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Impressionist & Modern Art
Sotheby's New York

7 PM, November 12, 2019

Sale 10147

Monet bridge 8

Lot 8, "Charing Cross Bridge," by Claude Monet, oil on canvas, 25 3/8 by 39 1/2 inches, 1903

By Carter B. Horsley

The evening auction of Impressionist & Modern Art November 12, 2019 at Sotheby's New York highlighted by a great Monet painting of a London bridge, a very fine  painting by Hockney, some good Picassos, two excellent works by Miro and Signac and a related group of Giacomettis.

Lot 8 is a stunning oil on canvas by Claude Monet (1840-1926) of Charing Cross Bridge in London.  It measures 25 3/8 by 39 1/2 inches and was painted in 1903.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Steeped in fog and glowing, reflected light, the Charing Cross railway bridge emerges in this luminous composition from Monet's renowned London series—the most prolific painting campaign of the artist’s career. Between 1899 and 1901 Monet made three trips to London, taking a room at the Savoy Hotel on the Victoria Embankment overlooking the River Thames. With few exceptions, he began his mornings painting the view of Charing Cross and Waterloo Bridges from his hotel room, and in the afternoons he moved his supplies across the river to depict the sunset behind the House of Parliament. The ever-changing atmospheric conditions of the mist hovering over the water made it difficult for Monet to work on one picture for too long, compelling him to frequently begin yet another canvas. The resulting compositions are evanescent mélanges of color, light and shadow—the true quintessence of Impressionist painting at its finest. At the end of his final trip in 1901, the artist had nearly 100 "Londons," as he called them, in various states of completion, the most finished of which were twelve views of Waterloo and Charing Cross Bridges. While Monet prided himself on his direct and immediate painting technique, where he worked on canvases directly at the site of his inspiration, many works would later be placed in his large studio in Giverny where he would further refine his brushwork and compositions, as was the case with his "Londons," a number of which he returned to as late as 1903. 

"Monet had first visited London under duress. In 1870-71 the Franco-Prussian War roared through France.... Monet was among several other artists who fled to England during the conflict. He and his wife Camille and young son Jean had been staying in the beach town of Trouville when France declared war on Prussia in mid-July of 1870. Over the coming months the war crept ever-closer and in the late summer or early fall, Monet boarded a ship to England. Not yet a financially successful artist, he and Camille and Jean (who followed from France a short time later) lived in London penuriously. This residency would beget an important introduction to Paul Durand-Ruel through fellow artist Charles Daubigny. Durand-Ruel would become Monet’s principal dealer, providing funds when the latter needed and overseeing the artist’s unfolding success and the popularity which was to increase momentously in the later years of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

"Monet’s fellow Impressionist Camille Pissarro also fled to the British capital at this time. He and Monet would paint together and spent time exploring the sites and museums of London. It was at the British Museum that they saw Turner’s Rain, Steam, Speed–The Great Western Railway which depicted a locomotive hurtling across the Thames on the Maidenhead railway bridge. Gifted to the museum by the artist’s estate in 1856, this was one of the few paintings by other artists that Monet directly referred to in his correspondence....

"Having returned to France after the war, Monet next visited London in 1898 to see his son Michel, who was there studying English. He returned the following year and took up his painting campaign—first of Waterloo Bridge and Charing Cross Bridge, and then in 1899, a discreet series focused on the House of Parliament. 'His canvases of this [Charing Cross] bridge,' according to Richard Thompson, 'which from his balcony crossed the river at less of an angle than Waterloo Bridge, so giving a steadier, more stable composition, can play with the dying light of a winter afternoon.... In only 10 of the depictions of Charing Cross Bridge did Monet include a hint of the Embankment beneath his balcony, and these were typically among the less finished canvases. The unanchored scene he favored offered a view with less gravity, lighter...' (Monet & Architecture (exhibition catalogue), National Gallery, London, 2018, pp. 176 & 183).

"The present canvas exudes these lighter, ephemeral qualities, the paint strokes and reflections grounded only in the architecture of the horizontal bar of the bridge and its massive vertical pilings supporting it from underneath. Two trains move rapidly across, billowing great clouds of steam from their engines, tinged with reflections from the river and the sky, while boats at lower left and center faintly hint at the bustling traffic of the waterway.

"The 1890s have come to be known as the decade in which Monet focused intently on serialized works. Starting in 1890-91 with the grainstacks (colloquially called 'Haystacks'; and their lavishly worked surfaces, Monet found a vehicle to express his views on the meaning of landscape: “For me, a landscape does not exist in its own right, since its appearance changes at every moment; but its surroundings bring it to life—the air and the light, which vary continually… For me it is only the surrounding atmosphere which gives objects their real value” (quoted in J. House, Nature into Art, New Haven & London, 1986, pp. 28-29). From the grainstacks Monet would move to curvaceous poplars lining the river Epte, to the luminous facade of Rouen Cathedral, to diaphanous sheets of ice forming and melting on the Seine, to Norway and Normandy and, of course, his meticulously cultivated gardens at Giverny. Monet's commitment to series painting and accomplishments therein amounted to a watershed moment in both the artist's oeuvre and Modern Art writ large, the myriad impacts of which are evident across the twentieth century and beyond. Writing about the groundbreaking quality and importance of these series paintings, Paul Hayes Tucker states: “…his enthusiasm for his work surely rested on the fact that he was developing something entirely new. For no other painter up until then had ever conceived of painting a large number of pictures that concentrated on the same subject and that would be differentiated only by formal factors—color, touch, and composition—as well as by different lighting and weather conditions” (P.H. Tucker, Claude Monet, Life and Art, New Haven & London, 1995, p. 139).

"Monet found the famous London fog to be a particularly apt vehicle for filtering changes in light and atmosphere. In fact, once underway with his London canvases, the artist would complain about how swiftly effects would vary—though it was this very caprice that allowed him to create such a variety of masterpieces. “What I like most of all in London is the fog," he told René Gimpel later in life. "Without the fog, London would not be a beautiful city. It’s the fog that gives it its magnificent breadth…." In this case, Monet was returning to a motif that had preoccupied him in 1870-71, when he had been in exile in England; three of the paintings that he had done during that first stay depict the Thames cloaked in a winter haze…. As Tucker notes, "The London pictures can be understood as the result of Monet’s evident interest in reworking older motifs and in endowing them with the grandeur that he was now able to see in them… the London views are far more monumental than his earlier Thames pictures. In their muffled qualities, brilliantly diffused light and subject matter they also appear to be tinged with nostalgia, a feeling reinforced by the purple and yellows, blues and roses with which they were painted” (ibid., pp. 244-45).

"Monet continued to work on the rest of his London canvases back in his studio in Giverny until 1904, when he finally exhibited a selection of them at Galerie Durand-Ruel. Critics heaped praise on the pictures, alleging that Monet's accomplishments rivaled those of J.M.W. Turner, the then-undisputed champion of English landscape painting. According to Georges Lecomte, Monet had never 'attained such vaporous subtlety, such powers of abstraction and synthesis.' But it was Gustav Kahn who wrote perhaps the most lyrical synopsis in his description of Monet's Charing Cross Bridges: 'The Charing Cross Bridge series numbers the fewest paintings. The motif for it is given in an airy vision of the river, where one seems to see light passing, mobile and brief, the fragile shades of dawn. The water is like a mirror on which the vaporous shadows chase and succeed one another—fragile, slow, harmonies, like those of Schumann, if you will, or of Faure... Like another strain in the symphony, the fog blurs a part of the bridge, consumes it, bites the green reflection that cuts the water like a rigid bar. Here the bridges of the bar cast diffuse shadows, like great, moving, trembling leaves on the green water' (G. Kahn, "L'Exposition de Claude Monet" in Gazette des Beaux-Arts, Paris, July 1, 1904, n.p.).

"Monet’s importance to artists whose work would become entirely abstract was apparent in the decades after his death. Paloma Alarcó explores the reactions of the Bauhaus artist Wassily Kandinsky and the Suprematist artist Kasimir Malevich: 'Monet developed a type of painting dominated by repetitive subject matter and a loose, fluid technique that filled the entire surface of the canvas, turning it into a world unto itself, one that was almost abstract. It was a very short path that led from capturing that personal perception of the world in a painted image to the self-sufficiency of forms and colors. Monet would inevitably come to be viewed as an abstract artist. Kandinsky was one of the first artists to interpret Monet as an abstract painter and remarked that seeing one painting from Monet’s haystack series… had opened his eyes to abstraction: ‘Suddenly, for the first time, I saw a picture. That is was a haystack, the catalogue informed me, I didn’t recognize it. I found this non-recognition painful, and thought that the painter had no right to paint so indistinctly. I had a dull feeling that the object was lacking in this picture. And I noticed with surprise and confusion that the picture not only gripped me, but impressed itself ineradicably upon my memory, always hovering quite unexpectedly before my eyes, down to the last detail.’ Another Russian avant-garde artist, Kazimir Malevich, recalled an experience very similar to Kandinsky’s, in his case the epiphany occurred before one of Monet’s images of Rouen Cathedral, which Malevich had discovered in the Shchukin collection: ‘In fact, all of Monet’s efforts had gone into the walls of the cathedral. His main task was not the shadows and the light but the painting that lay in the shadow and the light’ (Monet et l’abstraction (exhibition catalogue), Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris, 2010, p. 15). In the 1950s, Clement Greenberg, the noted art critic and primary supporter of Jackson Pollock and the Abstract Expressionists, credited Monet with advancing painting to its furthest point, regardless of the Cubism of Pablo Picasso and George Braque.  

