Sotheby’s London Sale of Impressionist and Modern Art

. June 19, 2008

LONDON – For five out of the last six seasons, Sotheby’s London Impressionist and Modern Art department has led the field in sales of works from one of art history’s most important, and keenly collected, eras. This season, Sotheby’s will again bring to the market a host of rare and important works that are set to attract interest from the ever-growing panoply of collectors in this field. Sotheby’s Evening sale on Wednesday, 25 June 2008 reveals the depth and breadth of this collecting category, with ten of the 56 lots in the sale estimated in excess of £2 million, covering masterpieces by such luminaries as Gino Severini, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Maurice de Vlaminck, and Alberto Giacometti.

Melanie Clore, Co-Chairman of Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art department worldwide, said: “Once again, Sotheby’s has produced a tightly curated sale of consistently high quality – a sale that reflects current market tastes.”

Highlights include:
Gino Severini Danseuse, 1915 Est : £7-10 million
A major modern masterpiece, this work has an illustrious history. Exhibited in the 1ère exposition futuriste in Paris in 1916, it was later acquired by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, where it hung from 1944 to 1988. Soon after having been deaccessioned, the painting was acquired by a private collector in 1989 and has remained in the same collection ever since. Never before exhibited in the UK, Danseuse shows Severini at the height of his powers, celebrating all the ideas that defined the Italian Futurist movement (speed, dynamism and modernity) while at the same time standing apart from his Futurist contemporaries with his use of a bright, cheerful palette to depict a Futurist subject – that of a dancer. Severini rejoiced in the gay spectacle of Parisian life, and the woman depicted is probably one of the dancers from the café concerts which he loved to frequent. Severini’s oeuvre from this pivotal period is small, and major works by the artist hardly ever appear at auction. (The last time a piece of similar importance came to auction was in 1990.) With its strong colours and bold, prismatic composition, Danseuse exudes many of the same qualities that are to be
found in the iconic Fauve and German Expressionist works that have performed so well at auction recently. (Last February, Sotheby’s London sold Franz Marc’s Weidende Pferde III for a record £12.3 million/$24.3 million. Similarly, at Sotheby’s New York in May 2007, Lyonel Feininger’s Jesuiten III made $23.3 million, while a few months later, in November 2007, Marc’s Der Wasserfall realised $20.2 million.)

Claude Monet La Plage à Trouville, 1870 Est: £7-10 million
Painted in the summer of 1870, La Plage à Trouville is a wonderful example of Claude Monet’s beach scenes which, with their evanescent effects of light and colour, have become the icons of Impressionism. Recently exhibited in Impressionists by the Sea – a travelling show that opened last summer at the Royal Academy in London – this painting was featured on the cover of the catalogue. One of the key paintings that Monet executed in 1870, this lively work – with its bright palette and masterful effects of light – marks a turning point in the artist’s career. The work now comes to sale from a Private American collection.

A great group of works by Alberto Giacometti
Works by Giacometti have come to command extremely strong prices in recent times (A record for a painting by the artist was set at Sotheby’s in May this year, when his Portrait de Caroline sold for $14.6 million, while in the same sale five sculptures all made strong prices.) This June’s sale will include no fewer than five works by the artist: together they form a diverse and comprehensive overview of Giacometti’s manifold achievements.

Giacometti’s important bronze, Trois hommes qui marchent I (est: £4,000,000-6,000,000 / US$7,940,000-11,910,000 / €5,090,640-11,910,000), epitomizes the style for which he is most celebrated, developed during the years immediately following World War II and characterised by the tall, slender figures for which he is best known. Giacometti’s almost weightless renderings of the human form can be interpreted as symbolic representations of the artist himself and, in the context of the postwar period, as a reflection of the lonely and vulnerable human condition, a theme that very much preoccupied the artist at this time. Dating from 1948, when Giacometti was at the pinnacle of his career, Trois hommes qui marchent, with its anonymous, non-communicating figures in movement, perfectly captures Giacometti’s existentialist concerns.

Equally interested in painting as in sculpture, Giacometti once remarked: ‘There is no difference between painting and sculpture’. Painted in 1951, Tête noire (Diego) (est: £3,000,000-4,000,000/ US$5,960,000-7,940,000/€3,820,000-5,090,000) bears this out: in this dramatic, haunting portrait, Giacometti’s brother Diego is depicted as though he were a sculpture. The work also speaks of the closeness of the two brothers, for Alberto relied heavily on his brother Diego (himself an established artist/designer) throughout his career both for inspiration and practical help.

Complementing this, Giacometti’s Buste d’homme (Diego) (est: £700,000-900,000 / US$1,390,000-1,790,000 / €895,000-1,150,000) belongs to a celebrated series of sculptural portraits of the artist’s younger brother, Diego.

The sale also includes further works by Giacometti: Coin d’atelier avec poële et balai, a painting of 1961, (est: £650,000-850,000 / €830,000-1,090,000 / US$1,290,000-1,690,000) and Femme nue (Nu debout IV) a sculpture of 1953, £300,000-400,000 / US$600,000-800,000 / €380,000-510,000).

