New York – Christie’s will launch this season’s round of major Evening Sales on November 1 with a blockbuster auction of Impressionist and Modern Art that is estimated to achieve more than $215 million. The centerpiece of this 84-lot sale is Edgar Degas’s seminal sculpture Petite danseuse de quartorze ans (estimate: $25-35 million), widely regarded as one of the most innovative and important works of art of the modern era.
In keeping with collector demand and emerging trends in the global marketplace, the sale also features two major 1930s-era portraits by Pablo Picasso that showcase the great master working at the height of his creative powers. Additional highlights include a significant selection of Surrealist paintings by René Magritte, Max Ernst, and Paul Delvaux and several exceptional works of modern sculpture – a key growth category in recent years – including rare and important works by Constantin Brancusi, Alberto Giacometti and Henry Moore. Prominent private and estate collections are well represented in the sale, with major Impressionist works by Degas, Henri Matisse, Chaim Soutine, and Edouard Vuillard from The Collection of Lew and Edie Wasserman (see dedicated release), a cross-section of Modern works by Magritte, Joan Miró, Kees Van Dongen and Alexander Archipenko from A Distinguished West Coast Collection, and four important works by René Magritte from A Distinguished European Collection.
“This is an exceptionally varied and robust offering of works aimed squarely at what the global collecting community is seeking at the moment,” said Marc Porter, Chairman and President of Christie’s Americas.
“Our most recent sales in London and New York revealed a very strong market for both classic Impressionist works and masterpieces of the avant-garde. As expected, Picasso remains the gold standard for collectors the world over, and Christie’s has sold four Picasso works for over the $15 million mark so far this year. In addition, we’ve seen strong prices for modern sculpture and Surrealist art – two categories that are enjoying a resurgence of interest from both established clients and new entrants into the field.”
Sale Highlights – Picasso
Among the star lots of the upcoming sale is a pair of Picasso portraits from the 1930s depicting two of the artist’s great loves – Marie-Thérèse Walter and Dora Maar (estimates: $12-18 million each). Like the women themselves, the paintings are polar opposites in style: in Femme endormie, completed 17 January 1935, Picasso paints his sleeping lover Marie-Thérèse in fluid, sweeping lines and rich tones that evoke her gentle, easy-going nature. By contrast, Tête de femme au chapeau mauve, dated 27 October 1939, is a boldly-rendered portrait of his lover Dora Maar, the dark beauty whose fractured, distorted visage came to represent Picasso’s distress and anxiety of the atrocities suffered during the WWII years. Both portraits come from distinguished private collections and have not been exhibited publicly in more than 25 years.
Femme endormie, like all of Picasso’s great Marie-Thérèse portraits, belongs to one of the most astonishing creative periods of the artist’s entire oeuvre. Obsessed with her youth and beauty and their mutual passion, Picasso produced an exceptional profusion of paintings, drawings, sculpture and engravings of her image over their 14 years together. These works remain among the most desirable of Picasso paintings for collectors worldwide; in June of this year, Christie’s London sold a related portrait of Marie-Thérèse napping over an open book for $21.9 million, well above its pre-sale estimate. And in May of 2010, Picasso’s large-format tour de force Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, his 1932 homage to Marie-Thérèse, sold for a world record price of $106.5 million – the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction.
Picasso’s fascination with Marie-Thérèse Walter and Dora Maar is echoed in two rare and important works on paper that are included in the sale: La Minotauromachie from 1935, in which Picasso casts himself in the guise of a bull and his lover Marie-Thérèse as his torrera (estimate: $1,200,000-1,800,000), and La femme qui pleure, I (estimate: $1,500,000-2,500,000) from 1938 in which Dora Maar is reimagined as the universal Weeping Woman, a wrenching image Picasso developed in concert with Guernica, his landmark mural-sized canvas. Picasso gifted and inscribed the latter work to the poet and writer Juan Larrea, who would later author the authoritative monograph of Guernica in 1947.
Sale Highlights – Surrealists Works
As a movement within the category of Impressionist and Modern Art, Surrealist works have enjoyed a resurgence of interest from collectors in recent seasons, with many top examples achieving new record prices for the key artists of the period. Christie’s is pleased to offer a magnificent group of Surrealist works this season, led by a private collection of four paintings by René Magritte from a distinguished European collection (combined estimate for the group: $14-19.7).
The collection of four works – including two paintings and two works on paper – is remarkable in that its includes virtually all of Magritte’s most beloved and best-known visual motifs: the black gentleman’s umbrella, the vivid green apple, the harness bell, the floating rock, and his so-called “leaf tree”. The lead highlight of the group is Les vacances de Hegel, or Hegel’s Holiday, one of Magritte’s most important paintings of the 1950s (estimate: $9,000,000- 12,000,000). Though the artist painted only two versions of this humorous composition, which depicts a glass of water perched atop an open umbrella, it remains one of the artist’s most well-known and emblematic images. Magritte took great delight in combining unpredictable and incongruous motifs in his works. In a letter to his biographer, Suzi Gablik, he explained his unusual choice of subject matter for Hegel’s Holiday as a conceptual puzzle he set out to solve:
My latest picture began with the question – how to show a glass of water in a picture in some way that would not be insignificant? Neither whimsical, nor arbitrary, nor feeble – but let’s say it: with genius? (false modesty apart)…
Then I thought that Hegel (another genius) would have greatly appreciated this object… He would have been charmed, I think, or amused (as if on holiday) and I call the picture: ‘Hegel’s holiday.’
