Impressionists and Modern Art, Part 1

Sotheby's, May 13, 1998

By Carter B. Horsley

The major Impressionist and Modern Art sale of the Spring at Sotheby's, May 13, 1998, has several very fine works, but is a bit short on masterworks.

One major exception, Lot 37, is shown above, Edouard Vuillard's wonderful "Sacha Guitry Dans Sa Loge," a 29 1/2 inch by 38 3/8 inch pastel on tan paper, painted circa 1911-12, that is one of his best works and is estimated at only $300,000 to $400,000. It sold for $607,500.

Guitry was a popular boulevardier and writer of comedies and a good friend of Vuillard who gave him this painting as a gift. Vuillard's composition and palette here are unusual and superb. This is worthy of a major museum's collection. Vuillard, one of the Nabis, is best known for his soft and subtle works, mostly interiors, and this is exceedingly vibrant for his oeuvre.

Another superb offering is Lot 9, "Flowers in a Vase," a 15 3/4 inch by 12 1/4 inch oil on canvas by Vincent Van Gogh that is estimated at $3 to $4 million. Although it is unsigned, the small painting, shown at the right, of a foxglove with an ear of wheat and leaves of vine is resonant with the artist's incomparable style and should easily exceed its estimate. It sold for $4,072,500.

For connoisseurs, Oscar Schlemmer's "Idealistische Begegnung," Lot 27, an oil and pencil work on canvas, 35 1/2 by 24 inches, is a rare and important work of great style and intrigue that is estimated, a bit ambitiously, at $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It is one of several works consigned to the auction from the Rolf and Margit Weinberg Collection. It sold for $1,487,500. Another Weinberg picture is a very pleasant portrait of "De Jo, La Belle Irlandaise," by Gustave Courbet, Lot 20, a 21 1/4 by 25 1/4 inch oil on canvas that might fall within its estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It sold for $2,972,500.

A far better Weinberg picture is Lot 25, a 1916 still life by Theo Van Doesburg with its asymmetrically painted frame. The 32 1/4 by 26 1/2 inch oil on canvas is very strong and interesting and is conservatively estimated at $250,000 to $350,000. It sold for $607,500.

A scene of the Grand Canal in Venice by Monet, Lot 18, has the highest estimate in the sale: $8,000,000 to $10,000,000. It is pleasant, but not one of the Impressionist's masterpieces and is one of six versions Monet did. It sold for $12,102,500.

Far more appealing, indeed, ravishing, is Pierre-Auguste Renoir's "Baigneuses," Lot 6, an 18 1/8 by 15 inch oil on canvas that shows two girls wearing bonnets watching other girls swim. The charming painting, shown at the left, is as good as Renoir gets at this size and will easily exceed its estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. It sold for $3,412,500. Another larger Renoir, Lot 17, a portrait of a bare-breasted Gabriele Renard is not likely to fare as well because it is not a great painting and is estimated at $3,000,000 to $4,000,000. It sold for the same price as Lot 6.

There are a couple of very nice Degas paintings that should sell well and a superb painting of a watermill, Lot 15, by Paul Signac that should easily exceed its estimate of $800,000 to $1 million. It sold for $882,500 while another Signac, Lot 19, that had been estimated at $1,000,000 to $1,500,000 sold for $1,102,500 and was not as attractive as Lot 15. Some good Legers are also in the sale.

Picasso is represented by several works, a few of which seem to be pretty difficult to live with, but one is quite nice, Lot 43, "La Lecture." This 32 by 25 1/2 inch oil on canvas is very simple and strong with a rich black background and it should go for more than its estimate of $3,000,000 to $4,000,000. It sold for $3,192,500.

Among the paintings that surpassed their high estimates were Lot 2, "Lavoirs Sur La Seine, Linge Sechant," a very pleasant and fine Gustave Caillebotte, that sold for $882,500 and had been estimated at $500,000 to $700,000; Lot 3, "Bords de La Seine (Bougival)," a small, sketchy landscape by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, that sold for $1,047,500 and had been estimated at $600,000 to $800,000; Lot 24, "Das Juedische Maedchen," a good-sized portrait by Alexej Jawlensky that was strong but not terribly attractive and sold for $1,080,500 and had been estimated at $500,000 to $700,000; Lot 32, "Nu Allongé," a great Marc Chagall of a nude against a black background with some gold filigree that Matisse would have been proud of and it sold for $717,500 and had been estimated at $450,000 to $550,000; and Lot 52, "Pierrot," a good Georges Roualt that sold fo $772,500 and had been estimated at $500,000 to $700,000.

Of the 57 works offered, 13 failed to sell, which is not too bad considering the overall quality, but there were some surprises: Lot 10, an excellent seascape by Alfred Sisley, estimated at $500,000 to $700,000; Lot 16, a plesant and typical Edgar Degas pastel of a ballet dance, estimated at $600,000 to $800,000; Lot 40, a large Joan Miro, estimated at $600,000 to $800,000; Lot 44, a fine still life by Fernand Léger, estimated at $400,000 to $600,000 (although other Légers in the sale did well); and Lot 56, a large and impressive Henry Moore sculpture, estimated at $1,000,000 to $1,500,000.

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