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$31.5 million Picasso leads Rocky Sotheby’s May 2014 Impressionist and Modern New York sale

April 22, 2014
Lot 8. HENRI MATISSE 1869 - 1954 LA SÉANCE DU MATIN Signed Henri Matisse (lower right) Oil on canvas 29 1/8 by 24 in. 74 by 61 cm Painted in 1924. Estimate: $20-30 million.

Lot 8. HENRI MATISSE, 1869 – 1954, LA SÉANCE DU MATIN
Signed Henri Matisse (lower right)
Oil on canvas: 29 1/8 by 24 in. or 74 by 61 cm, Painted in 1924.
Estimate: $20-30 million. This lot sold for a hammer price of $17 million ($19,205,000 with the buyer’s premium).

UPDATE: A more animated evening at Sotheby’s with the auctioneer gamely moving the bidding along until lot 8, the Matisse (above) came up. It carried a third party guarantee, but still only managed to sell for a hammer price of $17 million ($19,205,000 with the buyer’s premium), well below the presage estimate of $20-30 million. The Picasso swimmers (lot 24 – below), provoked a bidding war – it crept along at $100,000 increments (and the infrequent $200,000 increment) from an opening bid of $10 million, then at $17 million is moved at $250,000 increments to finally hammer for $28 million ($31,525,000 with the buyer’s premium). However, after that performance, the sale was a bit more rocky – of  72 lots offered, one was withdrawn and 21 failed to sell (complete results), with the last part of  the auction a buzz saw through unsold works. The allure of Picasso following the sale of Le Sauvetage was not sustained as five of the next seven subsequent works by the artist failed to sell.

ORIGINAL POST: The Evening Sale of Impressionist and Modern art at Sotheby’s on May 7, 2014 is top heavy with works by Picasso, thirteen all total including four of the top ten lots by estimate. The lead work, however, is a 1924 Nice-period Matisse showing the artist’s studio assistant Henriette Darricarrère painting. A companion work is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The painting has a third party guarantee, so it will sell – the estimate is $20-30 million. The Matisse and the Picasso beach scene (lot 24, below) are the subject of a video.

According to the catalogue:

Matisse completed the canvas at his studio at Place Charles-Félix in Nice, where Henriette posed for him under a variety of pretexts, including playing the piano or violin, reading, playing checkers and painting at an easel.  In most of these compositions Matisse positions his model against the large French window, either partially-shuttered, curtained or completely unobstructed, in order to explore the properties of light and its interplay with the objects and occupants of the studio.   Light in this picture has a clear physical presence and affects everything that crosses its path.  In her essay on Matisse’s use of windows, Shirley Neilsen Blum has noted that “although he sought to represent an overall illumination in his work, it was not that of the momentary effects of sunlight so loved by the Impressionists.  Whether as an undefined slice of colour or as an iridescence seeming to radiate from the canvas itself, Matisse represented light through the intensity of his palette and through splinters of exposed white canvas.  The reoccuring primed surface enhanced both the sense of illumination arising from within the painting and the two dimensionality of the subject”  (S. Neilsen Blum, Henri Matisse, Rooms with a View, London, 2010, p. 14).

Lot 37. PABLO PICASSO 1881 - 1973 TÊTE DE MARIE-THÉRÈSE Dated Boisgeloup 4 juin XXXII (upper right) and dated mars XXXIV (upper left) Oil on canvas 18 1/4 by 18 1/4 in. 46.4 by 46.4 cm Painted June 4, 1932 - March 1934. Estimate: $15-20 million.

Lot 37. PABLO PICASSO, 1881 – 1973, TÊTE DE MARIE-THÉRÈSE
Dated Boisgeloup 4 juin XXXII (upper right) and dated mars XXXIV (upper left)
Oil on canvas: 18 1/4 by 18 1/4 in. or 46.4 by 46.4 cm
Painted June 4, 1932 – March 1934.
Estimate: $15-20 million. Bidding on this lot stopped at $13 million and it failed to sell.

First up among the Picassos is a thickly painted portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter, his mistress in the early 1930s, coiling with energy.  According to the catalogue notes:

Picasso began work on the picture on June 4, 1932 and completed it in March 1934, revisiting and retooling to its richly-painted surface over the course of two years.  Thickly impastoed, it is also one of the most daring renderings of his lover, depicted with a swirling assembly of vibrantly colored panes reminiscent of stained glass. It bears mentioning that he completed these works at the height of the Surrealist movement, when his palette was at its most vibrant and when Freudian psycho-sexual symbolism played a defining role in the imagery of the avant-garde. But the present composition, with the deconstructed bust positioned confrontationally at the forefront of the picture plane, is a decidedly forthright example of the artist’s individualism, even incorporating elements of his groundbreaking Cubist compositions of the 1910s. Indeed, more than any other model, Marie-Thérèse inspired Picasso’s creative genius, and her very image conjured a creative synthesis of the most radical aspects of Picasso’s production. 

Lot 24. PABLO PICASSO 1881-1973 LE SAUVETAGE Signed Picasso (upper right) Oil on canvas 38 1/4 by 51 1/4 in. 97.2 by 130 cm Painted in November 1932. Estimate: $14-18 million. Click on image to enlarge.