Miró and the Surrealists
As witnessed by the extraordinary price realised for a group of manuscripts by André Breton at Sotheby’s Paris recently (nine manuscripts, including Breton’s landmark Manifesto of Surrealism, made €3.6 million / $5.6 million, a record for any group of literary manuscripts ever sold at auction), the Surrealist movement is currently the subject of extensive, and highly competitive, interest.

Joan Miró’s mature work draws heavily on his early experiences as part of the Surrealist group. Painted in 1944, Soirée snob chez la Princesse uses the vocabulary of signs developed a few years earlier in Miró’s celebrated Constellations series. Here, six Surrealist characters, attending a ‘soirée’, as indicated by the title, are surrounded by Miró’s signature stars. This jewel-like work also comes to sale from a Private American collection. Estimated at £3,000,000-4,000,000 (US$5,960,000-7,940,000/€3,820,000-5,090,000), this seminal work has never before been exhibited in public.

Alongside the Miró, the sale will include three gouaches and an iconic painting by René Magritte: La Perspective amoureuse of 1935 (1,8,000,000-2,500,000 / US$3,580,000-4,960,000 / €2,290,000-3,190,000) – one of Magritte’s earliest and most complex variations on thetheme of a closed door, broken by a hole that reveals a landscape behind it. At the heart of La Perspective amoureuse lies the paradox of the open/closed door, the act of concealing and revealing. This juxtaposition of opposing ideas is one of Magritte’s most frequently used devices: here, he shows an interior as well as an exterior, the door is closed as well as open, and has a dual role of hiding and exposing what is behind it. By confronting these contrasted elements, Magritte evokes the essential surrealist paradigm of questioning the significance and purpose we attribute to various objects, and creating new meanings by placing these objects in new and unexpected contexts.

Works from the Collection of Haaken A. Christensen sold to benefit Médecins sans Frontières
The Impressionist and Modern Art Evening sale will also include five works from the collection of Haaken A. Christensen (1924-2008), one of Norway’s most influential art connoisseurs and dealers. Proceeds from the sale of these, and other works from Christensen’s collection, will benefit Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) – one of the world’s leading international humanitarian aid organisations, providing emergency medical assistance to populations in danger in more than 60 countries. Works from the Christensen collection include:

• Tête de femme (Dora Maar) (est: £3,000,000-5,000,000/ US$ 5,960,000-9,920,000 /€3,820,000-6,370,000 ) – a work that belongs to Pablo Picasso’s celebrated series of paintings portraying his mistress and artistic companion, the Surrealist photographer Dora Maar.
• L’Homme au maillot rayé (est: £900,000-1,200,000 /US$1,790,000-2,390,000 / €1,150,000-1,530,000). Here, Picasso depicts himself (sporting a fictional beard) wearing the same signature striped T-shirt in which he was so often photographed.
• Femme au chapeau assise. Buste of 1962 (est: £700,000-900,000 / US$1,390,000-1,790,000 €895,000-1,150,000 )- a portrait of Jacqueline Roque, Picasso’s devoted second wife who remained with him until the time of his death in 1973.
• Picasso’s Nature morte au poron of 1948 (est: £600,000-800,000 / US$1,200,000-1,590,000 €765,000-1,020,000)
• And Fernand Léger’s L’Araignée verte of 1938 (est: £400,000-600,000 / US$795,000-1,200,000 / €510,000-765,0000) – in which images of a spider and clouds are combined with more abstract forms, all painted in strong, unmodulated colour and silhouetted against the flat background

Paul Cézanne, Verre et Poires Est: £2,500,000-3,500,000 US $4,960,000-6,950,000 / €3,190,000-4,460,000
Painted around 1879-80 Cézanne’s intimate still life displays a boldness of composition that characterised Cézanne’s oeuvre. Cézanne’s still lifes have long been recognised as being among his greatest achievements – the works which demonstrate most clearly the innovations that led to the stylistic developments of early 20thcentury art. It is this same “essential” quality that could be found in the artist’s watercolour Nature Morte au Melon Vert, which sold at Sotheby’s New York $25.5 million (£12.7 million) in May 2007 – a record for a watercolour by the artist.

Expressionism and Fauvism: “Colourful and Dynamic: The New Blue Chip”
A recent article in Art + auction magazine (June 2008) carries the headline “The New Blue Chip: Colourful and Dynamic, German Expressionist Painting is fast becoming the Ultimate Trophy for Serious Collectors.” This striking observation is powerfully underpinned by the exceptional prices realised at auction recently for German Expressionist works. Last February, Sotheby’s London sold Franz Marc’s Weidende Pferde III for a record £12.3 million ($24.3). Similarly, at Sotheby’s New York in May 2007, Lyonel Feiniger’s Jesuiten III made $23.3 million, while a few months later, in November 2007, Marc’s Der Wasserfall realised $20.2 million. What characterized all these works is their vibrancy, their boldness and their “modernity” – qualities that are to be found in the work of a host of artists, from the Fauves through to Vlaminck, van Dongen and Munch.

