Sotheby’s Announces 22nd June Impressionist & Modern Art Sale Highlights

Sotheby’s London Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale, on Wednesday 22nd June 2011, will offer a selection of works of exceptional quality and rarity, many of which have remained in private collections for decades and have never before appeared at auction. In addition to two exquisite works on one of René Magritte’s most sought-after themes, L’Empire des lumières, a monumental Joan Miró and a rare painting by Paul Klee, the sale is led by one of the most important oils by Egon Schiele ever to come to the market, Häuser mit bunter Wäsche (Vorstadt II), being sold by the Leopold Museum, Vienna, and estimated at £22-30 million / $36-50 million. Further important works include a lifetime cast of Alberto Giacometti’s bronze Trois hommes qui marchent II (est. £10-15 million) – an instantly recognisable icon of Modern art which forms the genesis of L’Homme qui marche I (which fetched £65 million in February 2010 at Sotheby’s and established a world record at the time for any work of art at auction) and Pablo Picasso’s bold late painting Couple, le baiser, an uninhibited interpretation of the theme of lovers in a passionate embrace (est. £6–8 million). The Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale is estimated to fetch a total in excess of £77 million.

Egon Schiele’s Häuser mit bunter Wäsche (Vorstadt II)
Painted in 1914, at the height of celebrated Austrian artist Egon Schiele’s short career (he died in 1918 at the age of just 28), Häuser mit bunter Wäsche (Vorstadt II) is one of the most impressive of the artist’s few monumental cityscapes. The work comes to the auction market for the first time from the collection of the Leopold Museum in Vienna with an estimate of £22-30 million. The painting is loosely based on motifs drawn from Krumau, the town known to have inspired some of his greatest works. It was this town in Southern Bohemia in which Schiele’s mother was born, and to which Schiele and his lover Valerie (Wally) Neuzil moved in 1911 in order to escape what they perceived as the claustrophobic atmosphere of Vienna. Having been acquired – in the year it was painted – by Schiele’s friend and great patron Heinrich Böhler, Häuser mit bunter Wäsche (Vorstadt II) was subsequently sold by Böhler’s widow in 1952 to Rudolf Leopold, founder of the Leopold Museum in Vienna, which is home to a pre-eminent collection of Austrian 20th-century art.

Pablo Picasso’s Couple, le baiser
Representing a culmination of Pablo Picasso’s exploration of lovers that preoccupied him between October and December 1969, Couple, le baiser (£6–8 million) moves beyond the latent eroticism and sense of tenderness embodied by his earlier works to a more uninhibited interpretation of the passionate encounter. With such an erotically charged work – understood to represent Picasso’s wife Jacqueline Roque and the artist himself – Picasso channelled the concerns regarding his fading virility that preoccupied him at the advanced age of 88.

The physical closeness of the lovers in the throes of an embrace, and the bright, lively palette that Picasso used to render the figures and the foliage that surrounds them in Couple, le baiser, belies the emotional profundity that these compositions held for him. Picasso takes the painter and model theme a step further in Couple, le baiser than in preceding works – there is no longer an easel separating the two figures; the erotic tension of earlier works is finally consummated as the painter and his muse become entangled in a forceful embrace. Furthermore, the couple has moved from the artist’s studio into nature, emphasising their freedom and the almost primitive intensity of their act. The artist’s granddaughter, Diana Widmaier Picasso, wrote of these late works, ‘These are not embraces but wrestling matches the sexes have abandoned themselves to. The unleashing of sexual passions is total, a lack of inhibition stamped with bestiality, animality …’.

Following the world record for any work of art at auction established at Sotheby’s London, when Alberto Giacometti’s L’Homme qui marche I fetched £65 million in February 2010, Sotheby’s now offers Giacometti’s extraordinary bronze Trois hommes qui marchent II (est. £10-15 million). The sculpture, which epitomises the artist’s mature style and is one of his most iconic works, forms the genesis of L’Homme qui marche I. The image of Trois hommes qui marchent II first appeared in the margin of a letter that Giacometti wrote to his dealer, Pierre Matisse, depicting three men on a raised platform walking in different directions, and the present work is the second of two versions of the subject, with the figures grouped more closely together. Trois hommes qui marchent II – a lifetime cast – was created at the definitive point of Alberto Giacometti’s career, at the end of the 1940s when he was producing career-defining bronzes featuring his signature attenuated figures. The present work depicts three men captured in mid-stride, each seemingly alone in a crowd, as they narrowly pass each other in disconnected paths. Occassionally, as in Trois hommes qui marchent II, Giacometti enhanced the patina of the sculpture to give the work a beautiful modulation of gold and amber highlights against the rich brown base-tone.