"Several of the Abstract Expressionists looked toward Monet’s work for its use and application not only of medium but also of color—both in some of his last works' excesses and in the meditative quality of his serial compositions. 'The manner in which Monet transformed the rhythms of nature into an expression of his own inner feelings anticipates the chromatic abstractions of later artists like Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb…. Both Rothko and Gottlieb created works of expansive luminosity that express universal emotions. Rothko’s large-format color field canvases with their open, vibrant rectangular forms which, bearing no relationship to geometry, appear to float in an indeterminate space, can be linked to certain aspects of the Impressionists’ treatment of light, especially Monet’s. Like Monet, Rothko concentrated on achieving visual contrasts by means of the application of color in successive thin glazes as if it were watercolor, not oil, diminishing the texture of the painting to its minimum expression, to make it evident that the light source emerges from the paint itself” (ibid., pp. 31 & 33). Advising Lila Cabot Perry, an American who spent her summers painting in Giverny and who visited frequently with Monet, the artist stated: 'When you go out to paint try to forget what objects you have before you, a tree, a house, a field or whatever. Merely think, here is a little square of blue, here an oblong of pink, here a streak of yellow, and paint it just as it looks to you, the exact color and shape, until it gives your naive impression of the scene before you' (quoted in J. Rewald & F. Weitzenhoffer, eds., Aspects of Monet, A symposium on the artist’s life and times, New York, 1984, p. 109)."

The lot has an estimate of $20,000,000 to $30,000,000.  It sold for $27,600,000 including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article.

The sale total was $209 million.

Signac 21

Lot 21, "La Corne d'Or (Constantinople)," by Paul Signac, oil on canvas, 35 1/8 by 45 3/8 inches, 1907

Lot 21 is a large oil on canvas of "La Corne d'Or (Constantinople)" by Paul Signac (1863-1935).  It measures 35 1/8 by 45 3/8 inches and was painted in 1907.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"When Signac first traveled to the city of Istanbul in the spring of 1907, he was immediately struck by both the grandeur and history of the place, and the unique quality of light and color that filled the ancient city. The artist returned to France with a series of tantalizing canvases on the subject, the largest and most flamboyant of which is La Corne d'Or (Constantinople)....

"This historic meeting place of East and West had captivated Signac’s imagination for some time before he finally discovered it for himself while sailing between Naples and Greece. The location inspired twelve paintings, all of which take as their subject the historically significant Golden Horn, a flooded estuary of the Bosphorus near the port of Istanbul. This passage of water was one of the key entrances to the Ottoman capital at this time and a busy waterway, teeming with life.

"In La Corne d'Or (Constantinople) the skyline of the city is easily recognizable in the background, with the famous minarets of the Hagia Sophia an unmistakable silhouette on the horizon. This ethereal vision, which floats in a miasma of delicate pinks and purples, is framed to either side by an array of boats and ships rendered in vibrant colors that suggest the energy and bustling activity of the modern city. The brilliant luminosity of the composition is typical of Signac’s late style and is wonderfully effective here in paying homage to the historical legacy and richness of the city whilst bringing a fresh vivacity to its portrayal, recalling the heady visions of his prior European expeditions.

"While his paintings of Istanbul date from 1907, Signac had begun travelling more extensively throughout Europe in 1904, visiting other major port cities such as London, Rotterdam and Venice. Unlike Monet, whose travels were occasioned by the search for new visual stimuli, Signac’s travels were to a certain extent programmatic in intent and the present work very much belongs within this major 'series' of late paintings. 'At the turn of the century, Signac’s paintings tended toward a decorative classicism, manifested by broad, well-considered and balanced compositions. His project for a series of views of famous ports, inspired by a similar series by Joseph Vernet, was realized in unusually large-scale pictures.... Conscious of working within a historic tradition, Signac no longer proclaimed a modernity justified by science but alluded to his predecessors, great marine painters like Turner and Claude Lorrain who celebrated light' (M. Ferretti-Bocquillon in Signac (exhibition catalogue), Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris; Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam & The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2001, p. 225). Though infused with sublime pigments unseen in the palettes of his nineteenth-century predecessors, Signac’s La Corne d'Or (Constantinople) owes a debt to Turner’s iridescent renderings of many port towns, as notably echoed resplendent skies of the English painter’s Roman scenes from 1828.

"The contemporary critic and key supporter of the Neo-Impressionists, Félix Fénéon, was aware of this same alliance with historical precedents when he wrote, 'chromatic opulence in Paul Signac’s paintings decorates deliberate, audacious and rhythmic compositions which inevitably bring to mind the names of great masters such as Poussin and Claude Lorrain' (quoted in J. Sutter, ed., Neo-Impressionists, Greenwich, 1970, p. 60). The artist himself wrote on this topic when he published D’Eugčne Delacroix au néo-impressionnisme in 1899. Signac concentrated on the relationship between naturalistic depiction and decorative abstraction. As Michael Marlais writes: 'he spoke of the triumph of abstraction over realism, the very underpinning of modern art. The concept of the decorative was very weighty indeed for the Neo-Impressionist painters because it separated them from all the illusionistic, realistic manners of the past. It made the Neo-Impressionists modern. Yet at the same time, it also connected them with the past' (M. Marlais, "Neo-Impressionism, Puvis de Chavannes, and the Decorative Aesthetic" in Neo-Impressionism, Artists on the Edge (exhibition catalogue), Portland Museum of Art, Portland, 2002, p. 54).

"Yet, while Signac looked to past masters for inspiration in subject matter, these canvases also provided an arena in which he could continue to experiment with technique. When he painted the current work in 1907, Signac was further developing his artistic style beyond the strict tenets of Divisionism which he had adopted from Georges Seurat in the 1880s. He liberated his color palette, daring to blend the pure pigments seen in earlier works, and broadened his approach while retaining the main characteristics of Divisionism through his pointed application of brushstrokes. This mature style was characterized by a subtle exploration of the nuances of light combined with a chromatic richness that is a key quality of La Corne d'Or (Constantinople). When the critic Claude Roger-Marx first saw one of the Instanbul series paintings on the walls of the 1908 Salon des Indépendants it caused him to observe: 'It is important to recognize that no other painter has applied the new technique with more intelligence or authority than Paul Signac. His view of the Corne d’or, which is of the highest order, exemplifies the high intensity of luminous and chromatic expression that Neo-Impressionism can reach' (C. Roger-Marx, Le Chronique des arts et de la curiosité, March 28, 1908, p. 117).

The lot has an estimate of $14,000,000 to $18,000,000.  It sold for $16,210,000.

Signac 27

Lot 27, Lac Leman (Saint Gingolphe)," by Paul Signac, oil on canvas, 18 1/2 by 22 inches, 1904

Lot 27, is a handsome oil on canvas entitled "Lac Leman (Saint Gingolphe)" by Paul Signac  that measures 18 1/2 by 22 inches.  It was painted in 1904.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"An exceptionally rare and radiant example of Signac’s mature career, Lac Léman is an epitomal Neo-Impressionist composition. Replete with the kaleidoscopic hues and divisionist brushwork which defined the movement at the turn of the century, Lac Léman stands as an artistic and personal testament to the radical painter.

"Born in Paris in 1863, Signac came of age in the bohemian artist epicenter of Montmartre where he absorbed the revolutionary works on display in gallery windows and visited the nascent Impressionist exhibitions which galvanized the art world. As a young man, Signac showed a marked independent streak. By the age of twenty, he had disavowed formal artistic training, having eschewed brief apprenticeships in favor of his self-taught 'lessons' along the Seine and northern coast of France. By this time, Signac had also developed a love affair with sailing which would continue throughout his life, and which permeated every aspect of his artistic career. While Signac soon found himself amid the literary circles in Paris, associating with art critics like Joris-Karl Huysman, Paul Alexis and Félix Fénéon—who in 1886 would coin the term 'Neo-Impressionism'—it was an 1880 exhibition of Monet’s works which would catalyze the young Signac’s career as a painter.

"In 1884, Signac participated in the first exhibition of the Société des Artistes Indépendants alongside Henri-Edmond Cross and Georges Seurat, who would become close friends and artistic influences....The artists shared similar ambitions, wanting to paint the modern world while incorporating the emerging scientific theories on color first promulgated by French chemist Eugčne Chevreul. In 1824, the scientist was appointed by Louis XVIII as head of the Gobelins manufactory and charged with improving the color of tapestries created at these government-controlled workshop. Chevreul’s research led to the concept of 'simultaneous contrast,' a notion that adjacent colors impact the perception of the surrounding colors which would impact artist for decades to follow. After the watershed exhibition of Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grand Jatte in 1884, Signac began incorporating small dots of pure, unmixed color in a similar stippling effect within his own compositions. By the early 1900s, the divisionist technique had grown in scope from tiny pointillist dots to larger, directional swathes of vibrant pigment, as exemplified by Lac Léman.

"Painted in 1903-04, the present work displays a glorious tableau of Lake Geneva (known as Lac Léman in French) near the Swiss border town of St. Gingolph. With the Impressionistic reverence for light and his enduring exaltation of color, Signac renders a rare view of the serene body of water, offsetting the craggy purplish Alps with daubs of white and cerulean and ultramarine blues. Rich in pigments from across the chromatic spectrum, the midground of the composition features a number of aquatic vessels, including two steamboats at center and two sail boats. The detailed attention lavished on the these ships, as witnessed in careful rendering of the flags along the mast of the steamboat and the characteristic triangular lateen sails, attests to the painter’s understanding and love of the nautical pastime. The specificity of these peculiar types of boats belies the artist's authentic connection to a region long celebrated for its leisure activities and picturesque environs (see fig. 2).

"Signac arrived in St. Gingolph in 1903 amid his travels between Venice and Antibes. Though dated 1903 on the front of the canvas, the work appears in the artist’s notebook from 1904, indicating that it was likely finalized in the following year. While Signac’s lifelong peregrinations would take the artist to myriad waterways and ports across France including those near Marseille, Avignon, Antibes, St. Briac and La Rochelle, as well as international destinations like Venice, Rotterdam and Constantinople, his time in Switzerland is only documented by the handful of later watercolors and the present composition in oil, seemingly unique in his oeuvre.

"Around the time this work was completed, Signac, Seurat and Cross spent a summer painting together along the coast of St. Tropez. At Signac’s invitation, the retinue of Neo-Impressionists was joined by the younger and lesser-known Henri Matisse. The bold palette and experimental techniques of the older artists, paired with the incomparable light of the Midi region, inspired Matisse to paint Luxe, calme et volupté. Though Matisse would never fully adopt the Neo-Impressionist style and credo, Luxe, calme et volupté would become a canonical work in Modern art history, marking the genesis of the Fauve movement and inspiring countless artists to continue working in riotously bold palettes."