Helena Newman, Vice Chairman, Impressionist and Modern Art Department worldwide, and Director of the evening sale, explains: “Many of today’s new buyers are looking for powerful, emotional works with strong colours and bold forms. In recent sales, we have seen a great surge in interest for works with these qualities – and the mix of the works presented in this current sale is designed to reflect, and cater for, that.”

The revival of interest in German Expressionism tallies closely with recent high prices achieved for the (slightly earlier) Austrian artists Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. This June, a wealth of important works by Schiele, the Fauves and the German Expressionists will again be brought to the market at Sotheby’s.

Having been part of the same private collection since 1976, Schiele’s Pierrot (Selbstbildnis) now comes to the market with an estimate of £1,800,000-2,500,000 ($3,580,000-4,960,000; €2,290,000-3,190,000). Executed in 1914, the drawing treats one of the recurring themes of the artist’s oeuvre: the self-portrait. Throughout his career, Schiele constantly explored the expressive potential of his own image by portraying himself in various guises or costumes. Here he takes the persona of Pierrot, a character from the Commedia dell’arte – something which proved a rich seam of inspiration for avant-guarde artists of the time.

Painted in the summer of 1904, Edvard Munch’s From Åsgårdstrand (est: £2,000,000-3,000,000 / €2,550,000-3,820,000 / US$3,970,000-5,960,000) presents a view from the artist’s house in Åsgårdstrand. Munch first visited Åsgårdstrand, a resort a few miles to the south of Oslo, in autumn of 1888. Taken with the beauty of the place, he soon bought a house there, returning to spend the summer months. It was here that he painted some of his best landscapes, characterised by an expressive winding line and strong, vivid colours.

Sharing many of the same qualities (bright, vibrant colours and strong compositions) as German Expressionist art, the works of the Fauve painters have also enjoyed much interest lately. Maurice de Vlaminck’s Le Pont de Poissy of 1905, is a strong, vibrant picture, full of the qualities that characterise the iconic works of Fauvism. This seminal work is estimated at £2,000,000-3,000,000.

Vlaminck is further represented in the sale by another seldom seen work: Maurice de Vlaminck’s Chatou, Le Pont of 1906-7. Depicting the river Seine near Chatou, a small town to the northwest of Paris where Vlaminck lived from the age of sixteen, this striking work exemplifies an important stylistic shift in Vlaminck’s painting that took place during this period. While displaying a colouristic boldness characteristic of his Fauve works, particularly in the fierce red and pink hues of the tree and the houses, the predominantly blue palette heralds Vlaminck’s ‘Cézannesque’ period, which would dominate in the years to come. The red tree, acting as a dramatic perspectival device, also reflects the influence of Cézanne on this pivotal period of Vlaminck’s art. Not seen in public since the year it was painted, Chatou, Le Pont has remained in the same distinguished French collection since the 1950s. It now comes to the market with an estimate of £1,200,000-1,800,000 /US$ 2,390,000-€3,580,000/€1,530,000-2,290,000.

Estimated at £1,200,000-1,800,000 (US$2,390,000-3,580,000 /(€1,530,000-2,290,000) is Kees van Dongen’s Le Nightclub, le Chanteur Johnny Hudgins, of 1929. Van Dongen was a frequent visitor to the cabarets and restaurants of Paris, and probably painted this work soon after having seen the famous American Johnny Hudgins perform in a local Parisian nightclub. The artist was fascinated by the movement and gaiety that characterised Parisian social life during the 1920s, or what came to be known as the années folles, and fully embraced it as a subject matter for his painting.

Similarly dynamic, Raoul Dufy’s Le Havre, 14 Juillet (est: £900,000-1,200,00 / US$1,790,000-2,390,000 / €1,150,000-1,530,000) is an exceptional example of Fauvism – of which Dufy was a key exponent. Executed in 1906, at the height of the Fauve movement, the painting shows the celebratory festivities in Dufy’s home town translated into in image of enormous vibrancy.

In the summer of the same year Dufy painted Le Havre, 14 Juillet, he and Albert Marquet travelled together along the Normandy coast, each artist exploring in his own way the expressive potential of colour and form evoked by the scenes they encountered in the popular resorts of Le Havre and Sainte-Adresse. Painted during that time, at the height of Marquet’s involvement with the Fauves, La Plage de Sainte-Adresse was one of three works that Marquet himself chose for the Toison d’Or exhibition held in Moscow in 1909, which was one of the first exhibitions to introduce Fauve art to Russian audiences. Not seen in public since 1976, the work now comes to sale from a Private American collection with an estimate of £400,000-600,000 / US$ 795,000-1,200,000/ €510,000–765,000.

This year’s June sale is replete with masterpieces from most of the key artistic movements of 19th and early 20th centuries, many of which have not been seen in public for some considerable time. The public view in Sotheby’s London galleries from June 17th-25th 2008 will provide an exceptional opportunity to enjoy – at first hand – these rare and iconic works.

Category: Auction News

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