By Carter B. Horsley
Christie's November 3, 2009
evening auction of Impressionist & Modern Art has only 41
lots, one of the smallest totals for a major evening auction in
New York in recent memory. In contrast, Sotheby's is offering
68 lots the next night.
Christie's offerings also pale
considerably with Sotheby's in terms of quality and Carol Vogel
of The New York Times observed in a November 2, 2009 article
that it is "perhaps the weakest of the season," adding
that Conor Jordan, the head of its Impressionist and modern art
department in New York, said "it's been a struggle."
The Christie's auction is highlighted
by a very pleasant and luminous Monet landscape, a lovely woodland
scene by Corot, an impressive floral still life by Fantin-Latour,
a good cityscape by Pissarro, small abstractions by Mondrian and
Kandinsky, a large and dramatic Friesz, a great Venetian scene
by Cross, and a pleasant Cannes scene by Signac, an interesting
surrealist work by Ernst, a good portrait by Modigliani, and a
cabaret scene by van Dongen, a large, circular cut-out by Matisse,
and an early work by van Gogh.
In 1901, Monet (1840-1926)
painted 15 paintings of the "picturesque village of Vétheuil
on the right bank of the Seine" where he had worked from
1878 to 1881. Monet would subsequent explore the serial approach
on the Thames in London and at his water-lily garden in Giverny.
Monet's 15 paintings were all executed from the same viewpoint
in Lavacourt across the Seine from Vétheuil, whose major
landmark is a Romanesque Church of Notre-Dame, which is the focal
point of the pyramidal composition of Lot 19, an oil on canvas
that measures 32 ¼ by 36 ¼ inches. Seven of the
15 Vétheuil paintings of 1901 are now in museum collections.
This lot has an estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000. It sold
for $5,458,500 including the buyer's premium as do all results
mentioned in this article.
Of the 40 offered lots,
28 sold for $65,674,000. The pre-sale estimates, without buyer's
premiums, were $68,650,000 to $97,150,000.
Christopher Burge, the auctioneer,
said at the post-sale news conference that 29 percent of the buyers
were American, 42 percent were European, 4 percent were Asian
and 25 percent were other, which he later said included Russians.
"We are still in a
period of settling down after the difficulties of the financial
market, slowly but surely, and for the most post sellers will
gain confidence in giving us things," Mr. Burge said.
Although the number of passes
was more than Christie's would have like, Mr. Burge remarked that
"there were very pleasant surprises," especially Lot
5, a sculpture of a couple kissing by Auguste Rodin that sold
for $6,354,500, more than four times its pre-sale high estimate.
The top lot of the auction
was Lot 22, "Danseuses," by Edgar Degas, a pastel, that
sold for $10,722,500, considerably over its pre-sale high estimate
of $7 million.
While the Monet is quite dazzling
in its late-afternoon light and the glistening Seine, a more poetic
mood is casts by Lot 4, "Ville d'Avray, L'Etang vu à
travers la feuillage (Une vachère assise au bord de l'eau
sous les arbes)," by Jean Baptiste Camille Corot (1796-1875).
Corot's enchanting, grayish
landscapes in and around Fontainebleau sometimes populated by
attractive young women in peasant dress were for many years extremely
popular but in recent seasons have rarely appeared at auction
in New York. This oil on canvas, which measures 16 3/8 by 24 1/8
inches is extremely attractive and beautiful and is property from
the estate of Hannah Locke Carter. It depicts the hills near his
lakeside home in a small commune on the outskirts of Paris.
The catalogue provides the
"Time seems to stand still,
as if in a dream abut to be revealed, in a world newly awakened.
Corot in fact preferred to work during the very early morning
hours, lending this scene the veiled, silvery light and misty
effects that are famously characteristic of his late landscapes.
The artist advised his viewers: 'To enter fully into one of my
landscapes, one must have the patience to allow the mists to clear,
one only penetrates it gradually, and when one has, one should
enjoy it there."
This lot has a modest estimate
of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for $866,500.
Lot 3 is a very lovely and
lush still life by Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904) that was once
in the collection of John D. Rockefeller III of New York. An oil
on canvas, it measures 22 by 26 5/8 inches and was painted in
1865 and has been widely exhibited. Another property from the
estate of Hannah Locke Carter, this lot has an estimate of $2,000,000
to $3,000,000. It sold for $1,706,500.
Lot 2 is a good cityscape by
Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) that is entitled "Le Quai Malaquais
et l'Institut." An oil on canvas, it measures 21 3/8 by 25
5/8 inches and painted in 1903. It was once in the collection
of Paul Cassirer of Berlin and then Brigitte and Gottfried Bermann
Fischer of Vienna from whom it was confiscated by the Nazis in
1938 and returned to their family in 2008. Pissarro painted the
work from his room at Hotel du quai Voltaire, the same hotel at
which Charles Baudelaire had lived when writing Les Fleurs
du Mal, and one of the favorite Parisian hotels of George
Barrett, for many years the lead rewriteman in the newsroom of
The New York Times in New York in the 1960s and 1970s.
The lot, which is notable for
its dramatic, angled perspective and very colorful sky, has an
estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,500,000. It sold for $2,154,500.
Lot 29 is a small but excellent
abstraction by Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) that is entitled "Composition
II, with Red." An oil on canvas it measures 19 ¼ by
20 ¼ inches and was painted in 1926. It was once in the
collection of Edgar J. Kaufmann Jr. of New York and has been widely
published and exhibited. It has an estimate of $4,500,000 to $6,500,000.
