Sotheby’s to Auction Ambroise Vollard Art Collection

Sotheby’s has announced the sale of a group of works whose story must surely rank among the most compelling in art market history. The works, a long-lost treasure trove of paintings, prints, books and drawings by key avant-garde artists of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, belonged to Ambroise Vollard, the legendary Parisian art dealer who played a pivotal role in the development of the Impressionist and Modern Art market: the artists he represented ranged from Renoir to Van Gogh and from Cézanne to Picasso and the Fauves. In promoting them, he created the collecting field of Impressionist & Modern art as we know it today. His contribution to the development of Modern art in particular is perhaps unparalleled.

The extraordinary trove of treasures was discovered in 1979 in a bank vault at the Société Générale in Paris. The works had been deposited there during 1939, soon after Vollard’s death, by Erich Slomovic, a young Yugoslav and associate to Vollard to whom the dealer had consigned the works. Soon after depositing the works, Slomovic fled to Yugoslavia where he died at the hands of the Nazis at the end of 1942. As a result, the contents of the vault remained untouched for 40 years. On 21st March 1979, the bank was permitted under French law to open the vault and to sell any contents of value in order to recoup some 40 years of unpaid storage fees. As a result, the collection was consigned for a sale to be held at Hotel Drouot in Paris in March 1981. The announcement of the sale, however, was swiftly followed by legal challenges as a result of which the sale was cancelled. Those challenges now finally resolved, the works will now be sold by agreement among the legal beneficiaries of the Vollard Estate and will finally make their long-anticipated appearance on the market at Sotheby’s sales in London and in Paris in June.

Helena Newman, Vice Chairman, Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Department Worldwide, said: “This extraordinary find takes us straight back into the world of Ambroise Vollard: the legendary dealer who was at the heart of the exciting developments in the Paris art-world in the early 20th century. We are very excited to be offering the wonderful landscape by Derain in London in June. Its strong, fauve colours and powerful composition, combined with its extraordinary provenance, will be extremely appealing to today’s international buyers.”

Derain’s Arbres à Collioure to be Sold at Sotheby’s London on 22 June
« Le Fauvisme a été pour nous l’épreuve du feu. Les couleurs devenaient des cartouches de dynamite, elles devaient décharger de la lumière ». André Derain.

At the core of the collection is Arbres à Collioure, one of the finest and most striking works by André Derain ever to come to auction (est: £9–14 million/ €10-15 million). Executed in 1905 in the coastal town of Collioure in the South of France where Derain and Matisse spent the summer working together, this painting marks the pinnacle of Derain’s Fauve style. The canvases they produced during this period are noted for the extremely vibrant palette which had been inspired by the bright Mediterranean environment. When their work was exhibited, together with that of Vlaminck and others, at the famous Salon d’Automne in Paris in September 1905 (the present canvas may have been among those on view), the bold colouration prompted the art critic Louis Vauxcelles to call the painters ‘Les Fauves’ (The Wild Beasts), heralding a new style of painting: Fauvism.

Derain has rendered the dazzling effect of light in the landscape as a vibrant flat pattern of juxtaposed pure, primary colour contrasts, in a scene that is imbued with a mood of wild, primitivist isolation. The treatment of a single object, such as a tree, in a number of contrasting colours, is a feature that characterises his style of this period, taking the Impressionist rendering of the effect of light to its extreme. Derain’s views of Collioure produced during the summer of 1905 not only represent the pinnacle of the Fauve movement, but also a milestone in the development of 20th Century art.

Trésors du Coffre Vollard To Be Sold at Sotheby’s Paris on 29 June
Sotheby’s offering in Paris of the collection which was placed into storage shortly after Vollard’s death provides a unique insight into the aesthetic sophistication of a dealer and book publisher who played a crucial role in the development of early 20th Century art. It includes a range of oils, watercolours, drawings, livres d’artiste and prints by artists with whom he had worked during his long distinguished career. A selection of prints and monotypes by artists of his circle, such as Cézanne, Degas, Gauguin, Renoir, Mary Cassatt and Picasso, reflects Vollard’s passionate interest in graphic arts and print publishing.

Key works among the highlights of the group to be sold are Paul Cézanne’s historic oil Portrait d’Emile Zola, painted circa 1862-64 (est: €500,000-800,000); Picasso’s celebrated 1904 etching Le Repas frugal (€250,000-400,000); and a monotype by Edgar Degas, La Fête de la patronne, circa 1878-79 (€200,000-300,000). A fuller, more detailed release on the sale, which is estimated to realise a sum in the region of €3 million (£2.6 million), will follow.

Image: André Derain’s 1905 “Arbres à Collioure,” £9-14 million ($14-22 million) Sotherby’s