The lot has an estimate of $3,000,000 to $4,000,000.  It sold for $4,460,000.

Miro 15

Lot 15, "Peinture," by Joan Miro, oil on canvas, 29 by 73 inches, 1952

Lot 15 is a superb oil on canvas by Joan Miro that measures 29 by 73 inches and was painted in 1952.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Miró's luminous Peinture is a work of exceptional creative achievement. Painted at the beginning of a new era in modern art, it is one of the artist's finest canvases from his post-war production. Executed in 1952 and exhibited at Pierre Matisse's gallery in New York the following year, it captures the whimsy and flight of fancy that characterized Miró's best paintings, but the picture itself also presents a mix of poetic lyricism, radical abstraction and semiotic complexity that was groundbreaking among the avant-garde during this period and typical of his finest work....   

In Miró's most successful work, his remarkable visual vocabulary strikes a perfect balance between abstraction and image-signs. There is always energy and movement in these pictures and never a sense of stasis. Moreover, each work is the result of active and ongoing improvisation that renders a precise interpretation impossible. In the early 1950s, Miró employed a wide variety of techniques and media, often enhancing the texture of his medium to obtain unusual stylistic effects. In the present work, the artist  applies a thick layer of oil to the surface of the canvas in bold strokes of black, white, green, blue and red while adding notes of other coloration in light, spritzed passages scattered throughout. This technique adds another dimension to the otherwise flat medium of oil on canvas; although the work seems to arise from the abstract realm of imagination, there is still present an adherence to the signs and forms that can be found throughout the artist's oeuvre.

When Miró painted the present composition in 1952, he had already become acquainted with the new techniques and aesthetic agenda of the Abstract Expressionists. He first saw their work in New York in 1947, and the experience, the artist would later recall, was like a 'blow to the solar plexus.' Several young painters, including Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, were crediting Miró as the inspiration behind their various abstract approaches, and American artist like Alexander Calder already owed a profound debt to the Spanish artist.... In the years that followed, Miró created works that responded to the enthusiasm of this new generation of American painters and the spontaneity of their art, but, as evident in the present work, retained a loyalty to his own artistic pursuits. 'For me form is never something abstract,' he said at the end of the 1940s, "it is always a sign of something. It is always a man, a bird, or something else. For me painting is never form for form's sake" (quoted in Margit Rowell, Joan Miró, Selected Writings and Interviews, Boston, 1986, p. 207).

In 1959 Robert Motherwell...penned an essay for Artnews entitled 'The Significance of Miró' in which he explored, among other facets of the artist’s work, Miró’s painting process: 'How Miró makes a painting is interesting…. The whole process is pervaded throughout by an exquisite ‘purity,’ that is, by a concrete and sensitive love for his medium that never distorts the essential nature of the medium, but respects its every nuance of being, as one respects someone one loves…. The painting medium is essentially a rhythmically animated, colored surface-plane that is invariably expressive, mainly of feelings or their absence… The expression is mainly the result of emphasis, is constituted by what is emphasizes, and, more indirectly, by what is simply assumed or ignored…. There are not many painters as sensitive to the ground of the picture at the beginning of the painting-process as Miró—Klee, the Cubist collage, Cézanne watercolors, Rothko come to mind…. When Miró has made a beautiful, suggestive ground for himself, intentionally the picture is half-done…. Miró’s miracle is not in his brushing, but in that his surface does not end up heavy and material, like cement or tar or mayonnaise, but airy, light, clean, radiant, like the Mediterranean itself. There is art for his creatures to breath and move about him. No wonder he loves Mozart' (R. Motherwell, “The Significance of Miró” in Artnews, New York, May 1959, pp. 65-66).

After it’s debut at Pierre Matisse Gallery in 1953, Peinture would, a decade later, grace the walls of the Tate Gallery and the Zurich Kunsthaus. While the work hung at the Tate, Miró posed in front of it, smiling towards the camera and gesturing with both hands at the picture on the wall behind him. In the catalogue for this exhibition Peinture is described as follows: 'Miró's desire to find a language in which signs can be independent of any precise meaning and exist by their hidden power of suggestion, can be appreciated in this painting. There is a spontaneous freedom in the flow of his sensitive line that makes the finality with which shapes find their place on the canvas all the more astonishing…. This is again the result of a combination between complete abandon and masterly control" (Joan Miró (exhibition catalogue), 1964, op. cit., p. 44).'

The lot has an estimate of $3,000,000 to $4,000,000. It sold for $3,020,000.

Miro 32

Lot 32, "Peinture," by Joan Miro, oil on canvas, 77 1/2 by 28 3/4 inches, 1953

Lot 32 is a strong abstract oil on canvas by Miro that is called "Peinture."  It measures 77 1/2 by 28 3/4 inches and was painted in 1953.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Miró’s enchanting Peinture is an evocative composition which captures some of the artist’s most emblematic motifs and illustrates his clear passion for color and forms. Painted in 1953, the present work combines Miró’s famous figurative abstraction with his characteristic brushstroke using a limited palette of bold and expressive colors, which explored the capacity in which fields of unblended color respond to one another. The blue background used in the present work harkens back to the 'dream paintings' of the late 1920s....In 1925 Miró began a series of pictures in which he abandoned the more figurative manner of representation he had used and concentrated on a new visual idiom. The use of one or two intensely rich colors became a hallmark of the period, and in Peinture-Poésie (a series in which Miró combined symbols with text to create works that reflected his interest in dreams) Miró declared that blue was the color of his dreams. The blue used in many of the 'dream paintings' is the quintessential feature of works from this period and became highly influential for a later generation of artists such as Mark Rothko and Yves Klein....  

"Born in Barcelona, Miró split his time in between Paris and his hometown. He came in contact with many of the most influential contemporary artists of the time and at points worked with them in collaboration. He was highly regarded by his contemporaries; Giacometti once said of Miró’s art: 'For me, it was the greatest liberation. Anything lighter, more airy, more detached, I had never seen. In a way, it was absolutely perfect. Miró could not put down a dot without it being in just the right place. He was so much a painter, through and through, that he could leave three spots of colour on the canvas and it became a painting' (quoted in Joan Miró, 1917-1934 (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 212).

"Nevertheless, Miró remains unique in his ability to resist characterization into a singular style or artistic movement. By not settling into a particular school he was able to work towards overturning aesthetic hierarchies and to create his own pictorial idiom by ignoring traditional precepts of representation. As art critic Laura Cummings wrote, 'When Miró died in 1983, at the age of 90, he had long been cherished as the last of the modernist stars. His pictorial language was singular, instantly recognizable and—quite rightly—no longer perceived as some Catalan dialect of Surrealism" (L. Cummings, 'Joan Miró: The Ladder of Escape' in The Guardian, London, April 16, 2011).

"Miró’s compositions straddle the line between allowing the painting to be led by an unconscious drive and a carefully executed plan. Miró advised that painting should be 'conceived with fire in the soul but executed with clinical coolness.' Miró balanced the kind of spontaneity and automatism encouraged by the Surrealists with meticulous planning and rendering to achieve finished works that are representational despite their considerable level of abstraction. Widely considered one of the leading Surrealists (though never officially part of the group) Miró used color and form in a symbolic rather than literal manner. 

"Miró is singular among artists for his insatiable appetite for experimenting with new mediums and techniques and challenging himself to create new work. For a period in the 1950s he focused almost exclusively on printmaking and ceramics, and his prints were honored at the 1954 Venice Biennale, receiving the grand prize for graphic work. Peinture is monumental in size and comes from a time when Miró was experimenting with various scales and thinking of the effect that a monumental work would produce. Only a few years after the completion of Peinture, Miró created enormous ceramic murals..., demonstrating the continued expansion of his oeuvre. Like Duchamp, Miró retired from painting at several points in his career, though never for quite so long as the famous Dadaist. 

"The paintings Miró produced at the end of the 1940s and the beginning of the 1950s are a fascinating response to new trends in abstraction, especially by the American Abstract Expressionists who had so admired and, in fact, responded to Miró's own work. But they also show Miró’s allegiance to his own artistic pursuits; Miró pioneered a wandering linear style of Automatism—a method of 'random' drawing that attempted to express the inner workings of the human psyche—and maintained the primacy of line throughout his long career."

The lot has an estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000.  It sold for $4,340,000.

Leger  37

Lot 37, "Nature morte a la pipe sur fond orange," by Fernand Leger, oil on canvas, 36 1/4 by 25 1/2 inches, 1928

Lot 37 is a good still life with a pipe by Fernand Leger (1881-1955).  An oil on canvas, it measures 36 1/4 by 25 1/2 inches and was painted in 1928.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Born in a small town in Normandy in 1881, Fernand Léger left home at the age of nineteen to pursue a career in Paris as an architectural draftsman. In Paris, his proximity to the rising stars of the avant-garde and exposure to the increasingly modernizing world would deeply influence his career and help define the course of art history. In the early years of the twentieth century, Léger would become acquainted with artists like Lipchitz and Soutine at La Ruche—the iconic studio-cum-residence shared by dozens of Modern artists in Montparnasse—as well as with Apollinaire and the leading Cubists, Picasso and Braque. Such affiliations would help guide Léger’s personal artistic identity, beginning with his Contrastes de formes from 1913, which presented flat, abstracted planes of juxtaposed colors, forms and lines. The focus on plastic elements and their compositional harmony, begun in these early works, would always take primacy of place of his oeuvre, as reflected in Nature morte ŕ la pipe sur fond orange.

"Influenced by the Purist aesthetic promulgated by Le Corbusier and Ozenfant, as well as the machine-driven imagery of the Futurists..., Léger’s still lifes from the late 1920s-30s present carefully crafted collections of familiar forms, gathered together to achieve utmost balance in both color and composition. As Léger described, “I organize the opposition of contrasting values, lines and curves. I oppose curves to straight lines, flat surfaces to molded forms, pure local colors to nuances of grey. These initial plastic forms are either superimposed on objective elements or not, it makes no difference to me. There is only a question of variety...” (quoted in E.F. Fry, Fernand Léger: The Functions of Painting, New York, 1973, pp. 24-25).

