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$27 million Monet leads Plodding Christie’s May 2014 Impressionist and Modern Art Sale

April 21, 2014
Lot 5. AMEDEO MODIGLIANI (1884-1920) Jeune homme roux assis signed ‘modigliani’ (upper left) oil on canvas 39Ω x 25¬ in. (100.5 x 65 cm.) Painted in 1919 Estimate: $8-12 million.

Lot 5. AMEDEO MODIGLIANI (1884-1920), Jeune homme roux assis, signed ‘modigliani’ (upper left)
oil on canvas: 39½ x 25 5/8 in. (100.5 x 65 cm.), Painted in 1919
Estimate: $8-12 million. This lot sold for a hammer price of $15.6 million ($17,637,000 with the buyer’s premium)

UPDATE: At a not quite lethargic, but certainly workmanlike sale, with multimillion dollar works often creeping along at $50,00 and $100,000 increments, Christie’s did manage to sell 47 lots of 53 lots offered (one was withdrawn) – to reach a total of $285,879,000 – but it took a lot of effort.  A star lot, a Monet water lilies painting, scraped by at a hammer price of $24 million, just under the $25 million low estimate (the final price was $27,045,000 with the buyer’s premium), going to an Asian buyer. The Braque (lot 14), crawled to it’s low estimate of $8 million, while the Kandinsky fell short of it’s $16 million low estimate, hammering for$15.2 million ($17,189,000 with the buyer’s premium). The very large Bronfman Picasso also just made its low estimate hammering for $7 million ($8,005,000 with the buyer’s premium). The Picasso Dora Maar portrait (lot 29) opened at $14 million and got one legitimate bid of $20 million (or $22,656,000 with the buyer’s premium) from Paul Gray of Richard Gray Galleries (he also purchased the Giacometti sculpture, lot 33 – below).

ORIGINAL POST: The art auction world kicks into high gear with the sales in New York of Impressionist and Modern works the week of May 6 followed by Post War and Contemporary works the week of the May 13. For their May 6 sale, Christie’s has scored works from the estate of Huguette Clark (the reclusive heiress who dies in May 2011 at the age of 104 with an estate worth hundreds of millions and no direct heirs).  Among them are a Monet (lot 8) and a Renoir (lot 10), below.  These works have not been on the market for more than a half century and should do well. There are also works from the collections of Viktor and Marianne Langen, including a Braque (lot 14), a boldly colored 1909 Kandinsky (lot 17), and a 1942 Picasso portrait of Dora Maar (lot 29 ), below; and the estate of Edgar Bronfman, including a large, late 1965 Picasso (lot 21), below. Here are 10 works from the sale.

The Modigliani (above) is listed as coming from a private American collection:

Immensely authoritative in its hieratic elegance and strict economy of palette, this sophisticated painting of a russet-haired young man–dated to 1919, just months before Modigliani fell victim to the ravages of tuberculosis and alcoholism–displays the consummate realization of the signature portrait style that the painter had developed during the previous three years, which represents his most powerful legacy to the history of art … The sitter is slender young man, past adolescence but still on the brink of adulthood, his clothing understated but elegant, his hair carefully parted and coiffed, his gaze inscrutable, his posture upright and confident. His head and hands, painted in warm orange tones, stand out in vivid contrast against the muted gray-green that otherwise dominates the painting, his handsome visage emerging from the cool stillness of the background like the sun burning through a lifting morning fog. “To do any work, I must have a living person. I must be able to see him opposite me,” Modigliani proclaimed (quoted in Modigliani and His Models, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2006, p. 31).

Lot 8. CLAUDE MONET (1840-1926) Nymphéas signed ‘Claude Monet’ (lower right) oil on canvas 39¡ x 32 in. (100.1 x 81.2 cm.) Painted in 1907 $25-35 million. Click on image to enlarge.

Lot 8. CLAUDE MONET (1840-1926), Nymphéas, signed ‘Claude Monet’ (lower right)
oil on canvas: 39 3/8 x 32 in. (100.1 x 81.2 cm.), Painted in 1907
Estimate: $25-35 million. This lot sold for a hammer price of $24 million ($27,045,000 with the buyer’s premium). Click on image to enlarge.

