By Michele Leight
Christie's New York will offer an impressive
selection of art works at their Impressionist and Modern Art Evening
Sale in New York on November 6, 2007, including two luscious odalisques
by Henri Matisse (1869-1954) and Pablo Picasso (illustrated above
and below), a portrait of his gardener "Valliers" by
Paul Cézanne," a winsome "Portrait du Sculpteur
Oscar Miestchaninoff" by Amedeo Modigliani and Camille Pissaro's"Les
With 91 lots on offer at this sale, there are
several stand-outs: a beautiful and luminous Signac, Lot 19, 1889
oil entitled "Cassis: Cap Canaille" that has an estimate
of $8,000,000 to $12,000,000 and which sold for $14,041,000,
a world auction record for the artist; several stunning monochromatic
portraits by Alberto Giacometti - including "Atelier 1,"
Lot 4, a 1950 oil that measures 25 1/4 by 18 1/8 inches and which
has an estimate of $1,400,000 to $2,600,000 and which sold
for $4,185,000, and "Annette au Manteau," Lot 74,
a 1964 oil that has an estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000 and
sold for $11,241,000, a world auction record for the artist.
Lot 35 is a highly covetable pencil and gouache
on paper by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901), "Au bal
de l'opera." It has an estimate of $6,000,000 to $8,000,000
and sold for $10,121,000, far out-performing the artist's previous
world auction record of $3,080,000 for a work on paper.
At the post sale press-preview, Christopher
Burge, auctioneer and Deputy Chairman of Christie's America, announced
the evening's impressive grand total: $394,977,200, the second
highest ever for Impressionist and Modern Art. Of the 91 offered
lots, 74 sold and the total, including buyers' premiums, was within
the pre-sale estimates.
As always, Mr. Burge carried the sale with
grace, elegance and humor, valiantly battling his way though 91
lots, with only one humorously exasperated comment, when the bidding
for Matisse's "Odalisque" was progressing laboriously
at the $27 million mark: "At some point I am going to have
to sell it," he said, as the room erupted into laughter.
He did sell it, for a record $33,641,000, many minutes later.
The previous record for a Matisse painting was $21,731,225 set
at Christie's last May.
Lot 73, "Femme accroupie au costume turc,
(Jacqueline)," an oil on canvas by Pablo Picasso is one of
ten portrayals of his companion Jacqueline Roque, and was painted
in one day in November 1955. Picasso was famously prolific, but
to have achieved this painting in 24 hours is quite remarkable,
even for him. Matisse's influence is keenly felt in the image,
made all the more poignant because his great friend and rival
had died the previous year, leaving behind a host of memories
and the realization that he was in his seventies and alone. These
two men revolutionized modern art as we know it, pushing the boundaries
and raising the bar continuously despite achieving success, as
they fed off each others genius, and borrowed freely from each
others work. (See The City Review article
on the Matisse/Picasso exhibition at the Tate Modern in London
and the Museum of Modern Art in Long Island City, Queens.)
Lot 73 has an estimate "on request" and it sold for
Jacqueline Roque was described (physically)
as the "Delacroix" type - an artist greatly admired
by both Picasso and Matisse for his painterly forays into exotic
subject matter, including harem slave girls. Flooded by memories
of Matisse, and with a beautiful young model/companion for inspiration,
Picasso began his series of fifteen "variations" on
Delacroix's "Les Femmes Algers," which were shown to
Roland Penrose by the artist upon completion:
"Bringing them out one after another he
showed me the rich variety of style and fantasy to which Les Femmes
d'Alger had been subjected. My first sight of the Moorish interiors
and the provocative poses of the nude girls reminded me of the
odalisques of Matisse. 'You are right, said Picasso with a laugh,
'When Matisse died he left his odalisques to me as a legacy, and
this is my idea of the Orient though I have never been there."