"Also recalling the Cubist and Dadaist subversion of language and form, as well as their use of collage..., Léger’s Nature morte ŕ la pipe sur fond orange removes its constituent parts from their rational, typical contexts, employing recognizable figures like keys, letters, leaves and pipes primarily for their linear qualities. Such objects would become visual mainstays of Léger’s work in the following years, serving as building blocks for his myriad still life compositions. The trivialization of the connoted meaning attached to these objects connects to Dadaist principles, while also foreshadowing and inspiring the Pop Art movement and its generalized cooptation of imagery from the 1950s onward. As Léger stated, 'The subject in painting has already been destroyed, just as avant-garde film destroyed the story line. I thought that the object, which had been neglected, was the thing to replace the subject' (quoted in J. Cassou & J. Leymarie, Fernand Léger: Drawings and Gouaches, New York, 1973, p. 87). 

"In the present work, Léger reduces his color scheme to the dichotomous pairings of black and white and green and orange to achieve a static, harmonious balance within the picture. The artist’s incorporation of everyday objects also reflects a meditation on modernity and the rise of the working class around him in Paris. The years before and after the completion of this work attest to Léger’s continued fascination with plastic harmony, mechanical structure and repetition, both in his preceding Eléments mécaniques series of the early 1920s..., as well as his later figural group scenes like the Constructeurs of the 1950s. 'Expression was always an element too sentimental for me. Not only did I sense the human figure as an object, but also since I found the machine so plastic, I wanted to give the human figure the same plasticity. If later, I painted hands in a way a bit different than the figure, without the geometric embodiment of my old canvases, I did it only because it didn’t bother me from the plastic point of view' (quoted in Fernand Léger (exhibition catalogue), Grand Palais, Paris, 1971-72, op. cit., p. 66). The combination of man and machine was a mantel that would be taken up by both fellow and future artists. In his black and white works from the 1990s and 2000s, Albert Oehlen confronts both the aesthetics and capabilities of early computer programs as a form of visual painting. His whispered lines, graphic letters and ungainly shapes echo, almost a century later, Fernand Léger's most graphic works...."

The lot has an estimate of $1.200,000 to $1,800,000.  It sold for $1,940,000.

Caillebotte 25

Lot 25, "Richard Gallo and his dog, Dick, at Petit-Gennevilliers," by Gustave Caillebotte, oil on canvas, 35 by 45 1/2 inches, 1884

Lot 25 is an oil on canvas by Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894) of "Richard Gallo and his dog, Dick, at Petit-Gennevilliers."  It measures 35 by 45 1/2 inches and was painted in 1884.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Rich in crystalline blues and verdant greens under demure skies, Richard Gallo et son chien Dick, au Petit Gennevilliers presents one of the finest syntheses of Impressionist techniques and portraiture, and captures the artist’s dear friend and most frequently painted figural subject, Richard Gallo. Appearing in Caillebotte’s work in four large-scale paintings from as early as 1878, Gallo was the Egyptian-born son of a French banker who settled in Paris in 1869 and befriended the artist at school. Gallo would go on to become the editor of the newspaper Le Constitutionnel and maintain his friendship with Caillebotte and his brother Martial for years to follow. While little more is known about Gallo, the frequency with which he is portrayed in Caillebotte’s oeuvre stands as a testament to the pair’s lasting friendship.

"As Caillebotte’s final and most impressive portrait of his friend, Richard Gallo et son chien Dick, au Petit Gennevilliers reaches the pinnacle of expression and artistic freedom in portraiture. Removed from the interior settings of the artist’s earlier works, Gallo here is witnessed mid-stride along the iridescent Seine on a daytime stroll with his canine companion Dick. As in La Partie de bésigue, Gallo seems to be studiously at ease, standing with a focused gaze and smart suit even during times of ostensible relaxation. The upright posture of the man is echoed in the jaunty yet elegant gait of the well-groomed dog, who like his owner is rendered in rich blacks and purples. The dark color scheme of Gallo and his dog is not only befitting of a nattily dressed man of society, but also serves to draw the figures to the fore of the composition. Behind the pair a luminous and fecund riverbank sits peacefully, dotted with bright white buildings reminiscent of the grand Haussmannian edifices of Paris. Between banks the reflections of the buildings shimmer on the surface of the water, balancing the composition and capturing the same light which dapples the ground near Gallo and his dog. Steely gray skies set a neutral background for the effulgent scene below in a palette of light blues, dense greens and playful tones of whites and peach which characterize many of Caillebotte’s paintings of Yerres and Petit Gennevilliers. A looser, Impressionistic handling of the brush and wonderful impastoed daubs of paint enliven the canvas and conveys a sense of freedom of the outdoors in contrast to Caillebotte’s incisive and architectural cityscapes of the prior decade.

"The trajectory of Caillebotte’s portraiture, as summarized by the suite of Gallo paintings, reveals an astute attention to environment and the psychological implications a subject’s setting holds for the viewer. As Karin Sagner states, 'The self-questioning of the individual and his place in a bourgeoisie world were the themes that also dominated Caillebotte’s portraiture as it made a name for itself between 1878 and 1884. His sitters were mostly men, seated in an armchair, reclining on a sofa, or standing at a window: thinking, reading, daydreaming. In their totality, these portraits come across as a pictorial plumbing of the role of the man in society. Caillebotte… thus made a unique contribution to the body of Impressionist painting' (K. Sagner, Gustave Caillebotte, An Impressionist and Photography (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., pp. 27-28).

"In the 1878 Portrait de Richard Gallo, a knowing young man gazes from a stiff-backed chair with an air of self-importance and dominance over his well-appointed Parisian apartment—one which includes a piano and stack of books as hallmarks of the bourgeoisie....The following portrait of 1881 sees a dapper, cross-armed Gallo sitting upon a lavish sofa with a newspaper across his lap (see fig. 2). The newspaper bears the name of the rival conservative publication Le Figaro and hints at the competitive nature of enterprise in the modernizing city. After the singular focus of the initial portraits, Caillebotte’s renderings of Gallo begin to incorporate broader leisure scenes including multiple figures with more clearly recognizable backgrounds. Painted in the artist’s apartment on the fashionable Boulevard Haussmann, La Partie de bésigue features a close circle of Caillebotte’s friends and fellow bachelors, including his brother Martial playing cards at right and Gallo as the standing figure at center....

"Documenting more than the artist’s long-standing relationship with Gallo, Richard Gallo et son chien Dick, au Petit Gennevilliers also captures the revolutionary artistic spirit of the Impressionists. By the late 1860s, portraiture, like many academic genres, had been challenged by the rising avant-garde. The formal, studio-based compositions of wealthy patrons posed in their finery had been supplanted by the Impressionists’ more intimate and immediate scenes of their sitters, often glimpsed among friends or relatives and engaged in social and leisure pursuits. The Impressionist penchant for spontaneity and light-drenched landscapes carried across genres into a new and expanded notions of portraiture which considered the subject’s environs as integral to their character. As described in 1880 by Charles Ephrussi, a contemporary critic and friend of the Impressionists: “To compose one’s picture, not in a studio but on the spot, in the presence of the subject; to rid oneself of all convention; to put oneself in front of nature and interpret it frankly; brutally, without worrying about the official way of seeing… to proceed as though the figures were inseparable from the background, as though they resulted from it, and that, in order to appreciate a work, it were necessary to embrace it as a whole and look at it from the desired distance; such is the ideal of the new school” (quoted in Gustave Caillebotte: Urban Impressionist (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 182). During its first show in 1888 at the annual Belgian avant-garde exhibition of “Les XX”, the present work was titled Portrait de M.R.G., signifying Caillebotte’s clear intent for the lyrical riverscape to indeed be considered a portrait, albeit a reinvented one. A seamless blend of the traditional academic genre of landscape and portraiture, the present work embodies the Impressionist exaltation of light, leisure and the fleeting moment, while recalling the Parisian cityscapes of Caillebotte’s earlier career....

"As a generous and well-liked figure within his social circle, Caillebotte was known to frequently gift paintings to his fellow painters and close friends. The present work, like the two earlier portraits now in the collections of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the Fondation de l'Hermitage in Lausanne, were gifted to Gallo by Caillebotte after completion. Richard Gallo et son chien Dick, au Petit Gennevilliers remained in Gallo’s collection until his death, at which time his nephew Maurice Rolland inherited the work. This resplendent and touching portrayal was on extended loan to the National Gallery in London in the early 1990s, as well as on loan to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York from 2000-02, and has appeared in numerous international exhibitions since its creation."

The lot has an estimate of $18,000,000 to $25,000,000.  It sold for $19,686,000.

Van Gogh  45

Lot 45, "Tristan Bernard au Velodrome Buffalo," by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, oil on canvas, 25 1/8 by 31 7/8 inches, 1895

Lot 45 is an oil on canvas by Henri de Toulouse-Lautre of "Tristan Bernard au Velodrome Buffalo."  Painted in 1895, it measures 25 1/8 by 31 7/8 inches.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Lautrec was an enthusiastic habitué of the Vélodrome. He used to call for me every Sunday, we would lunch together and go to the Vélodrome de la Seine or the Buffalo. I let him enter the private enclosure with the officials. But usually he would wander away from them and sit on the grass by himself…I think the results of the races interested him very little, but he adored the setting and the people.” -Tristan Bernard on Toulouse-Lautrec in L’Amour de l’Art, April 1931

"An exquisite example of Toulouse-Lautrec’s insightful Parisian scenes, Tristan Bernard au Vélodrome Buffalo captures a crucial moment in the history of French Modernism. Painted in 1895, the present work situates the eponymous Tristan Bernard at the helm of the cycling track which he operated from 1892.

"Lautrec and Bernard were introduced at the home of collector and journalist Thadée Natanson and quickly became good friends, their jovial and quick-witted personalities aligning well. It was Bernard who would first introduce Lautrec to the world of cycling, though the artist was less interested in the sporting aspect than he was in capturing the spirit of the crowd and movement of the riders. The present work witnesses a proud Bernard gazing out across his domain, situated in thick of it all, quite literally standing in the middle of the course. Among his myriad careers as a lawyer, journalist and industrialist, Bernard was perhaps most gratified by his role as director during the triumphant early days of cycling in Paris.

