Christie’s to Auction Art From the Estate of Ernst Beyeler

Christie’s fine art auctioneers has announced the sale of the Estate of Ernst Beyeler, the late Swiss art connoisseur who was one of the greatest art dealers, collectors and curators of our time. The sale, which will include art works Ernst and his wife Hildy lived with at their private home as well as significant paintings and sculptures from the Galerie Beyeler, will take place in London on 21 and 22 June 2011 as part of Christie’s major Evening and Day sales of Impressionist & Modern Art.

Paul Gauguin, Le Vallon, Tahiti. Oil on canvas, 1892. Signed lower left, 42 x 67.5 cm. Estimate: £5.5-8.5 million (US$9-14 million. Photo: Christie’s Images Ltd 2011.

Ernst Beyeler opened his celebrated gallery at Bäumleingasse 9 in Basel in 1945. Over the next 65 years the gallery would hold over 300 major exhibitions which were attended by collectors and museum curators from all over the globe, to whom Beyeler would sell over 16,000 works of art during his lifetime. No other dealer handled more extraordinary works of modern art. The gallery’s name quickly became synonymous with the greatest artists of the 20th century, many of whom Ernst Beyeler knew personally. Over the years, the Galerie Beyeler produced celebrated exhibitions featuring marquee works by Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, Fernand Léger, Vassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, Alberto Giacometti, Joan Miró, Alexander Calder, Jean Arp, Jean Dubuffet, Mark Rothko, Francis Bacon, Roy Lichtenstein, Georg Baselitz and many other important artists. These shows were eagerly anticipated by connoisseurs, collectors and press alike, as Beyeler had his choice of the very best works from the artists. Even Picasso granted him the privilege to select works directly from the studio.

Beyeler’s great eye and sense for quality became legendary. As his gallery prospered in the post-war years, Beyeler became the dealer of the world’s leading art collectors and was also responsible for selling great masterpieces to leading museums. In 1970 Ernst Beyeler co-founded Art Basel and was largely responsible for establishing it as the world’s most prestigious art fair bringing together the greatest dealers, artworks and collectors to Basel, Switzerland every year in June. Ernst and Hildy Beyeler were also avid collectors of post-Impressionist, Modern, Contemporary, African and Oceanic art. In 1982, the Beyelers created a foundation to which they donated their private collection, which ranks amongst the finest in the world. They commissioned Pritzker-Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano to design a home for it in Riehen, which opened its doors in 1997 and is widely regarded as one of European’s most beautiful art museums. Its mission is to share the couple’s collection with the public and to encourage interest in fine art. As one of the leading private museums in Europe, the Fondation Beyeler has made a reputation for organizing world-class exhibitions which have attracted over 4 million visitors.

At age 88, Ernst Beyeler passed away on February 25, 2010, less than two years after his wife Hildy. His last will stated that the Galerie Beyeler should be closed and that the works he owned should be sold to benefit the Fondation Beyeler. Thus the sale proceeds will help to cover the annual operating costs of the museum and secure the future of Ernst and Hildy Beyeler’s legacy in the long term.

“Christie’s is honored to present this magnificent collection for sale on behalf of the late Ernst Beyeler and his estate. Many generations of specialists and collectors have seen their taste forged by Beyeler’s eye. To buy from Ernst Beyeler was to buy great 20th century modernism, and to buy from Beyeler was to buy the best. We look forward to a tremendous atmosphere in the saleroom and to raising a significant sum for the Fondation Beyeler, which remains the great legacy of Ernst Beyeler’s personal generosity and vision,” said Jussi Pylkkänen, President of Christie’s Europe, Middle East and Russia.

“Ernst Beyeler was a model dealer who inspired great trust and confidence in those who worked with him and who bought exceptional paintings from him. It is a great honour to be entrusted with this sale. Ernst was much admired by several generations of specialists at Christie’s, myself included,” said Andreas Rumbler, Senior Director of Impressionist & Modern Art at Christie’s.

Among the many highlights of the upcoming sales are significant works by Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Alexej von Jawlensky, Oscar Kokoschka, Alberto Giacometti, Alexander Calder, Paul Klee, Fernand Léger, Jean Arp, Jean Dubuffet, Mark Tobey, Frank Stella, Roy Lichtenstein, Georg Baselitz, and Anselm Kiefer among others.

An intimate insight into Ernst Beyeler’s world will be provided by several small jewels with which he and his wife Hildy lived and could never conceive of selling during their own lifetime. These include the celebrated Wood Stabile by Calder, which was executed in the same year as Beyeler opened his gallery at Bäumleingasse 9 in 1945 and which sat either on or beside his desk throughout his long and illustrious career. In this vein, the sale will also include a superb Klee watercolor entitled Parklandschaft which was executed at the peak of the artist’s career in 1920 and hung above Beyeler’s bedside table in Basel for over 50 years. Amongst the works on paper is Giacometti’s Portrait of James Lord, a wonderful drawing of the celebrated author James Lord, which Beyeler personally prized as one of the artist’s great portraits of the 1950s, and which was displayed in his home for several decades.

The highlights of Christie’s Evening Sale on June 21 will include a great late Monet Nymphéas executed between 1916 and 1919. Painted on a grand scale, this magnificent painting is a precursor to the post-war abstractions of Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, and Sam Francis.

No major Beyeler exhibition was complete without a great Picasso, and so it is fitting that the auction will include the artist’s Buste de Françoise, a great colorist portrait of 1946. Other masterpieces include Gauguin’s Le Vallon Tahiti of 1892, Toulouse-Lautrec’s Miss May Belfort of 1895, Renoir’s Nu allongé of 1902, and Léger’s Le Drapeau of 1919.

Aside from these masterpieces, the auctions will also include a selection of paintings, sculptures, drawings, and prints as well as a superb group of 30 Picasso ceramics that will be featured in the Day sale portion of the Impressionist and Modern Art auctions on 22 June.

A select group of highlights will be on view at Christie’s New York from 7 – 11 May.

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