Sotheby’s Latin American Sale Highlights Painting and Sculpture

Sotheby’s New York Latin American Art sale, on 27 and 28 May 2010, will showcase a range of Latin American painting and sculpture from the continents’ most important artists including exceptional works from several distinguished private collections and estates. Wilfredo Lam’s Sur Les Traces (est. $1.2/1.8 million) and The Ordeal of Owain by Leonora Carrington (est. $600/800,000) are from a distinguished Aspen private collection while Fernando Botero’s La Toilette (est. $500/700,000) and two further works come from the Estate Dr. and Mrs Sidney Merians. There are also two important paintings by Diego Rivera, while Botero is represented by a works from each decade of his career. The sale also features one of the earliest totally abstract work by a Latin American artist with Emilio Pettoruti’s Armonia-Movimento from 1914 (est. $90/100,000). Overall the sale is estimated to fetch $18.6/25.2 million.

Masterworks from a Private Aspen Collection
The sale includes nine works from an important collection based in Aspen, Colorado. Surrealism is the core of the collection with major paintings by Wilfredo Lam, Leonora Carrington and Matta. Lam’s seminal work Sur Les Traces Transformation ($1.2/1.8 million) is a synthesis of Cubism and Surrealism. This painting sees metaphysical forces emerge from the Cuban jungle which is rendered in Lam’s delicate drawing on the canvas. It is only where the light/dark contrast becomes more articulated that the three forms – a candle, two vessels and a diamond shaped composition – can be made out. These sit in the midst of jungle of complex and often indistinguishable forms. The painting was shown in Lam’s third solo show at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in 1945 in New York.

The artist’s Celtic ancestry is a reoccurring theme in Leonora Carrington’s work and is the subject of The Ordeal of Owain (est. $600/800,000). Owain was a Welsh Prince who was known for his fierce opposition to the English. He was the son of Cadwagan ap Bleddyn and committed several misdemeanors until he eventually reaped what he sowed when he was killed by Gerald of Windsor. The painting depicts a Celtic ceremony rich with symbolism; a blue acolyte weeps a tear made of pearl, and an apple is dropped into a caldron while Owain atop his horse can be seen below.

Following the success of Matta’s Endless Nudes in November, which achieved the second highest price ever for the artist at auction, a 1951 Untitled panting will be offered in May (est. $350/450,000). By the time Matta painted the current work he had moved away from New York, and personal polemics that had seen him break with the Surrealist Group. He was now living in Rome and enjoying a new artistic freedom. Paintings from this period reflect Matta’s concern for the timeless struggle of humanity. White paint is sponged and wiped onto the canvas to give the impression of a limitless space in which insect-like forms surround a central mechanical structure.

Merian Collection
La Toilette, a 1980 Fernando Botero painting and two delightful drawings come from the Collection of Dr. and Mrs Sidney Merians (est. $500/700,000). The Merians were a major presence in the New York and New Jersey art scenes from the 1960s onwards. Sidney was Chairman of the New Jersey State Museum in the late 1970s and was in charge of both fundraising and acquisitions; Susan shared her husband’s passionate interest in the arts and also served as a museum trustee.

Fernando Botero
In addition to La Toilette, the sale features a particularly strong group of paintings and sculpture by Botero, with a work from every decade of his career – from an early Van Gogh inspired still life from 1962, (Florero, est. $100/150,000), to Still Life With Fruit Juice from 1983, (est. $400/600,000) and a sculpture from 2007 (Uno Che Cammina (Walking Man), est. $300/50,000).

Botero has a unique ability to provoke and shock his audience. His depictions of standing and reclining female nudes are reminiscent of the Old Masters yet his subject matter is utterly contemporary showing ladies in private, intimate settings. Botero’s rotund ladies recall the ample women of the Baroque masters with paintings such as Odalisca serving as a bridge between these Old Masters and modern representations of the body and gender (est. $700/900,000). The sale showcases Botero’s evolving style from works inspired by the Old Masters to depictions of nuns (Mother Superior, 1966, est. $90/120,000), horses (Cavallino, est. $250/350,000), nudes (Femme Nue Alongée, est. $450/650,000) and even brothel scenes (Man and Woman, est. $200/300,000).

Diego Rivera
The sale also includes two remarkable and important paintings by Diego Rivera. La Tejedora y los ni?os from 1953 has been hidden from the public eye for more than 50 years (est. $1.3/1.5 million). It had been known only to Rivera scholars through a grainy black and white photograph in the Catálogo general de obra de caballete. The painting is among the most important works completed in the last decade of Rivera’s life and is a glorious celebration of Mexico’s cultural diversity. The artist had set out to dignify the image of indigenous Mexicans and La Tejedora y los ni?os honors the history and culture of the Mexican people. As a result of its historical importance the painting has been recognized as part of the national heritage of Mexico and as such can not permanently be exported from the country.

In Portrait of Gladys March Rivera depicts the American journalist to whom he dictated his memoirs (est. $225/275,000). Gladys March first met Rivera in 1944 when she visited him in Mexico for an interview, the following year she spent six months with the artist as he dictated his autobiography, My Art, My Life to her.

The lot includes a remarkable trove of letters, photographs, research material and even the original manuscript for the book which had provisionally been entitled Mexico’s Bad Boy, all of which offers a fascinating insight to Rivera’s life. Even after completion of the book, Gladys March made annual trips to Mexico, spending time with the artist and his friends including Chester Dale and Frida Kahlo both of whom feature in the archive.

19th Century Venezuelan Painting
In November Sotheby’s set a new benchmark for 19th Century Venezuelan paintings when Cristóbal Rojas’s La Lectora (Woman Reading), quadrupled the high estimate to sell for $1,172,500. Following that success the upcoming sale includes Portrait of a Young Girl by Martín Tovar y Tovar (est. $250/350,000) which is reminiscent of Tovar’s 1858 portrait of his sister which is perhaps Venezuela’s most important painting for its esthetic solutions and psychological depths. The current lot has many similarities to that masterpiece and depicts a young girl, Joven Caraque?a, who might be another family member in the Caracas hills. The young girl is elegantly dressed and appears to be taking a rest from a countryside walk. As well as reminder of the impertinence of youth, the painting also has many European influences echoing the enthusiasm among Venezuelans for all things French at the time.

Non-Figurative Work
One of the highlights of a strong group of non-figurative works in the sale is perhaps the earliest totally abstract work by a Latin American artist. Armonia-Movimento Spazio-Disegno Astratto by Emilio Pettoruti comes from 1914 when the artist had moved to Italy from his native Buenos Aries (est. $90/100,000). Whilst living in Florence, Pettoruti immersed himself in the art scene and his work from this period is strongly influenced by the Futurists. The current work conveys the energy he felt upon encountering this new language and marks an important change from the Impressionist inspired works he produced in Buenos Aries.

Gertrudis Goldschmidt, better known as Gego was a teacher and a cult figure during her lifetime. She is represented in the sale by superb drawings and a unique group of sculptures – Sin Título (3 Sculptures), (est. $200/300,000). In addition, a painted construction by her long time companion, Gerd Leufert, also features in the sale; Listonado (est. $20/25,000).

The sale also includes several major works by Rafael Soto including the 1977 Escritura Negra a La Izquierda (est. $200/300,000) and Escritura Lilia from 1991 (est. $175/225,000). There is also a superb selection of works by the Latin American Avant-Guard from the 1960s and 70s including Metamorfosis, an aluminum sculpture by Edgar Negret dating from 1982 (est. $15/20,000) and Gyua Kosice’s Gota de Agua Y Aradobas Azules which appears at auction for the first time (est. $30/40,000).

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