"Indeed, the course was a sight to behold....Situated at the northwest corner of the city near Porte Maillot, the Vélodrome Buffalo introduced the nascent sport to eager French audiences who until this time had only witnessed the occasional race in neighboring parks. Droves of citizens began flocking to the outskirts of Paris to witness the new and thrilling diversion. 'The which thousands of spectators at a time crowded to bet on the riders sprinting elbow to elbow around the banked wooden track, was a cosmopolitan phenomenon. It celebrated the conjunction of man and machine, and what Hemingway called the ‘driving purity of speed’ (L. Marcus & D. Bradshaw, eds., Moving Modernisms: Motion, Technology, and Modernity, New York, 2016, p. 7). The sudden popularity of the sport spawned by the opening of the Vélodrome would result in the creation of the Tour de France in June of 1903 and give birth to a tradition which continues to captivate viewers around the world.

"Cycling also helped define an era in which speed and motion—be it in the form of a picture, activity or mode of transportation—were synonymous with modernity. Like the steam engine trains and powerful ships which captivated the Impressionists in decades prior, the velocity and whirls of motion conjured by the bicycle harked a new period in the modern age. Avant-garde painters would come to view the sport as a beacon of societal and industrial progress, inspiring works by artists as diverse as Signac and Metzinger, as well as their Futurist contemporaries whose compositions were predicated on the power of machines....

"Tristan Bernard au Vélodrome Buffalo bears all the hallmarks of Lautrec’s most defining works, from the radical touches of color and energetic brushwork—notably seen in the stands and sprinting cyclists—to the attuned psychological nuances of his subjects as attested by Bernard’s fast gaze and self-assured posture, to the artist’s quintessential encapsulation of the precise time and place in which the work was created. Perhaps most importantly, Lautrec’s Tristan Bernard au Vélodrome Buffalo marks the genesis of a pastime which now stands as an integral and seemingly timeless aspect of the French identity—one bolstered by the rich history of cycling tours throughout the country and referenced in countless cultural phenomena since the work’s inception, like Jacques Tati’s bicycle-wielding character Monsieur Hulot and Brigitte Bardot’s iconic light blue cruiser in And God Created Woman.....

"On loan to The Metropolitan Museum of Art for the last decade, the present work originally belonged by Tristan Bernard himself and comes to the market for the first time in more than seventy years from an illustrious family collection."

The lot has an estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000.  Despite the fact that cyclists have taken over many of the city's streets and instilled widespread fears among pedestrians, the painted painting failed to sell!

Van Gogh  22

Lot 22, "People Strolling in a Park in Paris," by Vincent van Gogh, oil on canvas, 18 1/4 by 15 inches, 1886

Lot 22 is a small oil on canvas of "People Strolling in a Park in Paris" by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890).  It measures 18 1/4 by 15 inches and was painted in 1886.  It was exhibited at the Tate in London this year.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"The year 1886 marked one of great growth and experimentation for van Gogh. The budding artist moved from Antwerp, where he’d spent his days frequenting museums and studying works by Northern masters like Hals and Rubens, to the bustling bohemian haven of Paris, where he’d soon encounter the French avant-garde. The two years that van Gogh spent in the French metropolis would prove pivotal in the artist’s career, taking his works from the heavier, fuliginous compositions inspired by Dutch masters to the lively and prismatic works for which the artist is best remembered....

"After securing lodging with his brother Theo in February of 1886, van Gogh sought further artistic study in Paris and soon enrolled in the Atelier Cormon. Though the temperamental artist would find little satisfaction in his instruction there, it was at Cormon’s studio that van Gogh would encounter and befriend Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Signac and Émile Bernard, forever altering the trajectory of his career. Shortly after leaving Cormon’s studio, van Gogh shifted his attention from drawing to painting and indulged his newfound lust for color. Writing to British painter Horace Mann Livens, van Gogh recounted: 'as we said at the time in COLOUR seeking LIFE, the true drawing is modeling with colour.' He reported that he had completed 'a dozen landscapes too, frankly green, frankly blue,' by the fall of 1886 (reproduced in L. Jansen, H. Luijten & N. Bakker, eds., Vincent van Gogh: The Letters. The Complete Illustrated and Annotated Edition, vol. III, New York, 2009, p. 364). In this same letter, van Gogh conveyed his great appreciation for Paris and its artists: 'In Antwerp I did not even know what the Impressionists were, now I have seen them and though not being one of the club yet I have much admired certain Impressionist pictures–DEGAS, nude figure–Claude Monet, landscape' (ibid., p. 364).

'Painted just a few months after van Gogh’s arrival in Paris, People Strolling in a Park in Paris portrays a daytime jaunt in one of the city's oldest parks and as such captures a moment in the metropolis’ historic evolution. As posited by the Van Gogh Museum in Paris, the setting of this work is likely the Parc Monceau, a small public space in the eighth arrondissement near where the van Gogh brothers lived. Originally established as a public space by the Duke of Orléans in 1778, the Parc Monceau changed hands over the course of the French Revolution and Second Empire, eventually returning to the ownership of Duke's family. After Napoleon III declared himself Emperor of France in 1851, the monarch set out to revolutionize the French capital by appointing Georges-Eugčne Haussmann as the prefect in charge of massive urban renewal campaigns. The 'Hausmannization' of Paris included myriad public works programs, not least of all the allotment and design of a number of urban parks. During this time, the land allocated for Parc Monceau was divided in two, with half being sold for development of luxury properties and the other half reserved for the city of Paris. In 1861, the remaining undeveloped land would become the first new public park under Baron Haussmann in 1861. An informal, English-style garden replete with worldly features like an Egyptian pyramid, Dutch windmill and Chinese fort, the Parc Monceau served as inspiration for countless artists in the 19th and 20th centuries including Monet and Caillebotte....

"The present work reflects an autumnal enlivening of the artist’s palette, including hues which recall van Gogh’s earlier Dutch works and yet are supplemented with resplendent seasonal tones of sienna and ochre. It is around this time when the influences of the newly-encountered Impressionists begin to take root in van Gogh’s work. The depth and sweeping perspective of van Gogh's earlier compositions, inspired by artists like Jean-François Millet, are here replaced by a patchwork of seemingly spontaneous directional brushstrokes, heavily impastoed and employed in the service of light and color. Painting wet-into-wet, van Gogh imbues his trees and figures with a lively, spontaneous quality which adds a sense of motion and impact to the seasonal scene.

"Such qualities are perhaps what inspired the glowing review by van Gogh’s first critic, Albert Aurier, who in 1890 wrote: “In the case of Vincent van Gogh, in my opinion, despite the sometimes misleading strangeness of his works, it is difficult for an unprejudiced and knowledgeable viewer to deny or question the naive truthfulness of his art, the ingeniousness of his vision. Indeed, independent of this indefinable aroma of good faith and of the truly seen that all his paintings exude, the choice of subjects, the constant harmony between the most excessive colour notes, the conscientious study of character, the continual search for the essential sign of each thing, a thousand significant details undeniably assert his profound and almost childlike sincerity, his great love for nature and for truth—his own personal truth” (G.-Albert Aurier, 'Les Isolés, Vincent van Gogh' in Mercure de France, no. 1, January 1890, pp. 24-29.) A well-respected art critic and collector associated with the Symbolist movement, Aurier owned a very similar painting which remained in the writer’s collection until his death.... 

"Van Gogh’s decadent yet harmonious use of color and great love of nature would reach a glorious pitch during his later years in Arles with incomparable works like L'Allée des Alyscamps whose verdant environs, autumnal tones, and thick, directional brushwork were predicated on catalytic works like the present....Stemming from the transformative Parisian period in van Gogh's career, the present work provides a crucial link between the artist's earlier and final works, and was celebrated most recently in London at the monumental Van Gogh and Britain exhibition at the Tate."

The lot has an estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000.  It sold for $9,717,700.

Degas yellow

Lot 6, "Femme prenant un tub," by Edgar Degas, pastel on paper mounted on board, 28 1/2 by 22 1/2 inches, circa 1886

The lot was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1969 and at the National Gallery in London and the Art Institute of Chicago in 1997.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Edgar Degas is widely considered to be the greatest exponent of pastel in modern art; no other artist created images possessed of such vibrancy, subtlety or profundity with the medium, and this exceptional work epitomizes his mastery. In Femme prenant un tub Degas explores the human form in a favored motif—a female figure during her bath—and uses pastel to elevate a humble moment into a sublime exposition of grace and beauty....

"This large and exhaustively worked pastel reveals Degas’s unique grasp of the medium's fundamental quality: directness. The simultaneously lively and intimate aura speaks to the versatility of the pastel crayon which allowed Degas to both draw and paint with immediate effect, producing dense opaque areas of raw color while paraphrasing elsewhere, without detriment to the overall composition. He could capture fleeting moments of light upon flesh and cloth with an assuredness unachievable via oil or watercolor. By applying color in a variety of ways—swift strokes, stippling spots and dashes, smudging and scraping—Femme prenant un tub possesses an incomparably nuanced and rich surface that conveys a uniquely sensitive vision.

"Degas obsessively depicted the female figure throughout his career. His artfully balanced and proportioned treatment of the woman’s body in the present work rank it among the most accomplished examples of the artist’s celebrated series of bathers. As in his portrayals of ballet dancers, Degas preferred to capture his models in a private moment, when they appear fully absorbed in their activity, completely unaware of being observed. The sense of privacy is amplified by the artist's preferred viewpoint, depicting his subject from the back, her face cast in shadow.

"Unlike his depictions of the ballet and the races, the bathers were usually staged in the artist’s studio for practical reasons....Nevertheless Femme prenant un tub recreates the spontaneity of the act and the voyeuristic experience of watching a woman at her toilette. Georges Jeanniot, who witnessed Degas at work on his pastels, reminisced about his technique: 'Degas was very concerned with the accuracy of movements and postures. He studied them endlessly. I have seen him work with a model, trying to make her assume the gestures of a woman drying herself…. You see the two shoulderblades from behind; but the right shoulder, squeezed by the weight of the body, assumes an unexpected outline that suggests a kind of acrobatic gesture, a violent effort' (quoted in R. Gordon & A. Forge, Degas, New York, 1988, p. 223).

