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The Collection of Eleanore and Daniel Saidenberg


7 PM, November 10, 1999

"Femme Assise Dans Un Jardin" by Pablo Picasso

Lot 10, "Femme Assise Dans Un Jardin," by Pablo Picasso, 1938,

oil on canvas, 51 1/2 by 38 1/4 inches

"I will always remember Eleanore and Danny for their passion and spirit for life. The blend of music and art played a unique role in their everyday existence. they approached everything with an exuberance and enthusiasm that was truly refreshing, and their level of culture and sophistication enhanced all of our lives. They enjoyed doing things together, and they never missed an exhibition but on the few occasions when they couldn't be at a sale, I would bid for them. They were part of the fabric of the art world that made my work a joy. It was a privilege to have known them, a rare combination of cellist and dancer, artist and dealer. The art collection they assembled reveals their warmth, brilliance and the quality of their eye. They have left a wonderful legacy."

- John L. Marion, honorary chairman, Sotheby's North America

By Carter B. Horsley

That is a high and fitting tribute from the greatest auctioneer in history as is the lavish catalogue that has some fine photographs of the collectors and a delightful and fascinating essay about them by Michael Fitzgerald . (This season, Sotheby's has personalized many of its catalogues with photographs of the heads of the department conducting the specific sale.)

Daniel Saidenberg was a cellist and conductor who married Eleanore Block, a daughter of a founder of Inland Steel who studied dancing with Mary Wigmore. They met when she attended a recital by him and Vladimir Horowitz in Chicago and she soon offered him the opportunity to conduct the music for one her ballets. They married in 1934 and in 1943 moved from Chicago to New York. He was invited to become an assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic but declined "at the last minute because the contract required him toplay his cello as well as conduct," Fitzgerald wrote, adding that "(Instead, the orchestra hired Leonard Bernstein, who was willing to meet the terms.)" In 1950, the Saidenbergs opened an art gallery at 10 East 77th Street in 1950. Five years later, Daniel Henry Kahnweiller, Picasso's dealer in Paris, appointed them Picasso's representative in North America.

Private musical evenings at the Saidenbergs was often the stuff of New York dreams. In 1972, Pinchas Zuckerman asked if he could bring a friend who turned out to be Jack Benny who brought his violin and the group played a Hayden quartet, Fitzgerald related. David Saidenberg stopped performing publicly on his "Duke of Marlborough" Stradivarius in 1971 and died in 1997. He and his wife donated a Picasso Cubist collage to the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1956 and his 1931 painting of "The Red Armchair" sometime later to the Art Institute of Chicago.

The star of the auction is Lot 10, "Femme Assise Dans Un Jardin," by Pablo Picasso, a 51 1/2 by 38 1/4 inch oil on canvas executed in 1938, shown at the top of this article. In its press release for the auction, Sotheby's ambitiously estimates that the large and very brightly colored painting, which it wrote was executed in a single day, might fetch "in the range of $40 million." The painting fetched $49,502,500 including the buyer's premium, as do all the prices in this article, surpassing another Picasso painting that sold for more than $45 million the previous night at Christie's, though still a bit shy of the artist's auction record. This painting was sold by Sotheby's with a "third-party" guarantee.

The painting depicts his mistress of three years, Dora Maar. The catalogue provides a lengthy commentary of the work that includes the following excerpt:

"Larger than life, an impresion enhanced by the row of naively painted spring flowers that can be seen in the distance, Dora looms like a pagan goddess seated on her throne. Unlike the luxuriant vegetation which often seemed to spring from the body of Marie-Thérèse [Walter], symbolizing her fecundity, the branches surrounding Dora could be mistaken for offerings or tributes to her power. At the same time these branches seem to lock her in place. Although punctuated by planar elements, stripes of a bewildering variety constitute Dora and the chair on which she sits. Discussing the use of stripes in Picasso's work of this period, Brigitte Léal commented: 'While in portraits of Marie-Thérèse stripes appear in a range of pastel colors that always have a summery and childlike connotation, in the portraits of Dora stripes proliferate until they cover the figure and the background entirely, becoming an eloquent statement of the intensely emotional character of her image. What is one to think of the meaning of this network of concentric lines that, not content to bud prettily on her clothes, begins progressively to invade every part of her body in order to end up convering her totally with a fine tattoo that transforms her into some barbarous doll? In a final metamorphosis, with strong sexual connotations, these lines evoke a spider with enormous elytrons pulling its tentacular threads from the four corners of the page. Picasso would explain himself more or less to Françoise Gilot about this likening of Dora to an insect by confiding that he considered her a Kafkaesque personality.' Indeed, the derogatory and even diabolic function of stripes in Western imagination encourages us to interpret their obsessive proliferation here as a metaphor of madness and confinement.'"

The catalogue's essay on this work concludes by stating that "In depicting Dora in the open air, illuminated by brilliant sunlight, Picasso created a goddess, beautiful but grotesque, majestic but powerless on her throne, her feet not touching the ground," adding that "Among the innumerable images of his mistress, this powerful work is certainly one of the most extraordinary."

Ferocious, aggressive and vibrant, this work is imposing but decoratively it is almost too busy, especially when contrasted with the other very important work by Picasso in this auction, Lot 19, "La Statuaire," a 51 5/8-by-38 1/8-inch oil on canvas, executed in 1925, shown below, a far more serene yet very strong work.