The Monet, as reportedly earlier this year, was sold to the Clarks in 1930 and hasn’t been seen publicly since:

Monet and his family moved to Giverny in April 1883. Situated at the confluence of the Seine and the Epte about forty miles northwest of Paris, Giverny was at that time a quiet, picturesque farming community of just 279 residents. Upon his arrival there, Monet rented a large, pink stucco house on two acres of land. When the property came up for sale in 1890, Monet purchased it at the asking price of 22,000 francs, “certain of never finding a better situation or more beautiful countryside,” as he wrote to Durand-Ruel (quoted in P. Tucker, Monet: Life and Art, New Haven, 1995, p. 175).

[…]

Monet was sixty-six years old when he painted this Nymphéas in 1907. He was arguably France’s most acclaimed artist. Together with Renoir and Degas, he was the last surviving member of the legendary Impressionist group, whose work–once disparaged and denounced for the challenge it posed to Salon norms–the French public had by then come to understand and venerate; the following generation of painters acknowledged their status as founding fathers of the modern movement. All of the Impressionists were represented by this time in the Musée du Luxembourg, France’s national museum for living artists; Renoir had been awarded the Légion d’Honneur, the highest honor in the nation, and Monet is said to have been offered the accolade but to have refused it.

Lot 10. PIERRE-AUGUSTE RENOIR (1841-1919) Jeunes flles jouant au volant signed ‘Renoir.’ (lower right) oil on canvas 21Ω x 25¬ in. (54.6 x 65.2 cm.) Painted circa 1887 Estimate: $10-15 million. Click on image to enlarge.

Lot 10. PIERRE-AUGUSTE RENOIR (1841-1919), Jeunes flles jouant au volant, signed ‘Renoir.’ (lower right)
oil on canvas: 21½ x 25 5/8 in. (54.6 x 65.2 cm.), Painted circa 1887
Estimate: $10-15 million. This lot sold for a hammer price of $10 million ($11,365,000 with the buyer’s premium). Click on image to enlarge.

From the catalogue:

“A sort of break came in my work about 1883,” Renoir told Ambroise Vollard late in his life. “I had wrung Impressionism dry, and I finally came to the conclusion that I knew neither how to paint nor draw” (quoted in J. House, Renoir in the Barnes Foundation, New Haven, 2012, p. 113). This realization sparked a three-year period of intense questioning and experimentation, during which Renoir wholly re-ordered his goals as a painter. Dissatisfied with the seeming spontaneity and imprecision of Impressionism, with its loose brushwork and patchy light, he reintroduced traditional notions of draftsmanship into his art, adopting the crisp edges, uniform illumination, and dry, controlled brushstroke of Ingres. Seeking to give the human form a more monumental presence, he focused increasingly on contour, which he used to silhouette his figures sharply against the background. John House has written, “In technique, composition, and subject matter Renoir was deliberately moving away from any suggestion of the fleeting or the contingent, away from the Impressionist preoccupation with the captured instant, towards a more timeless vision of woman” (Renoir, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1985, p. 242).

Lot 14. GEORGES BRAQUE (1882-1963) Le Modcle signed and dated ‘G Braque 39’ (lower left) oil and sand on canvas 39¡ x 39Ω in. (100.1 x 100.3 cm.) Painted in 1939 Estimate: $8-12 million. Click on image to enlarge.

Lot 14. GEORGES BRAQUE (1882-1963), Le Modcle, signed and dated ‘G Braque 39’ (lower left)
oil and sand on canvas: 39 3/8 x 39½ in. (100.1 x 100.3 cm.), Painted in 1939
Estimate: $8-12 million.This lot sold for a hammer price of $8 million ($9,125,000 with the buyer’s premium). Click on image to enlarge.

From the catalogue:

Le Modèle and other works of this period, Braque displayed an evolving preference for orchestrating a virtual pictorial symphony, a canvas that is a world in itself, brimming with multiple themes, in which figure and still-life elements dovetail and intertwine within their setting like the polyphonic lines in the music of the high Baroque.

