By Michele Leight
"The Modern Age," a landmark evening
sale will take place at Christie's on November 5, 2008, featuring
two single-owner collections of very fine quality: Property from
The Hillman Family Collection and The Collection of Alice Lawrence,
and will be followed by Christie's Impressionist and Modern Art
evening sale on November 6, and the Post War & Contemporary
Art Evening sale on November 12. Organized by Guy Bennett, International
co-head of Impressionist and Modern Art, Robert Manley, Head of
Department, New York, Post-War and Contemporary Art, and Eric
P. Widing, American Paintings, "The Modern Age" encompasses
painting, sculpture and the decorative arts spanning a century,
by artists as diverse as Manet, Renoir, Toulouse Lautrec, Tiffany,
Arthur Dove, Henri Matisse, Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann, Mark Rothko,
Lucien Freud, Isamu Noguchi and Morris Louis. Both collections
are dominated by outstanding portraits, and are expected to realize
in the region of $130 million dollars.
Of the 58 offered lots, 41 sold for a total
of $47,039,500, a reflection of the current economic crisis, and
loss of investor confidence with the downturn on Wall Street.
That said, several auction records were set tonight, and they
are posted at the end of the story. Many of the paintings that
passed at this sale would have sold for at least their low estimates
in the Spring.
Mrs. Lawrence was the widow of Sylvan Lawrence,
a major developer and owner of office buildings in Lower Manhattan.
The Hillman and the Lawrence families were
patrons of the arts and extremely philanthropic. In 1989 The Alex
Hillman Foundation used the proceeds of the sale of Pablo Picasso's
"Mere et Enfant," $18,700,000, to start the Hillman/Penn
Nursing Scholars Program at the University of Pennsylvania to
facilitate the careers of over 1,000 nurses. Mrs. Lawrence contributed
generously to medical care and cultural institutions through the
Alice Lawrence Foundation, including The Metropolitan Museum of
Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Carnegie Hall and The
National Gallery of Art in Washington, and to community-based
organizations like City Meals on Wheels and Visiting Nurses.
The Modern Age evening sale kicks off with
Property from The Alex Hillman Family Foundation, with Lot 1,
a bold conte crayon drawing by Georges Seurat "Maison Caree,"
executed between 1882-84. It has an estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000.
It sold for $1,082,500 including the buyer's premium as do
all results mentioned in this article, a world auction record
for a work on paper by the artist.
Lot 3, "La Cathedral d'Aix vue de l'atelier
des Lauves" by Paul Cézanne, a gorgeous watercolor
and pencil on paper, painted in his studio that offered him a
panoramic view of Les Lauves in Aix en Provence during the
last four years of his life. It has an estimate of $4,000,000
to $6,000,000. It was passed at $2,800,000. This beautiful work
of art would have fetched at least its low estimate in the Spring.
It will undoubtedly return to auction when the economy recovers,
and receive the bid it deserves.
Lot 26, a superb painting by Henri de Toulouse
Lautrec, illustrated at the top of this story, is a "Portrait
de Henri Nocq," a Belgian artist, whose stance emulates the
self-assured dandies found in the works of Lautrec's peers, notably
Whistler, Degas and Manet. Their purpose in life seemed to be
that of well dressed, upper class foils for an endless stream
of working class prostitutes, dancers, waitresses and laundresses
that served as their models. This elegant, full length portrait
is a bourgeois urban "gent" is simultaneously non-judgmental
and brutally honest, leaving the viewer in no doubt as to Lautrec's
opinion of him. It has an estimate of $6,000,000 to $9,000,000.
It sold for $4,450,500.
Edouard Manet's beautiful young girl seated
on a park bench, "Fillette sur un banc," Lot 15, has
all the painterly characteristics that made Manet so important
to his peers, like the "head-on" lighting instead of
the more conventional chiaroscuro favored by the staid academicians,
the simplification of the planes of the image, and the multitude
of lines and marks that form a pattern around the sitter's charming
young face. This entirely new approach to painting paved the way
for the next phase of modern artists, like Matisse, and continues
to the present time. Manet was a genius and he completed thiswork
in 1880, and it is hard to imagine what he might have continued
to do with his gift had he lived longer than 51. Fortunately,
the artists around him knew his worth, and emulated him. Lot 15
has an estimate of $12,000,000 to $18,000,000. It was passed
at $10,500,000, which would not have happened in the spring.
Lightness in palette but not in wall power
is captured in an early, (1944), jewel-toned, Post-War painting
by Jean Dubuffet "Vue de Paris, quatiers residentiels,"
which celebrates the sights of Paris "in his instantly recognizable
style." The 1944 work, Lot 7, has an estimate of $3,000,000
to $4,000,000. It sold for $3,200,000. Similarly buoyant
is Henri Matisse's "La Danseuse," a deliciously fresh
gouache and paper collage created between 1948-49 in the last
decade of his life when he was 82, described by the artist as
"form filtered to its essentials." John Elderfield has
called Matisse's last cut-outs "an irrefutable flowering
of Matisse's art of such authority that they can stand beside
the best of his paintings," (in "The Cut Outs of Henri
Matisse," New York, page 10). Lot 22 has an estimate of $3,000,000
to $4,000,000. It was passed at $1,400,000. Lot 5, Fernand
Léger's bold and radical "Etude pour Le Modele nu
dans l'atelier," illustrated above, is a masterpiece, painted
almost 100 years ago, with an estimate of $3,500,000 to $4,500,000.