Lot 19, "La Statuaire," by Pablo Picasso, 1925, oil on canvas,

51 5/8 by 38 1/8 inches

The Saidenbergs acquired the painting after it was deaccessioned by the Museum of Modern Art in 1973 and acquired at auction by Samuel Marx, who sold it to Leigh Block, Eleanore's brother, who gave it to Eleanore "in lieu of commissions due on various purchases," according to the Fitzgerald essay on the collectors. "The chance to acquire this exceptional painting arose because the Modern's founding director, Alfred H. Barr Jr., shared the 'advanced' opinion of the day that Picasso's Neoclassical works were simply too beautiful to be as important as those of other phases of his careet, even though this painting is one of the most complex and masterful meditations on the theme of the artist's studio," Fitzgerald continued.

"La Statuaire" has an appropriate estimate of $12,000,000 to $18,000,000. It sold for $11,826,500, which was rather surprising since it was clearly one of the two major paintings in this otherwise not terribly impressive group of paintings, sculptures and drawings.

"Konstruktion Rot Und Schwarz" by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy

Lot 23, "Konstruktion Rot Und Schwarz," by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, 1927,

spray watercolor and collage on paper, 12 5/8 by 17 3/8 inches

Lot 23 is an excellent work, shown above, by Laszlo Moholy Nagy (1895-1946), "Konstruktion Rot Und Schwarz," spray watercolor and collage on papger, 12 5/8 by 17 3/8 inches, executed in 1927 and evocative of some of the work of Wassily Kandinsky. It has a conservative high estimate of $80,000. It sold for $151,000.

Other fine works in the auction include Lot 6, a delicate still life of a bottle by Juan Gris (1887-1927), gouache, graphite and black crayon on card, 10 1/2 by 8 1/2 inches, executed in 1916 that has a high estimate of $700,000 and sold for $607,500; Lot 15, a very interesting and colorful abstract study of Mlle. Pogany, a gouache on board, 25 1/8 by 19 1/2 inches, by Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957), that was executed after 1912 and has a high estimate of $200,000 and sold for $222,500; Lot 20, a delightful and intricate pen and ink on paper by Paul Klee (1879-1940), "Fatal Bassoon Solo," 11 3/8 by 8 5/8 inches, dated 1918 and estimated at only $150,000 to $200,000 and sold for $189,500; Lot 22, "Schiffe Im Hafen," a watercolor, pen and india ink on paper 7 7/8 by 11 1/4 inches, by Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956), one of the century's most undervalued artists, that has a high estimate of only $45,000 and sold for $36,800; Lot 24, "Metamorphose d'Hamlet," by André Masson (1896-1987), a 18 1/4-by-21 1/2-inch oil on canvas executed in 1937 that is a good surrealist work with a high estimate of only $60,000 and sold for $112,500; Lot 29, "Etude pour La Grande Parade," a charming gouache and ink on paper, 21 1/4 by 28 1/8 inches, dated 1954, that has a high estimate of $400,000 and sold for $310,500; and several sculptures by Henry Moore (1898-1986) and Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966).

Prior to the sale, Sotheby's had estimated the auction would total between $60 and 70 million. After the auction, Diane D. Brooks, president and CEO of Sotheby's, announced that 44 of the 46 lots offered sold for $70,330,000. She said that the new auction room now seats about 1120 people and can accommodate about 300 standees whereas the former auction room could only seat about 700 and 300 standees. The huge, double-height room was fully packed at the auction. The new building has a spectacular 10th floor whose tall exhibition spaces are much better than those at the Museum of Modern Art and whose outdoor café has a surprisingly impressive vista of the much of the midtown skyline. The building's entrance, however, is not finished and not impressive, at least not yet. Four small elevators are not enough for the crash of big sales, especially since the new auction room is on the seventh floor.

When the evening began, John L. Marion, Sotheby's honorary chairman and for decades its lead auctioneer, mounted the podium to generous and deserved applause from the attendees. He made some remarks about the Saidenbergs and with an authoritative bang of the handleless gavel turned the podium over to Tobias Meyer, the evening's auctioneer, with very gracious good wishes.

It took a couple of lots for the charming and youthful Mr. Meyer to get his bearings in this vast room and clearly he was getting comfortable when the "big" Picasso came up. The bidding, however, was slow until Diana Brooks, working a phone next to him, jumped a bid from $40 to $42 million. A few seconds later, it was up to $43 million. "I like saying that," Mr. Meyer said, and then elicited another million from "Charlie" on one of the phones. "I will sell it soon," he said after a pause, or two, which elicited a good laugh from the audience. Another million and he added "that's a hell of a picture," and then after asking "Charlie" if there was "any hope" of a higher bid, knocked it down at a hammer price of $45 million (to which the buyer's premium would be added to bring its price to $49,200,000).

See The City Review article on the Nov. 8, 1999 Impressionist and Post-Impressionist auction at Christie's

See The City Review article on the morning sale of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Art Nov. 9, 1999 at Christie's

See The City Review article on the afternoon sale of Impressionist and Twentieth Century Works on Paper Nov. 9, 1999 at Christie's

See The City Review analysis of Part 1 of the Sotheby's auction May 11, 1999 of Impressionist and Modern Art

See The City Review analysis of Part 2 of the Sotheby's May 12, 1999 auction of Impressionist and Modern Art

See The City Review article on the Christie's May 12, 1999 auction of Impressionist Art and 19th Century Art

See The City Review of the Christie's May 13, 1999 auction of 20th Century and Modern Art

Recap of the Spring 1998 Impressionist and Modern Auctions

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