[…]

Pursuing his dedication to the formal and contextual aspects of the still-life genre, Braque tapped into a tradition that was profoundly French. He was certainly the most devoted and conscientious of heirs among the great modern painters to the legacy of Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, the father of the French nature morte, who was also a contemporary of the musicians whom Braque most admired. While painting Le Modèle, Braque was surely acknowledging the gentle and humble human presence in Chardin’s figure paintings.

Lot 17. WASSILY KANDINSKY (1866-1944) Strandszene signed and dated ‘KANDINSKY 1909’ (lower left) oil on board 20æ x 26¡ in. (52.8 x 67 cm.) Painted in 1909 Estimate: $16-22 million. Click on image to enlarge.

Lot 17. WASSILY KANDINSKY (1866-1944), Strandszene, signed and dated ‘KANDINSKY 1909’ (lower left)
oil on board: 20¾ x 26 3/8 in. (52.8 x 67 cm.), Painted in 1909
Estimate: $16-22 million. This lot sold for a hammer price of $15.2 million ($17,189,000 with the buyer’s premium). Click on image to enlarge.

Christie’s has recorded an informative if slightly fulsome video about the Kandinsky. Excerpts from the catalogue:

By the late summer and fall of 1909, around the time Kandinsky painted Strandszene, the initial shock wave of Fauvism had passed through the art world, its reverberations having fanned the fires of expressionism in Germany and continuing to embolden new youthful movements in Russia.

[…]

The transformation in Kandinsky’s own art during the years 1908-1910 was radical and unprecedented, and had come largely from within, stemming from the imperatives of his own “internal necessity.” There were no guideposts to mark the path as Kandinsky edged his way toward abstraction. By 1909 he could sense where his destination might lie, but it was not until two years later, when the text of On the Spiritual in Art was given its final revisions and first published in December 1911 (dated January 1912 on the title page), that he could look back on his recent work and assess the means that had taken him this far. “Today I can see many things more freely, with a broader horizon,” he wrote in the foreword to the second edition, published in April 1912.

Lot 21. PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973) Mangeuse de pastèque et homme écrivant signed ‘Picasso’ (lower left); dated ‘13.5.65.’ (on the reverse) oil on canvas 51¿ x 63¬ in. (129.8 x 161.7 cm.) Painted on 13 May 1965 Estimate: $7-10 million. Click on image to enlarge.

Lot 21. PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973), Mangeuse de pastèque et homme écrivant
signed ‘Picasso’ (lower left); dated ‘13.5.65.’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas: 51 1/8 x 63 5/8 in. (129.8 x 161.7 cm.), Painted on 13 May 1965
Estimate: $7-10 million. This lot sold for a hammer price of $7 million ($8,005,000 with the buyer’s premium). Click on image to enlarge.

From the lot notes:

13 May 1965, the day Picasso painted Mangeuse de pastèque et homme écrivant, was only a few weeks shy of the mid-point of an already bountifully productive decade. Two years previously he had commenced his series of atelier paintings, which usually featured the artist and his model, both together, or less frequently she nude and alone, and occasionally only the artist by himself. On the face of it, one might suspect that this working arrangement, as intensely intimate as it would seem, may not promise much in the way of variety. But in fact the artist and model series within a few years spawned numerous corollary groups, most frequently in the manner of los mosqueteros, a term which, as John Richardson has pointed out, includes not only Picasso’s celebrated Alexandre Dumas-style cavaliermousquetaires, but also a wider assortment of their camp followers–servants, musicians, girlfriends, prostitutes, procurers and other hangers-on.

Lot 29. PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973) Portrait de femme (Dora Maar) signed ‘Picasso’ (upper left) oil on panel 39¿ x 31æ in. (99.4 x 80.8 cm.) Painted in Paris, 5 August 1942 $25-35 million. Click on image to enlarge.

Lot 29. PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973), Portrait de femme (Dora Maar), signed ‘Picasso’ (upper left)
oil on panel: 39 1/8 x 31¾ in. (99.4 x 80.8 cm.), Painted in Paris, 5 August 1942
Estimate: $25-35 million. This lot sold for $20 million ($22,565,000 with the buyer’s Premium). Click on image to enlarge.

