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Auction PR Publicity Announcements News and Information

Haaken A. Christensen Collection Modern and Contemporary Art for Auction

LONDON – This year, between June and October, Sotheby’s will sell some 63 works from the collection of Haaken A. Christensen (1924-2008), one of Norway’s most influential art dealers and connoisseurs. Spanning a range of media, including paintings, drawings and prints, this important and extremely focused collection of Modern and Contemporary Art is estimated to realise a sum in excess of £8 million. Proceeds from the sales 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.

Helena Newman, Vice-Vice Chairman, Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art Department worldwide, said: “We are thrilled to be offering this exceptional collection. Haaken A. Christensen had an impeccable eye, and his collection takes us straight to the heart of the Modernist movement. That he should have left every piece of fine art in his private collection to charity is an act almost unprecedented in our experience.”

Aside from the works to be sold at Sotheby’s, Haaken A. Christensen also left a substantial portion of his estate to MSF, bringing the total value of his donation to an estimated £20 million.

Marc DuBois, Executive Director of MSF in the UK, said: “While saddened to learn of the death of Mr. Christensen, we are extremely grateful to receive this generous legacy. His gift is the single largest donation ever made to Médecins Sans Frontières. The money will go towards our work – providing lifesaving medical care to people living in the worst crises around the world. For example, one of the first projects to benefit will be a programme aimed at delivering medical aid to Zimbabwean migrants fleeing the crisis in their homeland, who find themselves stuck in the desperate conditions of the no-man’s land border area with South Africa. Private donations, no matter how large or small, are vital to maintaining independent humanitarian action. They allow us to respond immediately in an emergency, such as after the recent disasters in Burma and China, and to deliver aid to people based on need, even in forgotten crises such as the conflicts in Central African Republic or Sri Lanka. We hope that the pieces in this collection will bring pleasure to their new owners and that they will take pride in the fact that the money raised will allow us to save lives in more than 60 countries worldwide.”

Haaken A. Christensen – Discerning Collector and Influential Dealer – For more than 40 years, Haaken A. Christensen ran one of Scandinavia’s most successful art galleries. Consistently exhibiting leading Norwegian artists alongside well-known French Modernists in his galleries in Oslo, Haaken was tireless in his quest to bring the best in international Contemporary art to Norway while promoting Norwegian art abroad. The Norwegian artists shown in his gallery are known locally as Stall Haaken (Haaken’s Stable). The gallery continues to promote Norwegian and internationally contemporary art in the hands of Christensen’s long-term and experienced manager, Fredrik Nergaard.

Art dealing came naturally to Christensen. While still a student he represented the then unknown artist Gunnar S. Gundersen. One of his early notable successes was the commission he received to sell a number of paintings from the collection of Sigri Welhaven, including an important Matisse oil entitled La Coiffure (1907, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart). Christensen sold it to the ship builder Ragnar Moltzau and used the proceeds to establish his career in earnest. He started to travel continuously, especially to France, where he befriended Kahnweiler in Paris and subscribed to print editions by Picasso which form the basis of an extraordinary collection of prints to be sold by Sotheby’s in October.

Alongside his demanding but highly successful business activities, Christensen also found time to build up a personal collection that very much captured the Modernist movement in art in all its manifestations. While the main emphasis of the collection is on Picasso (he owned no fewer than 46 works by the artist in a wide range of media), Christensen also owned works by other major artists of the period, including Henri Matisse, Fernand Léger, Georges Rouault and Georges Braque.

Christensen’s collecting activities were, of course, largely shaped by all the same attributes that fuelled his career: his astute business acumen, his exceptional knowledge of art history and his own keen artistic judgment. His particular interest in French art came from the fact that, after university, he spent some considerable time in Paris – there developing the strong admiration for French art and culture that was to inform his interests and tastes for the rest of his life. (It was this same interest that was to culminate in his being made a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government in 1987.)

Christensen: the man and philanthropist – Aside from his interest in art, Haaken A. Christensen had a keenly developed sense of social responsibility. He paid an annual subscription – over a period of many years – to the humanitarian group Médecins Sans Frontières. Greatly impressed by MSF’s effectiveness, nonpolitical standpoint and low administrative costs, Christensen left his entire collection to MSF with no conditions attached, allowing for the works to be sold – and the funds to be used – in whatever way deemed best by the charity.

In addition to his support of MSF, Christensen also gave to other causes. For example, he donated money to the Henie-Onstad art centre outside Oslo, funding a new exhibition space, the Sal Haaken, which was opened in 2003.

In all aspects of his life, Haaken A. Christensen is said to have had a sixth sense that made him effective in everything he turned his hand to, whether it was fishing (he’d be back with a full catch before others had even cast their lines), shooting, or – of course – art. A regular subscriber to MSF, Haaken A. Christensen was also a discreet and modest man, and the generosity of his bequest came as quite a surprise to those who knew him.