(Courtesy, Christie's exhibition catalog, from Picasso: His Life
and Work. Berkeley, 1981, p. 396)
Never as "edgy" as his friend Picasso,
but oh so sublimely luscious and soothing, Matisse's "L'
Odalisque, harmonie bleue," illustrated at the top of the
story, painted in 1937, is as alluring and desirable as the sapphire
waters of the Mediterranean, and the sunny skies of Morrocco,
a favorite haunt of the artist. Both Picasso and Matisse were
influenced by North Africa and points further east, but no one
could paint the joys of life, love and good old bourgeois comforts
better than Matisse, who said:
"The Odalisques were the bounty of a happy
nostalgia, a lovely vivid dream, and the almost ecstatic, enchanted
days and nights of the Moroccan climate."
The painting has an estimate of $15,000,000
to $20,000,000. It sold for $30,841,000.
Another Picasso is Lot 43,
"Tete de Femme (Dora Maar), a 16 1/8-by-13 1/8-inch oil that
was painted in 1941. It has an estimate of $6,500,000 to $8,500,000.
It sold for $16,281,000.
Lot 5 is a pleasant oil of
a man with a pipe by Pablo Picasso. It measures 51 1/4 by 35 inches
and was painted in 1968. It has an estimate of $12,000,000 to
$16,000,000 and sold for $16,841,000 to Larry Gagosian.
Christie's produced beautifully written and
illustrated mini-catalog covered in exotic silver arabesques,
"Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse: The Seduction of the Seraglio,"
and it was devoted to the two odalisques in this sale, and offers
a wealth of information about the background, customs and costumes
of the secretive world of the harem slave girls, while showing
how two of the most cutting-edge artists of their time brilliantly
reworked staid subject matter that had been relegated to the dusty
corridors of 19th century Orientalism, (with the notable exception
of the grand masters Ingres and Delacroix, whose paintings are
included for comparison).
While Ingres' world-famous odalisque that hangs
in the Louvre wears only a black velvet ribbon around her ivory
neck - nudity had real shock value in his day - the allure of
Matisse's and Picasso's odalisques is enhanced by their gorgeously
exotic clothing, and the swirling arabesques on tiles, fabrics,
rugs and pillows that form a sensuous backdrop for enviably languid
ladies in these days of hard working wives and mothers. When nudity
was par for the course, Matisse and Picasso clothed, or partially
clothed, their odalisques, rendering them sexier than ever by
what was not revealed.
Both men caused quite a stir in their private
lives, with Picasso processing a steady stream of gorgeous companions,
muses and wives, while Matisse, the "haute bourgeois"
married man, raised eyebrows with his depictions of models - like
Lidia Delektorskaya, his studio assistant/ model for "L'
Odalisque, harmonie bleue," - partially - attired in outfits
usually reserved for off-shore harems of ill repute, in the imaginations
of the bourgeoisie, at least. (Both odalisques combined fetched
$64,482,000 and were the top sellers of the evening sale). Three
works by Picasso were in the top five, the other two being "Homme
a la Pipe," selling for $16,841 and "Tete de Femme (Dora
Maar) which sold for $16,281,000. The fifth was the Signac.
Landscapes hold their own amidst the powerful
portraits and odalisques on offer at this sale, notably the beautiful
"Cassis: Cap Canaille" by Paul Signac, Lot 19, illustrated
above, and the lovely "Vue sur la nouvelle prison de Pontoise,
printemps," by Camile Pissarro (1830-1903), which has an
estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000 and which sold for $2,953,000,
and his exquisite depiction of the four seasons, "Les Quatres
Saisons," (1872-73), which have a total estimate of $12,000,000
to $18,000,000 and which sold for $14,601,000, breaking
the artist's previous auction record of $8,967,500, set by the
same series of paintings at Christie's November 3, 2004. Christie's
have devoted a separate catalog to this important series, which
is well worth reading. Pissarro, an artist whose influence on
his peers and successive generations of artists is so important,
is the subject of a lovely exhibition at The Jewish Museum (see
The City Review article).