From the catalogue:

Elegantly adorned in a silk dress of regal purple and a tricorne hat to match, embellished with a fan-tailed feather, the woman portrayed here is Dora Maar, Picasso’s mistress and the muse who most significantly inspired his art during the years 1936 through 1944. Picasso painted this imposing portrait of Dora on 5 August 1942. Among his wartime pictures, “Those of Picasso’s works done between 1939 and 1942 are probably the most powerful,” Brigitte Baer has declared, “obviously with some failures, but the most beautiful” (Picasso and The War Years, exh. cat., Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1998, p. 85). Their remarkable qualities originate, of course, in the very hand of the artist, but also in large part from the presence of Dora herself as his subject.

Lot 33. ALBERTO GIACOMETTI (1901-1966) Femme de Venise IV signed and numbered ‘Alberto Giacometti 2/6’ (on the left side of the base); inscribed with foundry mark ‘Susse Fond. Paris’ (on the back of the base) bronze with dark brown and green patina and hand-painted by the artist Height: 45Ω in. (115.5 cm.) Conceived in 1956 and cast in 1957 $10-18 million.

Lot 33. ALBERTO GIACOMETTI (1901-1966), Femme de Venise IV
signed and numbered ‘Alberto Giacometti 2/6’ (on the left side of the base);
inscribed with foundry mark ‘Susse Fond. Paris’ (on the back of the base)
bronze with dark brown and green patina and hand-painted by the artist
Height: 45½ in. (115.5 cm.), Conceived in 1956 and cast in 1957
Estimate: $10-18 million. This lot sold for a hammer price of $11.2 million ($12,709,000 with the buyer’s premium).

From the lots notes:

The Femmes de Venise … constitute a central peak in Giacometti’s career as a sculptor. They stem from the unprecedented attenuated and visionary works of 1947-1948, on the basis of which Giacometti initially achieved international renown in his first post-war solo exhibition at the Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, in 1948, includingGrande figure (fig. 1) and the first version of L’homme qui marche. At the same time, the Venetian women anticipate the monumental final project of Giacometti’s lifetime, the figures he conceived for Chase Manhattan Plaza in New York during 1959-1960, including L’homme qui marche I and II and Grandes femmes debout I-IV (fig. 2). These were the largest figures he would ever model, which he intended to cast in an even more greatly enlarged scale for the Plaza site, at huge heights of around 25 feet or more. The Chase Manhattan project remained sadly unrealized at Giacometti’s death; it is impossible to walk through this downtown space today, tall modern buildings on every side, without imagining the impact such awesomely towering giants, maintaining their silent vigil, might have had on passersby.

Lot 34. JOAN MIRÓ (1893-1983) Le serpent à coquelicots traînant sur un champ de violettes peuplé par des lézards en deuil signed, dated and titled ‘Miró. 1947 LE SERPENT À COQUELICOTS TRAÎNANT SUR UN CHAMP DE VIOLETTES PEUPLÉ PAR DES LÉZARDS EN DEUIL’ (on the reverse) oil and mixed media on board 41º x 29Ω in. (105 x 75 cm.) Painted in 1947 $12-18 million.

Lot 34. JOAN MIRÓ (1893-1983), Le serpent à coquelicots traînant sur un champ de violettes
peuplé par des lézards en deuil
signed, dated and titled ‘Miró. 1947 LE SERPENT À COQUELICOTS TRAÎNANT SUR
UN CHAMP DE VIOLETTES PEUPLÉ PAR DES LÉZARDS EN DEUIL’ (on the reverse)
oil and mixed media on board: 41¼ x 29½ in. (105 x 75 cm.), Painted in 1947
Estimate: $12-18 million. This lot sold for a hammer price of $11 million ($12,485,000 with the buyer’s premium).

Lot 42. PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973) Deux femmes et enfant signed ‘Picasso’ (lower left) oil on canvas 74¡ x 50√ in. (189 x 129.2 cm.) Painted in Paris, winter 1922 $12-16 million.

Lot 42. PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973), Deux femmes et enfant, signed ‘Picasso’ (lower left)
oil on canvas: 74 3/8 x 50 7/8 in. (189 x 129.2 cm.), Painted in Paris, winter 1922
Estimate: $12-16 million. This lot sold for a hammer price of $11.5 million ($13,045,000 with the buyer’s premium).

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