It sold for $3,330,500.
Georges Braque's "Nature Morte a la Corbeille
des Fruits," Lot 12, is a connoisseur's painting, with an
estimate of $1,200,000 to $1,800,000. It sold for $842,500.
An oil on panel, it was executed in 1927 and measures 21 1/8 by
36 1/4 inches.
A collection of similarities and contrasts,
The Alice Lawrence Estate includes two memorable "dark"
paintings, in predominantly black tinged with purple and lavender/mauve,
that create a definite change in mood. Rothko's magnificent "No.
43 (Mauve)" evokes twilight, which the artist described as
having the air of mystery, threat and frustration. The oil on
canvas, Lot 46, was painted in 1960 and measures 91 by 70 inches.
It has an estimate of $20,000,000 to $30,000,000. It was passed
at $16,000,000. This more than any other work of art this evening
would have easily cleared its low estimate in brighter economic
Those same feelings that are echoed in Lucian
Freud's somberly moving "Head of a Man,"a portrait of
Francis Bacon's lover and companion, George Dyer, a petty criminal
who had been in and out of prison throughout his life. Bacon described
Dyer as someone who loved to be with children and animals: "I
think he was a nicer person than me. He was more compassionate.
He was much too nice to be a crook. That was the trouble. He only
went in for stealing because he had been born into it." Freud,
who was a friend of both men, has captured Dyer's sensitive nature
in this beautifully rendered, compelling portrait. It has an estimate
of $1,800,000 to $2,500,000. It sold for $2,098,500.
Two luminous, glowing paintings evoke the sun
and glorious light, yet they are painted in totally different
styles. Arthur Dove's "Sunday," Lot 33, has the intensity
of a Nolde and is one of the artist's masterworks. It has an estimate
of $900,000 to $1,200,000. It sold for $578,500.
Morris Louis' magnificent "Untitled,"
Lot 45, is soaked in pigment, colors bleeding into each other
on unprimed canvas, the composition achieved by staining the canvas
from all sides converging on the center. Regarded as the leader
of the Color Field movement, Louis was looking for an alternative
to the gestural, heavily impastoed style of the Abstract Expressionists.
In the 10 years he devoted to being a painter, he found it, leaving
room for much speculation about what he might have achieved if
he had not died so young - like Manet. It has an estimate of $2,000,000
to $3,000,000. It sold for $2,098,500.
Another luscious, warm weather painting, "Kiefer,"
by Paul Klee, Lot 54, was inspired by the artist's memories of
Sicily. The 1932 oil and sand on board is almost 20 inches square
and has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It was passed
Lot 35, is a small but powerful oil on canvas
by René Magritte entitled "La Parole Donnee."
Painted in 1950, it measures 16 7/8 by 23 3/4 inchesand has an
estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It sold for $1,426,500.
It was one of his works that are often referred to as his
"stone age pictures and have a contemporary "special
effects" quality about them.
Another Magritte, Lot 21, "L'Empire
des lumieres," a gouache on paper from 1947, sold for $3,554,500,
a world auction record for a work on paper by the artist.
To a certain extent its "stone age"
quality is echoed in the bold and elegant basalt sculpture, Lot
50, by Isamu Noguchi. Entitled "Shiva Rock," it has
an estimate of $600,000 to $800,000. It was passed at $420,000.
The Collection of Alice Lawrence includes gorgeous
furniture, lamps, jewelry and object d'art by reknowed designers
Louis Comfort Tiffany and Emile Jacques Ruhlmann, among others.
The Alice Lawrence Collection continued
with a day sale on November 6th which achieved an additional $17,690,725,
bringing the grand total for The Hillman and Lawrence Collections
to approximately $64,690,725.
At the press conference after the Impressionist and Modern Art
Evening sale on November 6, (which served for both evening sales),
Christopher Burge was asked by a member of the press why the reserves
were kept so high:
"Collectors make the decisions about the reserves. They have
the right to take it back if it doesn't reach its price,"
he said, adding that "the estimates had been set in June,
and clearly prices have changed."
Refusing to be pessimistic when asked about the "slump"
in sales, Mr. Burge said:
"Do you mean how does this compare to other slumps by virtue
of my enormous age? In overall terms, over the last two nights
Christie's (sold $193 million) and our friends across the street,
Sotheby's, (sold $200 million) have sold about $400 million dollars
worth of art, not counting the day sales, in a difficult financial
time for the world, so I am stunned and elated."
Lot 43, "Robert Smithson," a 1962
oil on canvas by Alice Neel (1900-1984), sold for $698,500, a
world auction record for the artist.
Lot 51, "Pittsburgh," an oil on
canvas circa 1922 by Louis Lozowick (1892-1973), sold for $386,500,
a world auction record for the artist.
Lot 59, an adjustable walnut "MF 75"
armchair by Pierre Chareau (1883-1950) , sold for $782,500, a
world auction record for the artist.
The two collections and a collection of 20th
Century Design by George and Frayda Lindemann were exhibited this
year in Paris, Hong Kong, Mosow, London and Abu Dhabi before being