Pissarro's "Les Quatres Saisons,"
features "Le Printemps," "L'Ete" and "L'Automne"
(spring, summer and autumn), painted on the outskirts of Pontoise,
while "L'Hiver" (winter), was created in Louveciennes,
a location that appears again in Lot 13, "Charrette sur une
route, hiver, environs de Louveciennes," which was painted
in 1872 and has an estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000 and which
sold for $1,161,000.
Panoramic and horizontal in format Pissarro's
"Les Quatres Saisons," was painted at the height of
Pissarro's career, and represent the first major commission he
ever received, by the Paris banker and collector Achille Arosa.
Gazing upon them is to be bathed in their soft ochre tones - a
warming and calming experience in 50-degree temperatures in frenetic,
fabulous New York.
There is nothing so wonderful as to view a
complete series of paintings of this quality (that were created
with the intention of being displayed together), when so many
"series" are separated across continents today. Although
they were separated until 1901, they have remained reunited ever
It is reassuring to see a seascape by Edouard
Manet (1832-1883), Lot 30, "La jetée de Boulogne,"
which has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000 and which
sold for $2,625,000, Monet's "Pins, Cap d'Antibes,"
Lot 14, by Claude Monet, which has an estimate of $4,000,000 to
$6,000,000 and which sold for $6,313,000), when the chill
winds of winter are blowing the flags around Rockefeller Center.
Even the winter landscapes of the Impressionist painters do not
seem as forbidding as in the works of other artists, while their
depictions of the South of France have reached iconic status as
"escapes" in the collective unconscious. There are so
many beautiful Impressionist works at this sale it is impossible
to mention them all.
Modigliani's wonderful, "Portrait du sculpteur
Oscar Meitschaminoff," with a natty red scarf adding a rakish
touch, Lot 47, which has an estimate of $18,000,000 to $25,000,000
and sold for $30,841,000, contrasts with the more seriously
conceived, but no less magnificent "Annette au manteau"
(mentioned earlier) by Alberto Giacommetti and Cézanne's
tender "Portrait de Vallier," of his devoted gardener
of many years, which has an estimate of $15,000,000 to $25,000,000
and which sold for $17,401,000. It is a watercolor on paper
that measures 18 1/4 by 12 1/4 inches and was once in the collection
of Norton Simon of Los Angeles.
A ravishing "Jeune fille au chapeau noir
à fleurs rose," Lot 10, could be a chocolate box illustration
in the hands of an ordinary artist, but rendered in the legendary,
softly smudged brushwork of Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841-1919),
she is the essence of dreamy, youthful beauty. It has an estimate
of $1,500,000 to $2,500,000. It sold for $2,169,000.
A far more brilliant and ravishing Renoir is
Lot 23, a gorgeous "Nature morte au melon et au vase de fleurs,"
which has an estimate $1,000,000 to $1,500,000 and which sold
Other memorable works are two by Fernand Léger.
Lot , a stunning gouache on paper, Lot 41, entitled "Dessin
pour contraste de formes (Composition 11)," which has an
estimate of $1,800,000 to $2,600,000 and which sold for $4,745,000,
a world auction record for the artist for a work on paper,
and Lot 44, "Etude Pour Les constructures, fond bleu,"
which has an estimate of $10,000,000 to $15,000,000 and sold
for $11,801,000. The latter was once in the collection of
Mr. and Mrs. Leigh B. Block of Chicago.
Lot 15 is a small but luminous still life by
Paul Gauguin (1848-1903). An oil on canvas, it measures 12 1/2
by 26 inches and was painted in Tahiti in 1892. It has an estimate
of $10,000,000 to $15,000,000. It sold for $12,361,000.
Another favorite comment of the evening came
from Gil Perez, Christie's legendary doorman:
"Thank you for shopping at Christies,"
he remarked to a bemused gentleman:.
"And please come back again - soon."