A further work by Giacometti, the unique bronze Figure debout of circa 1950 (est. £300,000-400,000) comes to the market from the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and will be sold, alongside Jean Arp’s bronze Evocation d’une forme humaine lunaire spectrale, executed in 1950 and cast in 1957 (est. £800,000 – 1.2 million), to benefit the museum’s Acquisitions Fund.

Marino Marini’s Piccolo cavallo (£1–1.5 million) beautifully represents the dominating theme throughout most of Marini’s career, and the subject of the horse was rarely invested with such energy and dramatic force as in the present work. In contrast to the tranquillity of Marini’s horses of the 1940s, this work – executed in 1950 – indicates the artist’s move towards a more expressive rendering of this theme that characterised his mature work, whilst retaining the elegance of his earlier pieces. The extraordinary power and beauty of Piccolo cavallo lies in the careful rendering of its surface: Marini painted and hand-chiselled this bronze, resulting in an immediacy and versatile quality rarely achieved in this medium.

Two rare lifetime casts by Auguste Rodin will also be offered. Ève, an intense psychological study of the mother of humanity depicted at the very moment of the end of innocence, was executed in 1883 and cast in 1913 and is estimated at £1.3 £2.2 million. The work was first owned by Eugène Rudier of the famous Rudier foundry in Paris, which cast a number of Rodin’s celebrated works. In 1933 it was presented as a gift to Henri Coignard on the occasion of his receipt of the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur. The sculpture has remained in his family collection for nearly 80 years. The second Rodin work is the artist’s lifetime bronze L’un des Bourgeois de Calais: Pierre de Wiessant, conceived in 1895 and cast in 1906, which also comes to the auction market for the first time and is estimated at £250,000-350,000. The sculpture is distinguished by its exceptional patina, executed by Jean Limet, whom Rodin used almost exclusively to finish his casts from 1890. The sculpture was acquired by a German collector from the artist in 1906 and has remained in the same family for over 100 years.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s masterly painting La Liseuse will be offered for sale for the first time in over 70 years (est. £5–8 million). Painted in 1889, the work is a major example of the insightful character of Toulouse-Lautrec’s portraiture, as well as of his remarkably modern style. The artist himself held La Liseuse in great esteem, as demonstrated in his selection of the work, together with four other paintings, for the exhibition of Les XX held in Brussels in 1890. Writing to his grandmother, he said: ‘At the end of January I’m going to carry the good work, or rather the good paintings, to Belgium…’. The subject of this intimate portrait is the artist’s 18-year-old neighbour, Hélène Vary, whom he had known since childhood and proclaimed to be ‘very beautiful’, ‘her Grecian profile is incomparable’. In 1888 and 1889, Toulouse-Lautrec executed three portraits of Hélène, and the present work is the most penetrating and personal in its projection of her inner life, tenderly capturing the model in the act of reading and exemplifying Lautrec’s exploration of the expressive qualities of line and colour. The work was acquired by the distinguished Brussels collector Roger Janssen in 1939 and it has remained in the same family until now.

Coming to the market for the first time in over 80 years, Paul Cézanne’s La Rivière of circa 1881 (est. £1.5–2.5 million), dates from a pivotal period of Cézanne’s career. Executed in soft brushwork, La Rivière presents a departure from the style that dominated his painting at the time, characterised by an increasing use of wide vertical and diagonal brushstrokes. The first owner of La Rivière was Victor Chocquet (1821-1891), a nineteenth-century art collector who was an important early patron of Impressionist painters as well as the first collector of Cézanne’s works. La Rivière was later acquired, in 1925, by French collector Maurice Gangnat – one of the greatest collectors of Impressionist art – and has remained in his family’s collection until now. Also to be offered from Maurice Gangnat’s collection is Les Roses au rideau bleu by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, with whom Gangnat cultivated a strong friendship, amassing over 150 works by the artist over the course of 14 years. This 1912 painting of Rodin’s favoured still-life subject, roses, is estimated at £400,000-600,000.

Not seen at auction for nearly 70 years, Paul Signac’s magnificent Pointillist harbour scene of 1913, Les Tours vertes, La Rochelle (est. £1.2-1.8 million) is one of the artist’s earliest oil paintings of this French Atlantic port, with its characteristic medieval towers surrounding the busy harbour, a subject the artist returned to many times between 1911 and 1928. By the time Signac painted the work, he had developed his pointillist technique so that his dabs of paint had become larger, looser and more expressive than the more tightly spaced dots of his earlier compositions, and the individualised colour patches hold an expressiveness and freedom that characterised many of the artist’s most accomplished works.

