3/4 inches and was painted in 1941.  It has an estimate of $30,000,000 to $40,000,000.

David Norman discussing Miró painting

David Norman of Christie's discussing Miró's "Tete Humaine," Lot 11, at press preview

Lot 11, "Tete Humaine," is a very strong work by Joan Miró (1893-1983).  An oil, wood, wire, sandpaper and thread on canvas, it measures 32 by 25 3/4 inches and was executed in 1931 and exhibited at the Galerie Pierre Colle in Paris in 1933 in the show "Exposition Surrealiste" and in the retrospective on the artist in 1993-4 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The work has a circular piece of wood and wires.  It was once in the collection of G. David Thompson of Pittsburgh and is property of the estate of Theodore J. Forstmann.  It has an estimate of $10,000,000 to $15,000,000. It sold for $14,865,500.


Simon Shaw discussing Soutine painting

Simon Shaw, senior vice president and head of the Department of Impressionist and Modern Art at Christie's discussing Soutine's "Le Chasseur de Chez Maxim's" at press preview

Lot 7, "Le Chasseur de Chez Maxim's," is a fine painting by Chaim Soutine (1893-1943).  An oil on canvas it measures 32 1/4 by 29 1/2 inches and was painted circa 1925.  It was once in the collection of Baronne Alix de Rothschild of Paris and later Dorothy and Wendell Cherry.  The estate of Wendell Cherry sold the painting at  Sotheby's in New York, November 4, 2004 where it was acquired by Theodore J. Forstmann. It then had an estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000 and it sold for $6,728,000 setting a new world auction record for the artist.  At this auction, it has an estimate of $10,000,000 to $15,000,000.


Soutine portrait of a boy

Lot 14, "Le Chasseur," by Chaim Soutine, oil on canvas, 25 5/8 by 19 3/4 inches, circa 1928

Lot 14 is a striking portrait of a young man by Soutine entitled "Le Chasseur."  An oil on canvas, it measures 25 5/8 by 19 3/4 inches and was painted circa 1928.  It is property from the estate of Theodore J. Forstmann and was formerly in the collections of Sam Salz of New York and Mr and Mrs. William Goetz of Los Angeles.  It has an estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000.


Gauguin landscape

Lot 15, "Cabane sous les arbres," by Paul Gauguin, oil on canvas, 28 1/2 by 17 1/8 inches, 1892

Lot 15, "Cabane sous les arbres," is a superb and lovely Tahitian landscape by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903). An oil on canvas that measures 28 1/2 by 17 1/8 inches, it was executed in 1892 and had an estimate of $3,500,000 to $5,500,000 when it was sold at Christie's in New York November 6, 2002 and sold for $4,629,500.  This auction it has a estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000. The painting is highlighted by several blue trees similar to those in the very fine landscape in the Odrupgaard Collection in Copenhagen (see The City Review article).   It is property from the estate of Theodore J. Forstmann.


Bonnard lady
Lot 12, "Femme Sortant du Bain," by Pierre Bonnard, oil on canvas 43 3/4 by 37 1/4 inches, circa 1925

Lot 12 is a great painting by Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) of a woman in a bathroom.  An oil on canvas, it measures 43 3/4 by 37 1/4 inches and was painted circa 1925.  It is property from the estate of Theodore J. Forstmann.


Renoir portrait of Cézanne

Lot 39, "Portrait of Cézanne," by Pierre-Auguste Renoir," pastel on paper, 21 1/8 by 17 7/8 inches, 1880

Lot 39 is an exquisite pastel on paper portrait of Cézanne by Pierre-August Renoir (1841-1919).  It measures 21 1/8 by 17 7/8 inches and was drawn in 1880.  It has been widely exhibited and published and was once in the collections of Victor Chocquet of Paris, Martin Ryerson of Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, Sam Salz of New York, Mr and Mrs. Leigh B. Block of Chicago, and Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ittleson Jr of New York and the Bristish Rail Pension fund of London.  It has an estimate of $3,000,000 to $5,000,000.  It sold for $4,226,500.

Bronze head by Brancusi

Lot 43, "Prométhée," by Constantine Brancusi, gilded bronze, 7 inches long, conceived and cast in an edition of four

Lot 43 is a classic and very lovely gilded bronze head by Constantine Brancusi (1876-1957).  It is 7 inches long and was conceived and cast in an edition of four in 1911. It has been widely published.  It has an estimate of $6,000,000 to $8,000,000.  It sold for $12,682,500.  Other bronze casts of Prométhée are The Hirschorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., the Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and the third is in a private collection.  Brancusi also created one in marble that is in the collection of the Phildelphia Musem of Art.

Landscape by Dali

Lot 26, "Printemps Necrophilique," by Salvador Dali, oil on canvas, 21 1/2 and 25 5/8 inches, 1936

Lot 26 is a 1936 oil on canvas by Salvador Dali (1904-1989) that is entitled "Printemps Necrophilique."  According to Mr. Shaw, this is one of the finest Dalis to appear on the market in years.  Only Dali could decide to leave nothing in the center, he added.It has an estimate of $8,000,000 to $12,000,000.  It sold for $16,322,500.


Surreal interior by Delvaux

Lot 50, "Le Canapé Bleu," by Paul Delvaux, oil on canvas, 55 by 71 inches, 1967


Lot 50 is a large oil on canvas by Paul Delvaux (1897-1994) that is entitled "Le Canapé Bleu."  It measures 55 by 71 inches and was painted in 1967  It has an estimate of $3,500,000 to $5,000,000.  It was passed at $3,200,000.

The auction began at 7 PM but by 6:20 PM the auction room's huge anteroom was mobbed with people drinking good champagne, having made it through the very large security phalanxes, since Munch's works have twice had serious security breaches in the past and since there were a lot of protestors outside Sotheby's entrance.  

The protestors handed out a page that explained their position about art-handlers at Sotheby's and referred people to www.SothebysBadForArt.com.

"On January 1, 2012, the company cut off the workers' health care benefits despite the fact that many members were relying on that coverage to treat chronic conditions and in a few cases to keep loved ones out of the hospital.

"Despite its record profitability, Sotheby's is still demanding cuts in both working hours and overtime, the elimination of important seniority protections, and the right to phase out all union positions and replace them with low wage temporary workers with no bargaining rights and no benefits whatsoever

"Prior to the lockout, Sotheby's had been employing up to 12 temporary workers at a time, for a peeriod of no longer than 6 months each, creating a revolving door of low wage workers with no benefits.  These workers are predominantly young people of color who every 6 motnhs are forced to return to an already bleak job market.

"Instead of seeking a way to create more sustainable long-term quality job opportunities, Sotheby's is instead demanding that the revolving door of temporary art handlers be increased to 36 per every 18 month period.

"This revolving door system of temporary workers has over the years resulted in hundreds  of young men of color being unable to achieve meaningful full-time employment at Sotheby's.

"The union is willing to compromise on a range of the company's issues and is seeking only to maintain the current number of union positions as well as to put a stop to the current revolving door system.

"To date, Sotheby's remains unwilling to budge on its key demands.  The art handlers remain locked out of their jobs and continue to fight a very high profile corporate campaign.  

"In addition to receiving support from a wide range of unions, community, and student groups, politicians like Sen. Charles Schumer, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio, and Council Member Jessica Lappin, have also called on Sotheby's to end the lockout.

"On the picket line the workers have been joined by everyone from Occupy Wall Street, to Actress Susan Sarandon, to most recently Robert Kennedy Jr., who moved a benefit auction originally scheduled to be held at Sotheby's, out of respect for the workers."


 



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