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Cézanne, Modigliani and hyperbolic auction notes lead Sotheby’s May 2013 Impressionist and Modern Sale – UPDATED with sale results

April 29, 2013
Lot 7. PAUL CÉZANNE 1839 - 1906 LES POMMES Oil on canvas: 15 1/8 by 18 1/8 in. 38.5 by 46 cm Painted in 1889-90 Estimate: $25-35 million.

Lot 7. PAUL CÉZANNE
1839 – 1906
LES POMMES
Oil on canvas: 15 1/8 by 18 1/8 in.
38.5 by 46 cm
Painted in 1889-90
Estimate: $25-35 million. This lot sold for a hammer price of $37 million ($41,605,000 including the buyer’s premium).

UPDATE: This sale was a bit of endurance test but it did gross $230 million (hammer prices plus buyer’s premiums).  Judd Tully at Artinfo.com provides good coverage:

Thirty-seven of the 60 lots that sold made over one million dollars and of those, four made over $15 million. Just eleven of the 71 lots offered failed to find buyers for a respectable 15.5 percent buy-in rate by lot and just percent by value. (Though brisk, the sale lagged behind last May’s $330.5-million result, super-charged by Edvard Munch‘s “The Scream,” which sold for $119.9 million.)

Two artist records were set, including Georges Braque’s stunning, color-saturated Fauve-period landscape, “Paysage a la Ciotat” (1907), which sold to New York dealer Emmanuel DiDonna of Blain DiDonna for $15,845,000 (est. $10-15 million). The work last sold at auction at Sotheby’s New York in November 2000 for $3,085,750, and tonight was one of just two works that carried so-called third-party guarantees, assuring a sale, no matter what the outcome.

The engine that drove the evening was a fresh-to-market group of 20 works from the estate of New York collectors Alex and Elisabeth Lewyt, whose time capsule trove of paintings primarily acquired in the 1950s made $88.6 million of the overall total, compared to pre-sale expectations of $58.9-84.7 million. (Estimates do not include the chunky buyer’s premium that is added to the so-called hammer price, after the auctioneer knocks down the lot.)

The Lewyts’ exceptional and rare cover lot, Paul Cezanne’s gravity defying and perfectly composed still life, “Les Pommes” (1889-90), sold to an otherwise anonymous telephone bidder for $41,605,000 (est. $25-35 million) and the couple’s early Amedeo Modigliani masterwork, “L’Amazone” (1909), featuring a confident woman dressed in an orange riding jacket and black gloves, made $25,925,000, selling to another telephone bidder (est. $20-30 million).

ORIGINAL POST: The Sotheby’s May 2013 Impressionist and Modern auction is packed with big names that bring big prices … along with some entertainingly boastful auction catalogue essays.  The lot notes for this simple still life with a rather aggressive estimate begin on a slightly over exuberant note: “Painted in 1889-90Les Pommes encapsulates Cézanne’s artistic achievement, and displays the brilliance and economy which characterize his best work.”  Indeed!  I personally would want a little more “umph” in a painting estimated at $25-35 million. However, according to the provenance, this work was last sold by Wildenstein in 1953 – provided it hasn’t been offered around on the market lately, being “fresh material” makes this desirable.  Here are the remaining of the top five lots by estimate.

Lot 12. AMEDEO MODIGLIANI 1884 - 1920 L'AMAZONE Signed Modigliani (lower left) Oil on canvas: 36 1/4 by 25 3/4 in. 92 by 65.6 cm Painted in 1909. Estimate: $20-30 million.

Lot 12. AMEDEO MODIGLIANI
1884 – 1920
L’AMAZONE
Signed Modigliani (lower left)
Oil on canvas: 36 1/4 by 25 3/4 in.
92 by 65.6 cm
Painted in 1909.
Estimate: $20-30 million. This lot sold for a hammer price of $23 million ($25,925,000 including the buyer’s premium)

The Modigliani (above) is a bit more strident than the sinuous ovoid compositions from the teens, but this is an early work that has all of the artist’s hallmarks.  According to the catalogue entry:

The subject of this painting is Baroness Marguerite de Hasse de Villers, a glamorous socialite and the lover of Paul Alexandre’s younger brother Jean, who commissioned this portrait of his girlfriend in 1909.

One of the notable features of the present work is Modigliani’s approach to rendering the potent sensual appeal of a woman who was far removed from the artist’s own social realm.  The Baroness was introduced to the artist by her lover Jean Alexandre, the younger brother of Modigliani’s patron Paul Alexandre … who acted both as a patron and guardian figure for the wayward artist.  Jean was charged with supervising Modigliani’s progress while Paul was out of town, since Modigliani was too often distracted by drink and debauchery to complete projects by his own accord.