"Femme prenant un tub was created shortly after the last Impressionist exhibition. Hailed as a key piece of the artist’s transition from Impressionism to the greater experimentation found in his late works, Richard Kendall has opined that the present work, "gave notice of the simplicity, even austerity, of Degas’s late bathers. Neither furniture, drapery, domestic incident nor narrative structure disturbs the clarity of the scene in which an anonymous woman calmly and prosaically sponges her leg. Action, setting and model are eloquent only in their sparseness, but are made compelling through the bravura evocation of warm light and soft shadow, the dense but differentiated textures of skin and muscle, towel and carpet” (R. Kendall in Degas, Beyond Impressionism (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 174). It is Degas’ genius with pastel, combined with his love of radical cropping (which would later manifest in his passion for photography; see fig. 4) that lends warmth and concrete action to the present scene. 'Characteriscically,' writes Kendall, 'even at his most audacious Degas referred back to the past; the woman’s naked back recalls vividly one of the icons of Degas’s youth, Ingres’s Valpinçon bather' (ibid., p. 174....

The lot has an estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000.  It sold for $6,642,400.


Lot 10, "Femme se coiffant au bord de la mer," by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, oil on canvas, 21 7/8 by 18 1/4 inches, circa 1895

Lot 10, "Femme se coiffant au bord de la mer" is a very lovely oil on canvas by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919).  It measures 21 7/8 by 18 1/4 inches and was created circa 1895.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"A timeless and lyrical idyll, Femme se coiffant au bord de la mer comes to the market for the first time in nearly a century from the illustrious Booth family collection. In 1927, notable collector and patron of the arts Ralph Harman Booth acquired the work from Bernheim-Jeune, one of the longest-standing and most renowned dealers to first champion Impressionist and Modern masters including Renoir, van Gogh, Bonnard and Vuillard, and the present canvas is captured in a photograph of Bernheim-Jeune's salon....

"While Renoir’s bathing scenes of the mid-1880s present crisp lines and fresco-like renderings of his subjects inspired by Ingres, “by the 1890s, Renoir’s hard-edged style yielded to a fluid melding of figure and ground, and particularities gave way to a more generalized and idealized approach” (A. Dumas & J. Collins, Renoir’s Women, London & New York, 2005, p. 80). Dated circa 1895, Femme se coiffant au bord de la mer presents a brilliant encapsulation of an Arcadian-inspired reverie painted with the hallmark brushstrokes and effulgent light of the Impressionists. Émile Verhaeren, a contemporary poet and art critic of Renoir, highlighted the quality of Renoir's specific handling of flesh: ' an utterly new vision, a quite unexpected interpretation of reality to solicit our imagination. Nothing is fresher, more alive and pulsating with blood and sexuality, than these bodies and faces as he portrays them. Where have they come from, those light and vibrating tones that caress arms, necks, and shoulders, and give a sensation of soft flesh and porousness?' (quoted in G. Muesham, ed., French Painters and Paintings from the Fourteenth Century to Post-Impressionism: A Library of Art Criticism, New York, 1970, pp. 511-12).

"A similar work recently lent to the Musée Renoir in Cagnes-sur-Mer by Prince Albert II of Monaco and dated five years earlier...highlights an important quality in Renoir’s painting from this period—the inconsequence of location. While the central figure, pose, and drapery in the two works echo each other, the present composition is set along a cerulean seaside, replacing the wooded promontory of the earlier picture. As Verhaeren states, 'the backgrounds are suffusions of air and light; they are vague because they must not distract us' (ibid., p. 512)."

The lot has an estimate of $1,800,000 to $2,500,000.  It sold for $2,660,000.

Lempicka  43

Lot 43, "La Tunique rose," by Tamara de Lempicka, oil on canvas, 28 5/8 by 45 3/4 inches, 1927

Lot 43, "La Tunique rose" is an oil on canvas by Tamara de Lempicka (1898-1980) that measures 28 5/8 by 45 3/4 inches.  It was painted in 1927

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"After fleeing the Russian revolution in 1917, the Polish-born Lempicka eventually settled in Paris, where she soon cultivated a glittering social circle and a prestigious artistic following. The professional and social aspects of Lempicka’s life were intimately intertwined as the success in one area was indispensable to the other. An epitomal figure of the Jazz Age, Lempicka was often aligned with a more traditionally masculine persona, as her autonomy, financial independence and demand for respect set her apart from the typical female archetype in the early twentieth century. Presenting herself as a bold and 'virile woman' with a distinctive artistic style and charismatic charm, Lempicka garnered attention and secured commissions within the social elite in Paris.

"By 1922, the artist began exhibiting her work in the Paris salons, and through her exposure to the avant-garde developed a unique Art Deco style of painting that was unlike her male contemporaries. While asserting a distinct style of the artist’s own making, Lempicka’s oeuvre incorporates stylistic elements from diverse periods and genres, bearing affinities with the geometric compositions of her Futurist and Precisionist contemporaries as well as recalling the dramatic sensuality of Renaissance figures and Neo-Classical odalisques....Indebted to a love of fashion, theater and the human form, Lempicka’s paintings are uniquely characterized by her precise draftsmanship, Caravaggesque lighting and evocative figuration. Lempicka proudly believed that she stood out among artists of her day. 'I was the first woman who did clear painting—and that was the success of my painting,' she later wrote. 'Among a hundred paintings, you could recognize mine. And the galleries began to put me in the best rooms, always in the center, because my painting attracted people. It was neat, it was finished' (quoted in K. de Lempicka-Foxhall, Passion by Design, New York, 1987, p. 53).

"Beyond her fastidious attention to line and composition, Lempicka possessed a talent for portraying women in a sexualized yet empowering way. A dazzling example of Lempicka’s 'clear' yet multifaceted work, La Tunique rose presents a rich tableau balanced by piercing lines and sumptuous curves, her radiant figure highlighted by dramatic chiaroscuro and the pop of silky color against swells of sensuous skin. Showcasing her sculptor’s eye and ability to depict a spirit of elegance and vitality, Lempicka presents a rare example of the artist’s full-length figures in La Tunique rose. The artist’s appreciation of the female form and its power also recalls the once-scandalous nudes of Modgliani, whose works presented women in full possession of their sexuality, often with knowing and solicitous gazes which shocked audiences and authorities at the time....

"The luxuriant model in the present work is Rafaëla, one of Lempicka’s most famed muses and lovers. Upon first encountering the enchanting Rafaëla in the Bois de Boulogne, Lempicka boldly propositioned her: “Suddenly I became aware of a woman walking some distance in front of me. As she walks, everyone coming in the opposite direction stops and looks at her. They turn their heads as she passes by. I am curious. What is so extraordinary that they are doing this? I walk very quickly until I pass her, then I turn around and come back down the path in the opposite direction then I see why everyone stops. She is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen—huge black eyes, beautiful sensuous mouth, beautiful body. I stop her and say to her ‘Mademoiselle, I’m a painter and I would like you to pose for me. Would you do this?’ She says ‘Yes. Why not?’” (P. Bade, op. cit., p. 59).

"Rafaëla features heavily in the artist’s oeuvre, including a pendant to the present work painted the following month....According to leading Lempicka scholar Gioia Mori, 'The beautiful Rafaëla first appeared in 1927; Lempicka wrote the months during which she did the painting on the backs of photographs of the picture with a loving care destined for remembrance. It is a sort of private diary from which we learn that the first was The Pink Tunic, where the model is still covered by a thin slip, this was followed by La Belle Rafaëla, a short-haired Venus in the dark secrets of the night, illuminated by a beam of Caravaggesque light covered with a passionately red cloth' (G. Mori, Tamara de Lempicka, The Queen of Modern (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 194). In his monograph on the artist, Patrick Bade refers to Lempicka’s depictions of Rafaëla as 'amongst the most potently erotic works of Lempicka in which the desire of the artist for the soft and curvaceous body of the model is palpable' (P. Bade, op. cit., p. 59)."

The lot has an estimate of $6,000,000 to $8,000,000.  It sold for $13,362,500.

Bradque 30

Lot 30, "Nature morte(a la mandoline)," by Georges Braque, oil and sand on canvas, 16 1/8 by 47 1/2 inches, 1927

Lot 30 is a wonderful, large still life with a mandolin by Georges Braque (1882-1963).  An oil and sand on canvas, it measures 16 1/8 by 47 1/2 inches and was painted in 1927.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Nature morte (ŕ la mandoline) is a grand, monumental still life from George Braque's pivotal production of the late 1920s and marries together some of the artist's greatest loves: music, quiet observation and evocative texture. The still life was a theme to which Braque returned consistently throughout his long and productive career, finding the myriad arrangements he concocted to be the most appropriate subject for investigating the formal and tactile qualities of painting. In the decades following the invention of Cubism, Braque continued to refine and re-examine the expressive possibilities of his still lifes, always creating innovative modes of representation.   

"Completed in 1927 in the midst of the Surrealist movement, this dynamic still life shares textural qualities with earlier Cubist canvases as well as coeval works by Max Ernst and others..., and here Braque imbues the entire surface with a rich topography by mixing his oil paint with sand. His limited palette of green, red-brown and umber strategically focuses the eye towards the center of the canvas, where the bright yellow, green and red elements appear to have electric intensity. 

"Instruments and sheet music first appeared in Braque’s works during his pivotal early Cubist years. They would recur in still lifes throughout the following decades. Braque himself was musical, classically trained in the violin, flute, and even the accordion. “He is reported to have been a good musician, a singer with a pleasant voice, and an accomplished, enthusiastic dancer…. Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, remembered that he boasted of being able to ‘play Beethoven symphonies on the accordion” (K. Wilkin, Georges Braque, New York, 1991, p. 8). Several of his close friends, including Erik Satie and Georges Auric, were prominent composers; Claude Debussy, whose sheet music is visible in Le Duo, now at the Centre Georges Pompidou, was a great admirer of Braque and his work while Braque in turn paid homage to his favorite composer, Bach, in several paintings....