Equally alluring is Magritte’s Les belles réalités, or Fine Realities, painted in 1962, which features his iconic green apple motif topped by an incongruously tiny table covered with a white cloth (estimate: $3,500,000-5,500,000). As with many of Magritte’s most beloved compositions, his chosen subjects are seemingly suspended in air, and the disparity of scale between the apple and table serves to heighten the wry humor of the scene.
Also included in the collection are two exquisite gouaches that illustrate Magritte’s peerless facility with the medium. Magritte’s Le monde familier, or The Familiar World, 1964, demonstrates his signature pictorial reversal of natural and artificial elements by depicting a solid rock floating implausibly above a cloud, which in turn hovers above the artist’s signature spherical harness bell or “grelot” (estimate: $800,000-1,200,000). This work belongs to a series Magritte started in the 1950’s that uses a rock hovering in the sky as its central theme, but it is one of the few that combines both the rock and the bell in one composition.
In La troisième dimension, or The Third Dimension, 1950, a single leaf takes on the scale of a tree in a whimsical depiction of tropical birds perched upon each vein of the leaf (estimate: $700,000-1,000,000). These visually stunning “leaf-trees”, which Magritte envisioned as providing both a physical support and full ecosystem for the birds perched upon it, were a popular recurring motif throughout the artist’s career. In La troisième dimension, the leaf-tree itself appears to float in the atmosphere, in keeping with the common theme of the overall collection.
Gracing the dust jacket of the Evening Sale catalogue is Max Ernst’s The Stolen Mirror (estimate: $4-6 million) a surrealist landscape painted in 1941 at the height of Ernst’s most feverish output. Widely regarded as one of the artist’s finest works, the painting juxtaposes a dreamy ethereal world of symbols and fairy-like figures with an underlying visceral world of degeneration and decay. The Stolen Mirror was once belonged to Edward James, one of the foremost early collectors of Surrealist art. It was later re-acquired by Ernst’s son Jimmy Ernst and descended through the family to the estate of Edith Dallas Ernst, from which it is now offered. As a prime example from Ernst’s most intriguing period, the painting has the potential to challenge the standing record of $4.4 million for a work by the artist at auction, set in June of this year for La chute de l’ange, a 1920s work by the artist.
An additional highlight of the Surrealist section is Paul Delvaux’s masterwork Les Mains from 1941. Redolent with mystery, the painting pulls the viewer into an imagined world in which several nude and half-draped women wander about among bowler-hatted men, while in the distance a couple embraces against the backdrop of a barren, rock-strewn landscape. The painting bears an impressive provenance, having been initially owned by the playwright and author Claude Spaak, an early supporter of the Surrealist artists. Les Mains later entered the collection of Richard S. Zeisler, a collector and philanthropist who bequeathed the work to The Museum of Modern Art in New York. The painting, estimated at $6-9 million, is being sold by the museum to benefit the acquisitions fund.
Sale Highlights – Modern Sculpture
Exceptional examples of modern sculpture will feature prominently in the November 1 sale, led by the previously announced top lot, Edgar Degas’s iconic sculpture Petite danseuse de quartorze ans (estimate: $25-35 million). A second major sculpture highlight is Alberto Giacometti’s Femme de Venise VII (estimate: $10-15 million) from a series of nine standing female nudes the artist created in 1956 and cast in 1957, in preparation for the Venice Biennale of the same year. This particular cast of Femme de Venise VII bears a pristine provenance, having been purchased direct from the artist in 1958 by the prominent art dealer Pierre Matisse and left to his son Pierre-Noël Matisse.
Among the rarest sculptural works in the sale is Constantin Brancusi’s Le premier cri, a polished bronze ovoid work conceived in 1917 that has been in private hands for 35 years (estimate: $8-10 million). This radically simplified egg-like form evolved from an earlier work, Le premier pas, a full-length carved wooden figure. In 1914 or 1915, Brancusi re-worked the head of Le premier pas as an autonomous object entitled Tête d’enfant, altering its position from upright to recumbent, with a prominent ridge in the back to hold the ovoid form in place. In 1917, the sculptor made a series of casts of the head, molded directly from the wood; four of the casts, including the present example, are polished bronze, while three are plaster and one is black cement. These became known during Brancusi’s lifetime as Le premier cri, echoing the title of the original, full-length sculpture. Brancusi’s egg-like works emerged as a central theme in his mature sculpture and are understood not only as portrayals of an infant’s head, but also as a metaphor for the act of creation itself. The bronze was included in Brancusi’s first museum exhibition, a comprehensive retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in 1955, less than two years before the artist’s death.
CHRISTIE’S NEW YORK TO PRESENT BLOCKBUSTER
84-LOT EVENING SALE OF IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN MASTERWORKS ON NOVEMBER 1