Lot 31. PABLO PICASSO 1881 - 1973 SYLVETTE Painted metal: Height: 27 1/2 in. 70 cm Executed in 1954. Estimate: $12-18 million.

Lot 31. PABLO PICASSO
1881 – 1973
SYLVETTE
Painted metal: Height: 27 1/2 in.
70 cm
Executed in 1954.
Estimate: $12-18 million. This lot sold for a hammer price of $12 million ($13,605,000 including the buyer’s premium). This sold to New York collector Donald Bryant.

The catalogue entry for this lot begins on a more hyperbolic note than that for the Cézanne:

Picasso’s dynamic, three-dimensional rendering of Sylvette is among his most powerful interpretations of the human face.

Admittedly, “among his most” gives the auction house some room, but there are a significant number of more “powerful interpretations of the human face” in the artist’s oeuvre. This, however, is more helpful:

19-year-old Sylvette David was Picasso’s neighbor in Vallauris who had caught his eye from afar during the spring of 1954.  When she arrived at his house one afternoon with some of her friends, he allegedly exclaimed “it’s you!” and began a series of nearly forty paintings and drawings and four sculptures, including the present work, that would occupy him for over two months.   Picasso met Sylvette at a critical period in his personal life, just when his relationship with Françoise Gilot was coming to an end.  Sylvette’s boyfriend was a constant presence when she posed at the artist’s studio between April and June, and the fact that she was unattainable perhaps fueled Picasso’s obsession with her.

Lot 23. GEORGES BRAQUE 1882 - 1963 PAYSAGE À LA CIOTAT Signed G. Braque (lower left) Oil on canvas: 20 1/8 by 24 3/8 in. 51 by 62 cm Painted in the summer of 1907. Estimate: $10-15 million.

Lot 23. GEORGES BRAQUE
1882 – 1963
PAYSAGE À LA CIOTAT
Signed G. Braque (lower left)
Oil on canvas: 20 1/8 by 24 3/8 in.
51 by 62 cm
Painted in the summer of 1907.
Estimate: $10-15 million. This lot sold for a hammer price of $14 million ($15,845,000 including the buyer’s premium). This sold to New York dealer Emmanuel DiDonna of Blain DiDonna.

Again with the auction house oversell: “Braque’s magnificent depiction of La Ciotat in the south of France is a seminal image of the Fauve revolution at the beginning of the twentieth century.” No, those seminal images came in 1905 with the first exhibition of Fauvist works by Matisse, Derain and others.  This is a splendid picture, but not an art historic game changer. The entry does note: “In the present work, which was painted in the summer of 1907, Braque depicts the rolling hills near La Ciotat and L’Estaque – an area that figures prominently in his production through his Cubist landscapes.”

According to the provenance, the present owner purchased this painting in 2008, only five years ago.  One wonders if this has been on the market more recently.

Lot 45. AUGUSTE RODIN 1840 - 1917 LE PENSEUR, TAILLE DE LA PORTE DIT MOYEN MODÈLE Inscribed A. Rodin and with the foundry mark Alexis Rudier Fondeur Paris; additionally inscribed on a plaque affixed to the rock Le Penseur: Executé en 1906 dans mes ateliers et sous ma surveillance pour Monsieur Ralph Pulitzer, Auguste Rodin. Bronze: Height: 28 1/8 in. 71.5 cm Conceived in 1880, this cast executed between January and June, 1906. Estimate: $8-12 million.

Lot 45. AUGUSTE RODIN
1840 – 1917
LE PENSEUR, TAILLE DE LA PORTE DIT MOYEN MODÈLE
Inscribed A. Rodin and with the foundry mark Alexis Rudier Fondeur Paris; additionally inscribed on a plaque affixed to the rock Le Penseur: Executé en 1906 dans mes ateliers et sous ma surveillance pour Monsieur Ralph Pulitzer, Auguste Rodin.
Bronze: Height: 28 1/8 in.
71.5 cm
Conceived in 1880, this cast executed between January and June, 1906.
Estimate: $8-12 million. This lot sold for a hammer price of $13.5 million ($15,285,000 including the buyer’s premium). This sold to Oslo dealer Ben Frija of Galleri K.

The lot notes begin as follows: “Rodin’s Le Penseur has become one of the most recognizable sculptures in art history.”  This is, in fact, an iconic image – the catalogue entry includes this intriguing portion:

The figure was discussed by the artist shortly before his death, when he described his desire to personify the act of thinking:  “Nature gives me my model, life and thought; the nostrils breathe, the heart beats, the lungs inhale, the being thinks and feels, has pains and joys, ambitions, passions, emotions…  What makes my Thinker think is that he thinks not only with his brain, with his knitted brow, his distended nostrils and compressed lips, but with every muscle of his arms, back and legs, with his clenched fist and gripping toes” (quoted in Saturday Night, Toronto, December 1, 1917).

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