"While Braque's work stylistically evolved from his cubist roots, the interplay of his medium and its support, as well as the textural effects created and conveyed by their mixture, remained paramount in the artist's oeuvre. His superlative use of faux-bois technique, first put forward with printed wallpaper in 1912..., incorporated elements of visual manipulation into his paintings and works on paper. While collage suited some of these early compositions, Braque used a variety of oils to mimic this effect in his canvases, seen in Nature morte (ŕ la mandoline) in the simulation of wood grain on the table top."

The lot has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000.  It failed to sell.

Braque 28

Lot 28, "Maison sur la colline," by Georges Braque, oil on canvas, 18 1/8 by 15 inches, 1907

Lot 28 is a nice Fauve landscape by Georges Braque (1882-1963) entitled "Maison sur la colline."  An oil on canvas, it measures 18 1/8 by 15 inches and was painted in 1907.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Braque's depictions of the environs of Provence rank among the most expressive and desirable of the Fauve landscapes. The inception of these rare and extraordinary canvases dates from the period immediately after the fall of 1905, when Matisse, Derain and Vlaminck first exhibited their boldy colorful Colliure landscapes at the Salon d'Automne and famously earned the moniker 'wild beasts.' Braque, who was twenty-three at the time, was overwhelmed and captivated by these pictures: 'Matisse and Derain opened the road for me,' he later confirmed. During the next two years, he associated himself with the Fauve group, producing what he called his 'first creative works' (quoted in D. Cooper, Braque: The Great Years (exhibition catalogue), Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, 1972, p. 27; see fig. 2).

"In 1906, Braque too would travel to the South of France, but he chose instead the rich terrain of the Provençal countryside as opposed to the port towns. In the present work, which was painted in the summer of 1907, Braque depicts the rolling hills near La Ciotat and L'Estaque—an area that would figure prominently in his subsequent Cubist production. Maison sur la colline evokes the light and color that fascinated Braque in the south of France and which lent itself to the magisterial landscape of the hills which sprung up from the sea. Using hues of red, purple, blue, green and yellow Braque builds the vertiginous landscape topped with a red-roofed house and frames the composition with the bows of a shading tree above where he set up his easel. The geometric concerns of Cézanne which would, in turn, lead Braque to his explosive discovery of Cubism, are foreshadowed in this composition. 

"Remembering this period of his career, Braque later told Jacques Lassaigne, the noted art critic, art historian and author: 'I can say that the first pictures in L’Estaque were conceived before I set out. I set myself, nevertheless, to submit them to the influences of the light, of the atmosphere, and to the effect of the rain which enlivened the colors' (quoted in Georges Braque, Rétrospective (exhibition catalogue), Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul-de-Vence, 1994, p. 42).

"Like most of the Fauve painters, Braque painted en plein air. He frequently set up his easel alongside Émile-Othon Friesz, a fellow artist and compatriot who had traveled to L'Estaque with him from Le Havre. The mild Mediterranean climate allowed the artists to paint outdoors throughout the fall and winter months—a factor that had also appealed to Cézanne, whose paintings of L'Estaque from the 1880s are some of his most celebrated landscapes....Braque himself would draw further inspiration from Cézanne in the years that immediately followed, incorporating structure and tone into his earliest cubist paintings....  

"Braque later commented about his Fauve experience of 1906 and 1907: 'For me Fauvism was a momentary adventure in which I became involved because I was young… I was freed from the studios, only twenty-four, and full of enthusiasm, I moved toward what for me represented novelty and joy, toward Fauvism. It was in the South of France that I first felt truly elated. Just think, I had only recently left the dark, dismal Paris studios where they still painted with pitch! What a joyful revelation I had there!' (quoted in G. Diehl, The Fauves, New York, 1975, p. 132)."

The lot has an estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000.  It sold for $4,340,000.

Picasso  lola 31

Lot 31, "Portrait of Lola, soeur de l'artiste," by Pablo Picasso, oil on panel, 14 by 8 3/4 inches, 1901

Lot 31 is a strong portrait oil on panel by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) of his sister, Lola.  It measures 14 by 8 3/4 inches and was painted in 1901.  It was once owned by Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Ahauntingly elegant portrayal of the artist’s sister, the present work features one of Picasso’s most favored early subjects. Just a few years younger than Picasso himself, Maria Dolores Ruiz “Lola” Picasso, was seventeen at the time this work was painted. A beautiful young woman and convenient model, Lola appears in Picasso’s works as early as 1894 and is witnessed in transition from adolescence to the cusp of adulthood as seen in the present work and slightly earlier compositions (see figs. 1 & 2). As Marilyn McCully stated in the catalogue for the 1996 exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, 'Lola sometimes appears as a distant and enigmatic young girl with her doll, sometimes as a typically Andalusian maja. Other portraits of her reflect Picasso's response to the contemporary Catalan modernista movement: in some paintings she appears in diaphanous whites, while in others she is seared in the vague light of Symbolist-inspired modernista interiors. His personal adaptation of a fashionable fin-de-sičcle graphic style also gives Lola an air of modern sophistication in his portraits of her' (W. Rubin, ed., op. cit., p. 228).

'Painted in Barcelona in 1901, Portrait de Lola, soeur de l’artiste comes from a period of great transition for the nineteen-year old Picasso and was likely exhibited in the historic and career-defining Vollard exhibition of the same year. With help from Pere Mańach, a Catalan dealer who was known for his support and promotion of young Spanish artists, Picasso quickly made inroads with buyers and gallerists upon his arrival in Paris. By the spring of 1901, Mańach had secured an exhibition of Picasso’s works at the larger gallery of Ambroise Vollard; an impressive accomplishment for the relatively unknown young Spaniard who admired artists like Cézanne, van Gogh and Gauguin whom the dealer represented. The 1901 Vollard exhibition would come to define the trajectory of Picasso’s career, propelling the young artist onto the international stage and witnessing a stylistic shift from the Spanish-influenced works of his youngest days to the exuberant Paris scenes which followed. The critical reception to the show was resoundingly positive, placing Picasso at the fore of an artistic revolution: '…Picasso, the brilliant newcomer. He is the painter, utterly and beautifully the painter; he has the power of divining the essence of things… He is enamored of all subjects, and every subject is his' (F. Fagus quoted in J. Richardson, A Life of Picasso, vol. I, New York, 1991, p. 199).

'Likely displayed in the 1901 Vollard show, Portrait de Lola, soeur de l’artiste also documents a time of crisis in the artist’s personal life. A few months prior to the exhibition, Picasso learned about the suicide of his closest friend Carles Casagemas while away in Madrid. Awash in grief but still obligated to create works for the upcoming exhibition, Picasso headed back to Paris at the behest of Mańach, stopping in Barcelona for about ten days along the way. It is from this dolorous interim which Portrait de Lola, soeur de l’artiste comes. Absent in the present work are the bright swathes of color and flashy markers of Parisian cabaret life of many of Picasso’s subsequent 1901 compositions, featuring instead a focused image of a beloved family member. Rendered in subtle blues, grays and hints of yellow, the luminous pallor of Lola’s visage draws the viewer in, contrasted against the swelling blues and blacks of her neckwear, hair and background. Her keenly arched brows and a sidelong glance suggest a more somber, knowing awareness not seen in Picasso’s earlier portrayals of Lola. The tragic loss of Casagemas at this time likely recalled an earlier watershed moment for the artist, the death of Picasso’s youngest sister Conchita in 1895. The successive losses provoked in Picasso a period of deep reflection and resulted in the empathetic and lugubrious works which would define the artist’s iconic Blue Period in the following years....

"In contrast to the deliberate and tenebrous oil-on-panel rendering of Portrait de Lola, soeur de l’artiste, the works which Picasso executed after returning to Paris present distinctly French-inspired scenes of parks, boulevards, brothels and café life, often painted in quick, colorful swathes of oil on cardboard....During this time, Picasso’s financial constraints often dictated his compositions, with the artist often using and re-using the affordable materials at hand and sketching or painting on the backs of his works—a habit dating back to his time in Spain.

"An historic work in time and place, Portrait de Lola, soeur de l’artiste can be traced to a number of prestigious collections. Olivier Sainsčre, a prominent politician and patron of the arts, likely acquired this painting from Picasso soon after its creation. Sainsčre supported many modern avant-garde painters in Paris at the beginning of the twentieth century and discovered Picasso at the Galerie Berthe Weill, becoming one of his earliest collectors in 1901 and even assisting him with his French residency permit. Many works owned by Sainsčre now enrich the collections of some of the world’s greatest museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay. Portrait de Lola, soeur de l’artiste later belonged to Mr. & Mrs. Paul Mellon who are best remembered for their generous philanthropy and acclaimed art collection.

"The reverse of the present work reveals an assortment sketches—the most recognizable of which are of a nun and monocled gentleman—and finds resonance with the incisive drawings of his friends at Els Quatres Gats. Brimming with a newfound sense of independence, the young artist had moved from Madrid to Barcelona in 1899, where free from the oversight of his instructors and painter father, he’d taught himself how to draw. Picasso quickly became a fixture at the café Els Quatres Gats, cultivating a lively social circle at the modernista hub and recording the days and nights spent there with his friends and fellow artists like Miquel Utrillo...."

The lot has an estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000.  It sold for $4,700,000.

Magritte  17

Lot 17, "La Legende des siecles," by Rene Magritte, oil on canvas, 21 3/4 by 18 1/8 inches, 1950

Lot 17, "La Legende des siecles," is an oil on canvas by Rene Magritte (1898-1957).  It measures 21 3/4 by 18 1/8 inches and was painted in 1950.  It has an estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000.  It sold for $8,578,700.

Giacometi 3   Giacometti 4   Giacometti drawing 5

Lots 3, 4 and 5, "Quatre figurines sur pedestral," by Alberto Giacometti, bronze, 62 inches high, left, 1950-5; painted plaster, 8 1/2 inches high, 1950, center; pen and ink on paper, 12 1/4 inches high, 1952

Lots 3, 4 and 5 are three variations on the theme of "Quatre figurines sur pedestal" by Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966).