Sensual, bold and ultra-stylised, Tamara de Lempicka’s La Dormeuse (est. £2.2-£3.2 million) is a highly charged and suggestive depiction of a femme fatale in repose. Tamara de Lempicka’s striking depictions of women have come to personify the age of Art Deco and in this tantalising work, painted in 1930, her model epitomises the ideal of early Hollywood glamour. Every curve of the figure’s flesh is rendered with imperceptible brushstrokes. Her skin appears to be incandescent, as if she is bathed in silver moonlight and her hair glows with a metallic sheen. The subject of the sleeping woman was filled with erotic potential, and in this painting, Lempicka precedes Picasso’s celebrated 1932 portraits of the sleeping Marie-Thérèse Walter by two years, creating perhaps one of the most intimate and unashamedly sensual renderings of the theme.

Appearing for the first time at auction, Paul Klee’s important oil and tempera on gesso on board, Stadtburg Kr. (est. £ 2-3 million) is a magnificent example of the artist’s ability to blend architectural elements and geometric forms into a fantastic, dream-like composition. The present work was executed in 1932, shortly after Klee left the Bauhaus, where from 1920 he had worked as a Form master. Inspired by Bauhaus teaching, Klee’s work became increasingly abstract and geometricised and on leaving the school he introduced a pointillist technique in his watercolours and oils. In this rare example, he replaced dots with small rectangular forms, combining them in a wonderfully poetic fashion. Klee commented in his diary as early as 1902: ‘Everywhere I see only architecture, linear rhythms, planar rhythms,’ and this sense of rhythm and movement is beautifully rendered in the present work. According to Klee’s own analysis, he tried ‘to achieve the greatest possible movement with the least possible means’. Having belonged to the important Basel collector Richard Doetsch-Benziger, who owned the painting for several decades, the work now comes to auction from a private Swiss collection where it has remained for the last 40 years.

Painted in circa 1905/1906 at the height of Kees van Dongen’s Fauve period, Le Clown (est. £1.8-£2.5 million) portrays the brightly lit pageantry of the Cirque Médrano on the Boulevard Rochechouart. Depicting a clown performing in a circus ring with a horse and rider in the distance, Van Dongen invests his composition with all the frenetic energy that the event demanded. This vibrant painting exemplifies the spirited colour palette and painterly freedom of Van Dongen’s most successful compositions. For several decades Le Clown remained in Van Dongen’s personal possession, until it was acquired by Lucile Martinais-Manguin, daughter of the painter Henri Manguin. Together with her husband André, Martinais-Manguin amassed an impressive collection of modern art and founded the Galerie de Paris, and the present work remained in her collection for more than 50 years.

Sotheby’s February 2011 series of sales demonstrated the high demand for supreme Surrealist works, with Salvador Dalí’s Portrait de Paul Eluard selling fo £13 million, establishing a new record price for any Surrealist work of art sold at auction, and René Magritte’s gouache Le Maître d’École selling for £2.5 million, achieving a new auction record for a work on paper. The forthcoming June 2011 sale presents a selection of great works by artists including Joan Miró, René Magritte and Max Ernst.

Coinciding with the Tate Modern retrospective of Joan Miró, the artist’s bold and powerful work Femme à la voix de rossignol dans la nuit of 1971 appears at auction for the first time (est. £4.5-6 million). The intensely colourful and pictorially commanding oil on canvas displays a broad swathe of red pigment draped down the centre of the composition like a matador’s cape. Painted at a time when Miró was one of Spain’s most renowned cultural figures, the work belongs to a series of monumental compositions that occupied Miró during this time (the present work measures 130 by 195cm). The compositions that Miró completed during this period demonstrate a level of expressive freedom, exuberance and confidence in his craft.

Sotheby’s offers Magritte’s gouache on paper L’Empire des lumières (est. £800,000 – 1.2 million), one of the most iconic images of his art and a subject that he returned to throughout his career. In a television programme recorded in April 1956, Magritte gave a commentary on this image: “The landscape suggests night and the skyscape day. This evocation of night and day seems to me to have the power to surprise and delight us. I call this power: poetry.” It is this poetic and mysterious quality that makes L’Empire des lumières one of Magritte’s most popular and celebrated images, and the evocation of night and day is precisely the sort of reconciliation of opposites prized by the Surrealists. The present work was first acquired from Magritte’s dealer Alexander Iolas and has remained in the same collection until now.

Image: Pablo Picasso, Couple, le baiser. Est. £6–8 million. Photo: Sotheby’s.

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