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Latin American Art

Sotheby's

June 3 and 4, 1999

Catalogue cover showing Lot 22, "Niña con Rebozo," by Diego Rivera, 1938,

oil on canvas, 32 1/4 by 25 1/4 inches,

By Carter B. Horsley

Latin American Art covers a very broad spectrum of genres ranging from older religious paintings to early landscapes and a colorful range of modern and contemporary work.

The highlight of the auction was Lot 22, the catalogue's cover illustration, shown above, a quite monumental and moving painting, "Niña con Rebozo," by Diego Rivera, which sold for $937,500, nicely over its $800,000 high estimate. This 32 1/4 by 25 1/4 inch oil on canvas was painted in 1938 and is a marvelous homage to Mexico's indigenous cultures and to the pure simplicity and humbleness of the woman who assumes a monumental presence in her beautiful blue and white shawl, or rebozo. Beneath the shawl, the woman's white and blue sweater strongly complements the dark shawl and Rivera has created a marvelous composition with her clothing that both accents the painting's verticality and the curves of her features. The white collar focuses attention on her face at the top while her closed hands firmly anchor the bottom and also hint at her hard life. The middle of the painting in which her torso is hidden beneath a rolling, folded, pleated sea of blues and whites is sensational. Niña is the very image of decency in this fine, sensitive portrait.

"This is a constantly changing market and we have had some surprises tonight," remarked Isabella Hutchinson, director of Sotheby's Latin American Art Department after the first, evening session. "Solid prices were achieved in every category and we were encouraged to see so many new collectors bidding on our major lots. Interest inthe sale came from Europe, North and Latin America with some bidding from U.S. museums. Works by contemporary artists performed especially well, with prices in many cases surpassing pre-sale estimates," she continued, citing records that were set for Jorge Talca and José Bedia.

Lot 30, "El Balcón," by Amelia Peláez (1896-1968), a 27 7/8 by 37 7/8 inch gouache on paper laid down on board sold for $233,500, way over its $150,000 high estimate. The very fine and lovely work that depicts a woman on a balcony with a bird in hand and fruit on a table was the cover illustration of the bulletin of the Museum of Modern Art's exhibition, Modern Cuban Painters, in April, 1942.

Lot 38, "Tierra Quemade," a reddish 31 1/2 by 39 3/8 inch oil and sand on canvas of a man beneath the sun and between two pyramids by Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991), sold for $398,500, almost double its low estimate. Another Tamayo, Lot 9, "El Juglar," a bluish 51 by 38 inch oil and sand on canvas also did very well, selling to a South American private collector within its estimate for $365,500.

"El Ejecutor" by David Alfaro Siqueiros

Lot 58, "El Ejecutor," by David Alfaro Siqueiros, 1949,

pyroxylin on masonite, 39 3/8 by 30 1/2 inches

One of the most flamboyant and interesting works was Lot 58, "El Ejecutor," a pyroxylin on masonite, 39 3/8 by 30 1/2 inches, 1949, by David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1974), shown above. It sold for more than $130,000, considerably better than its $100,000 high estimate. A bold swirl of thick blue, black, red and orange, this is a fabulous painting at which both Rubens and Hans Hofmann would have marveled. A few fingers and a pronounced beard are recognizable in this otherwise boldly abstract and powerful work.

One of the lots that elicited applause was "Brouillard Noir," by Maria Martins (1894-1973), a 34 3/4 inch tall bronze sculpture that looked something like the skeleton of a fish/man. It sold for $233,500, almost four times its $60,000 low estimate.

Fernando Botero's "Santa Rosa de Lima Según Vásquez, Lot 47, also sold within its estimate for $299,500, as did the very striking "Lisamona," by Wilfredo Lam (1902-1982), Lot 48, shown below, which sold for $255,000.

"Lisamona" by Wilfredo Lam

Lot 48, "Lisamona" by Wilfredo Lam, 1950,

oil and charcoal on canvas, 51 1/8 by 31 1/8 inches

A very fine painting, "Successful People," by José Clemente Orozco (1883-1949), Lot 131, shown below, sold for $63,000. The 18 by 15 inch oil on canvas, executed in 1931, had a high estimate of $22,000.

"Successful People" by José Clemente Orozco

Lot 131, "Successful People," by José Clemente Orozco,

1931, oil on canvas, 18 by 15 inches

"Familia Vergonzante," a very large oil on canvas by Botero (b. 1932), Lot 50, was passed at $550,000, not very close to its $650,000 low estimate. A charming 22 inch long bronze Botero sculpture of a reclining nude woman with a bird perched on her toes passed at $110,000 and had a $150,000 low estimate.

Among the other disappointments was Lot 48, "Tres Desnudos, Viaducto, Coche, Cabros," a 1996 oil on canvas, 45 1/8 by 36 1/4 inches, by Armando Morales (b. 1927) hat was passed at $140,000, far below its $200,000 low estimate. The very beautiful painting combined the stark lighting of De Chirico with the nudes of Puvis de Chavannes in Morales's rich, very painterly style. Another was Lot 49, "Eucalyptus Branch, a large oil of canvas by Claudio Bravo (b. 1936), a very accomplished photorealist. It was passed at $70,000, far below its $90,000 low estimate.

A large painting by the excellent Francisco Toledo (b. 1940), Lot 55, that resembled a roadmap in hieroglyphics, had a low estimate of $175,000 and was passed at $95,000.

"Soul Without Terror," Lot 56, a rather ominous, dark, large painting by Matta (b. 1911) that was consigned The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, sold for $90,000, far below its low estimate of $125,000, but then many other Mattas did not sell this season, inexplicably.

"Cuatro Toros" by Angel Botello

Lot 205, "Cuatro Toros," by Ángel Botello, circa 1965,

oil on masonite, 14 1/2 by 18 1/2 inches

Lot 205, "Cuatro Toros," by Ángel Botello, (1913-1986), shown above, sold for $28,750, well above its $15,000 high estimate. The 14 1/2 by 18 1/2 inch oil on masonite was painted in 1965. A larger work by the same artist, "Polución," Lot 178, shown below, sold within its estimates for $6,325. The 42 by 48 inch oil on panel was painted in 1971.

"Polucion" by Ángel Botello

Lot 178, "Polución," by Ángel Botello, 1971,

oil on panel, 42 by 48 inches

One of the most stunning works in the auction, Lot 64, by Carlos Mérida (1891-1984), an abstact petroplastic on prepared panel, 30 3/4 by 22 3/4 inches, 1977, sold within its estimate for a hammer price of $35,000.

The auction room was jammed although acoustically it was hard to hear the auctioneer at the back of the especially towards the end of the sale as many collectors and dealers engaged in conversations.The catalogue included a large section on artists' biographies at its back, a most welcome addition.

See The City Review article on The Latin American Sale at Christie's in New York in June, 1999

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