Lot 24. PABLO PICASSO, 1881-1973, LE SAUVETAGE, Signed Picasso (upper right)
Oil on canvas: 38 1/4 by 51 1/4 in. or 97.2 by 130 cm, Painted in November 1932.
Estimate: $14-18 million. This lot sold for a hammer price of $28 million ($31,525,000 with the buyer’s premium). Click on image to enlarge.

As with the Matisse, this work carries a third party guarantee so it will sell. From the catalogue:

Pablo Picasso
 Marie-Thérèse Walter, Juan-les-Pins, 27 July, 1932, Archives Maya Widmaier Picasso


Pablo Picasso
 Marie-Thérèse Walter, Juan-les-Pins, 27 July, 1932, Archives Maya Widmaier Picasso

The dramatic seaside rescue of Marie-Thérèse is the subject of Le Sauvetage, Picasso’s vibrant canvas from November 1932.  The scene depicts the acrobatics of beach activity while the languid body of a bather is hoisted from the water.  All of the figures bear the unmistakable phenotype of Picasso’s lover Marie-Thérèse as she had come to be defined in his other legendary compositions from earlier in the year.  But for this work, created at the height of the artist’s obsession with the young woman, Marie-Thérèse is omnipresent – occupying land, sea and air and playing both victim and savior in Picasso’s narrative. 

Lot 18. ALBERTO GIACOMETTI 1901 - 1966 LA PLACE Inscribed with the signature A. Giacometti, with the foundry mark Alexis Rudier Fondeur Paris and numbered 4/6 Bronze Length: 24 1/2 in. 62.2 cm Conceived and cast in 1948. Estimate: $12-18 million. Click on image to enlarge.

Lot 18. ALBERTO GIACOMETTI, 1901 – 1966, LA PLACE
Inscribed with the signature A. Giacometti, with the foundry mark Alexis Rudier Fondeur Paris and numbered 4/6
Bronze – Length: 24 1/2 in. or 62.2 cm, Conceived and cast in 1948.
Estimate: $12-18 million. This lot sold for a hammer price of $7.7 million (8,789,000 with the buyer’s premium). Click on image to enlarge.

This work is also the subject of a video. According to the catalogue:

La Place [is] Giacometti’s first multi-figural sculpture …  In the years after the war Giacometti became fascinated by spatial relationships and the concept of movement within a single work.  He began to create sculptures that employed multiple figures on a common base, all existing as independent entities during a moment in time.  Without question, La Place is the most provocative of Giacometti’s sculptural interpretations of this concept and was the font of inspiration that he would draw upon for the rest of his life.

Lot 18. Detail.

Lot 18. Detail.

La Place was conceived in an urban context.  The platform on which the figures are positioned relates to a city square, and the juxtaposition of figures suggests the way in which isolated city dwellers pass without stopping or interacting.  The male figures appear to stride forward, while the female figure stands still.  “A bit like ants, each one seems to move of its own accord, alone, in a direction ignored by the rest”  is how Giacometti described the urban phenomenon portrayed in his sculpture.

[…]

Walking men and motionless women became the main characters in his drama of humanity, and his identity as an artist became inextricably linked with these images.  The scale of his figures in La Place, unlike those in his sculptures from the 1950s or 1960s, is said to be a result of his experience transporting his belongings in a matchbox following the war and his fascination with perspective as shaped by cinematic experiences.

Lot 28. CLAUDE MONET 1840 - 1926 LE PONT JAPONAIS Stamped with the signature (lower right) Oil on canvas 35 1/2 by 45 3/4 in. 90 by 116.3 cm Painted 1918-24. Estimate: $12-18 million. Click on image to enlarge.

Lot 28. CLAUDE MONET, 1840 – 1926, LE PONT JAPONAIS, Stamped with the signature (lower right)
Oil on canvas: 35 1/2 by 45 3/4 in. or 90 by 116.3 cm, Painted 1918-24.
Estimate: $12-18 million. This lot sold for a hammer price of $14 million ($15,845,000 with the buyer’s premium). Click on image to enlarge.

The last of the top five lots by estimate is a very late Monet, The Japanese Bridgewhich depicts a scene from his lily pond at Giverny.  According to the lot notes:

Monet constructed his Japanese bridge in the summer of 1893 on a newly-acquired plot of land where he was creating a pond irrigated by the Epte river.  Daniel Wildenstein noted that just a few days before purchasing the land, Monet had viewed a collection of prints by Utamaro and Hiroshige at Durand-Ruel’s gallery and this Asian aesthetic was clearly on his mind.   He first painted the bridge in 1895, but it was not until 1899 that he turned to the pond and bridge in a series of eighteen views, twelve examples of which were exhibited at Durand-Ruel in 1900.  Nearly two decades later, Monet returned to this subject again.  Between 1918 and 1924 he completed twenty-five views of the bridge, now radically abstracted amidst layers of paint.

The Sotheby’s sale, like the Christie’s sale, includes a Giacometti Femmes de Venise sculpture, though this one is V in the series, and slightly shorter than the Christie’s work, which is IV in the series, and at $6-8 million, a good deal less expensive than the Christie’s version, estimated at $10-18 million.

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