The bronze version, the least attractive, has an estimate of $6,000,000 to $8,000,000.  It sold for $6,528,000.  The more attractive plaster version has an estimate of $3,000,000 to $4,000,000.  It was passed at $2,500,000.  The superb drawing has a modest estimate of $200,000 to $300,000.  It sold for $225,000.

The catalogue provides the following commentary about the bronze:

"Alberto Giacometti returned to Paris in 1945 after several years of self-imposed exile in his native Switzerland. The French capital was his spiritual home; it was where he had truly become an artist, where his friends lived, where his love affairs had been. His studio, during his long absence, had been carefully tended by his brother Diego. Not much room was needed there for the works he had created over the course of his interval abroad—they traveled with him in six matchboxes.

"Giacometti was a nocturnal creature. He preferred to rise around noon, if not later, and work in the afternoons and evenings—sometimes into the early morning hours. Much of his time in the depths of the night, however, was spent outside the studio, in restaurants, bars and maisons closes. One of his preferred watering holes was an elegant establishment stylized with Egyptian-themed interiors and adorned with murals by Kees van Dongen, a maison close called The Sphinx. During the 1930s and the early 1940s, a large number of similarly-purposed establishments operated legally in Paris. The Sphinx was one of the most luxurious of these businesses and featured a large downstairs area which functioned as a nightclub. Aside from Giacometti, “Its habitués included many artists and intellectuals such as Samuel Beckett but also Simone de Beauvoire and Jean-Paul Sartre. Giacometti was a stalwart and found the forced closure of this ‘most marvelous of places’ so ‘intolerable’ that he even wrote about it in a seminal post-war text, The Dream, the Sphinx and the Death of T…. published in 1946 in the journal Labyrinthe” (Giacometti (exhibition catalogue), Tate Modern, London, 2017, p. 25). It was in 1946, just a year after Giacometti’s return to Paris, that the Loi Marthe Richard took effect, closing the nearly 180 maisons closes which had operated legally in the capital for decades and in some cases for over a century.

"In the first years of the nineteenth century, state-controlled maisons closes were legalized in France. Credited representations of these spaces by known artists, however, were slow to appear. Toulouse-Lautrec created intimate scenes of these establishments and after Edgar Degas’s death a large number of monotypes of brothel interiors were discovered in his studio.....It was perhaps not until Picasso’s radical Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, however, that a direct and essential image emerged. This seminal painting, for a variety of reasons, proved problematic and was not recognized as a masterpiece until long after its creation....The radical social changes of World War I and World War II made such images far less shocking; Giacometti’s explanation behind the four figures in this bronze would have caused much less indignation in 1950 than Manet’s Olympia faced when it was exhibited in the Paris salon of 1865—not least because the subject matter was infinitely less apparent without Giacometti’s explanation of context.

"The Sphinx’s closure so affected Giacometti that he not only wrote about it in the aforementioned essay, he also painted, drew and sculpted myriad recollections of his time there after the 1946 closure. Before a related bronze was exhibited at Pierre Matisse Gallery in 1950, Giacometti wrote that the inspiration behind the sculpture was 'several nude women seen at the Sphinx while I was seated at the end of the room. The distance that separated us (the polished floor), which seemed impassable despite my desire to cross it, impressed me as much as the women did' (quoted in Alberto Giacometti (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles & San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco, 1965-66, p. 60). In the present work the tall pedestal the sculpture is set on conveys the 'impassable' distance between the artist and the women, while the sloped trapezoid beneath their feet represents the vertiginous 'polished floor' which further emphasized this dislocation of space and remoteness of the subjects.

"Giacometti had first approached this subject in a 1950 bronze, a plaster and an oil.... In Au Sphinx a group of figures are presented in the maison close's abstract interior. Here the male figures stride across the room while the females are static—these respective gender identities of active male and passive female would carry forward in Giacometti's work from the 1940s onward. His evolution on the Quatre figurines theme continued; fifteen years after Quatre figurines sur piédestal was first cast in bronze, Giacometti fundamentally rethought the female figures presented atop their pedestal. Frances Morris examines this evolution in the recent exhibition catalogue from the Tate Modern: “Four Figurines on a Stand (Quatre figurines sur piédestal), 1965, is one of a number of works that exists in various different guises. It was made while preparing for his retrospective exhibition at the Tate Gallery in 1965 and was a reworking of a sculpture from 1948-50 of four tiny, skeletal female figures mounted on a slab-like base supported on a tall stand. Giacometti was given a basement space at the Tate in which to remodel the figures in plaster. Unhappy with the plaster, he sent for another version of the sculpture that he had made in Chur in Switzerland that same year. After the exhibition the plaster was cast in bronze in Paris and later acquired for the Tate’s collection. This kind of time frame—the long duration of a work evolved over fifteen years, of making, unmaking and remaking, as well as destroying or ‘undoing’—needs to be set alongside the narrative of Giacometti’s practice centered on an unvarying daily encounter between artist and model. The genesis for the four figures of 1950-65 lies, specifically, as Giacometti explained in a letter to his New York gallerist Pierre Matisse in 1950, in a vivid experience of coming across four prostitutes at the Sphinx, the famous Parisian nightclub…. With their hieratic pose, arms by their sides, and the exaggerated bulk of their feet, the figures in Four Figurines, like many of Giacometti’s standing women, evoke the poise and posture of Egyptian sculpture” (Giacometti (exhibition catalogue), Tate Modern, London, 2017, p. 12).

"During his time in Switzerland during World War II, Giacometti had been wrestling with increasingly miniaturized figures; this was the reason he was able to bring back three years of work in six matchboxes. The finished works were tiny, not to mention that many had been destroyed by the process of creation, as the artist molded and whittled them down to their core. In the late 1940s and early 1950s as he actively pushed himself to make larger figures, these bodies elongated and became increasingly skinny. This collapse of scale followed by a stretching to a figure’s thinnest extent all informed Giacometti’s preoccupation with governing the feeling of size and separation between the viewer and the artwork. Markus Brüderlin succinctly explains Giacometti’s ability to control the optics of his figures: 'First, he discovered the optical trick of controlling distance via size. Second, he discovered emptiness as a powerful presence and entity. The dwindling of the figures increased the real emptiness of the space surrounding them, and could be felt as an important ‘raw material’ of sculpture. And third, he learned to control space via these two observations. This was one of the artistic consequences of the observation that there is no space, and that the sculpture has to create it for itself. Giacometti had discovered that these selfsame small figures, whose totality can be taken in with a single glance, have room-dominating potency—in other words, monumentality does not depend on size. ‘I think,’ he said to Nesto Jacometti, ‘if that can be achieved, then you’ll see that my little figure, whatever size it’s done, will take on the shape of a deity' (Alberto Giacometti The Origin of Space (exhibition catalogue), Kunstmuseum, Wolfsburg & Museum der Moderne Mönchsberg, Salzburg, 2010-11, p. 19; see fig. 4).

"Quatre figurines sur piédestal (Figurines de Londres, version A) and its counterparts were not the only works by the artist to take the Sphinx as its subject. It has been suggested that the couple in La Cage (premičre version) and their indistinct interaction to that of a prostitute and her client, perhaps modeled on Giacometti’s own experiences at the Sphinx, whose denizens featured as subjects in both paintings and sculptures of this period. Meanwhile, the scholar Reinhold Hohl maintains that the work can also be viewed as a metaphor for the distance between the sexes and the impossibility of their reconciliation after being banished from paradise, and has also suggested that the bust may be a self-portrait of the sculptor himself. By framing such a scene, Giacometti creates a theatrical setting that is enhanced by the woman’s outstretched arms which appear to draw back the stage curtains as she projects her silent soliloquy, molded with an immense sense of hieratic power. Her prominence is also enhanced not only by her size in comparison to the profile head of the male, but also by her position on a pedestal. As she grabs the cage, the scene is made increasingly uneasy.

"The female form had long been a favorite subject of Giacometti over the course of his career, but it is in the works of the 1950s that the dramatic potential of this motif is most ambitiously interpreted. No longer interested in re-creating physical likeness in his sculptures, the artist began working from memory, seeking to capture the identity of his model beyond the physical reality for the human form. His figures underwent a process of reduction, an obliteration of the physical material which allowed him to grasp his subject and place it in space without being distracted by innumerable facial and body details. In this work, the haunting isolation of these women, a motif that Giacometti would explore repeatedly throughout the 1950s, is explored ensemble and without compromising the striking, visual impact of each figure."

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See The City Review article on the Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction in the Fall, November, 2005
See The City Review article on the Impressionist & Modern Art day auction at Sotheby's November 5, 2004
See The City Review article on the Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Christie's May 4, 2004
See The City Review article on the Impressionist & Modern Art day auction at Christie's May 5, 2004
See The City Review article on the May 5, 2004 evening auction at Sotheby's of Property of the Greentree Foundation from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney
See The City Review article on the Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Sotheby's May 6, 2004
See The City Review article on the Spring 2004 Impressionist & Modern Art day auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2003 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2003 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Christie's
See The City Review article on the Spring 2003 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Christie's
See The City Review article on Spring 2003 Impressionist & Modern Art day auction at Christie's
See The City Review article on the Spring 2003 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Spring 2003 Impressionist & Modern Art Part 2 day auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2002 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2002 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg
See The City Review article on the Spring 2002 Impressionist & Modern Art day auction at Christie's
See The City Review article on the Spring 2002 Impressionist Art evening auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Spring 2002 Impressionist Art Part Two day auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Nov. 5, 2001 auction of the Smooke Collection at Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg
See The City Review article on the Nov. 5, 2001 auction of the Hoener Collection at Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg
See The City Review article on Phillips May 7, 2001 Impressionist & Modern Art auction
See The City Review article on the November 9, 2001 Impressionist & Modern Art auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on Phillips Fall 2000 Impressionist & Modern Art auction
See The City Review article on the Christie's evening sale of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Art May 8, 2000
See The City Review article on the Christie's evening sale of Twentieth Century Art May 9, 2000

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