It failed to sell and was passed at $4,100,000.
Lot 15 is a lyrical abstraction
by Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) that is entitled "Winkelschwung"
(Angular Swing). An oil on board, it measures 19 ¼ by 27
3/8 inches and was painted in 1929. It was acquired in 1949 by
the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and sold at Sotheby's in
1954. It has been consigned by the estate of Jack Dreyfus Jr.
It has an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,500,000. It sold for
Emile Othon Friesz (1879-1949)
was an important member of the Fauves who painted closely with
Georges Braque for a while. Lot 9, "Paysage, La Ciotat,"
is a large and very dramatic Fauve landscape that measures 32
¾ by 45 3/8 inches and was painted in 1907. The catalogue
notes that it "is among Friesz's most radical Fauve paintings
- the artist has rendered nature in a supercharged, color-driven,
ecstatically expressionist manner that goes beyond anything else
that even his fauve colleagues were doing at this time."
"His insistence of featuring
exaggeratedly precipitous landscape motifs, and his stacked treatment
of a wild profusion of knotted and twisting vegetative forms -
all as flat as on a Japanese screen - have no direct precedent
in French landscape painting, and would not be seen again until
Chaim Soutine painted his vertiginous Cèret landscapes
more than a decade later. Friesz's partner in Fauvism was Georges
Braque, who would later pair off with Picasso to preside3 over
the development of cubism. Both men grew up and studied in Le
Havre. Friesz had a head start on Braque - in1904 he had exhibited
some post-Impressionist pictures in a group show at Berthe Weill's
gallery. He participated in the landmark Salon d'Automme of 1905,
in which his paintings were hung in a room not far from the notorious
Salle 7 that held the incendiary, color-drenched canvases of Camoin,
Derain, Manguin, Marquet, Matisse and Vlaminck
Friesz traveled together to Antwerp during the summer of 1906
and painted their first fauve canvases there, working side by
side from the same motifs. Friesz showed some of these recent
paintings at the 1906 Salon d'Automme, where they were hung with
works by Matisse and the Fauves. During the autumn and winter
of 1906 Friesz and Braque stayed in l'Estaque, a port town on
the Mediterranean coast where Cezanne had painted. Braque returned
to the Midi in May 1907, and Friesz joined him the following month.
They stayed for a while in l'Estaque and Cassis, where Derain
was working, and then spent most of the summer painting in and
around the seaside town of La Ciotat
.The influence of Gauguin
and Van Gogh on his work would never be more telling: Friesz transformed
their expressive arabesques into a lyrical and deeply subjective
reworking of form, to which he applied a visceral, wrist-inflected
technique that presages the spontaneity and fervor of abstract
expressionist painting a half-century later."
The lot has a conservative
estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It passed at $850,000.
Lot 25 is a brilliant and gorgeous
Pointillist work by Henri Edmond Cross (1856-1910) entitled "Barques
à voiles sur la Guidecca or Venise, Marine." An oil
on canvas, it measures 22 ¼ by 28 5/8 inches and was painted
in 1903-5. Cross and Paul Signac worked together in 1897 at Saint-Clair
in the Midi on the Mediterranean exploring the "Neo-Impressionist
divisionist technique as it had been pioneered and practiced by
Georges Seurat." "By the end of the decade," the
catalogue noted, "Cross had largely abandoned the use of
the pointillist dot, and instead employed separated rectangular
strokes of pure color, similar to the tesserae employed in the
creation of mosaics."
In 1903, Cross visited Venice
and on his return to Saint-Clair began a series of 15 paintings
based on his trip and he completed eight by February 1904 in time
to show six of them that spring at the Salon des Indépendants
The lot has a modest estimate
of $600,000 to $800,000. It sold for $698,500.
Paul Signac (1863-1935) worked
with Henri Edmond Cross in continued the pointillist style originated
by Georges Seurat and Signac's very bright and colorful marine
works are pyrotechnical tours de force. Interestingly, his watercolors
are more linear but just as colorful and dramatic. Lot 7, "Vieux
port de Cannes," is a 1918 oil on canvas that measures 29
½ by 38 ¼ inches. It has an estimate of $2,000,000
to $3,000,000. It sold for $3,778,500.
Lot 14 is a large circular
cut-out by Henri Matisse (1869-1954) that was once owned by Mr.
and Mrs. Nelson A. Rockefeller of New York. Entitled "Rosace,"
it is a gouache, pencil and paper collage on paper laid down on
canvas that is 76 inches in diameter and was painted in 1954.
It has an estimate of $3,000,000 to $4,000,000. It passed at
It is the maquette for the
stained-glass window in memory of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller in
the Union Church in Pocantico Hills, New York.
According to the catalogue,
the commission "proved to be the artist's last, and the Rosace
cut-out is his final major work of any kind." "Matisse
created a design that is serenely beautiful in its austere, yet
elegant simplicity. Rosace is moreover deeply felt in its spiritual
dimension, without alluding to conventional or denominational
Lot 24 is a painter of a weaver
by Vincent Van Gogh that was executed in 1884. It has an estimate
of $400,000 to $600,000. It sold for $818,500.
Max Ernst (1891-1976) is one
of the major Surrealist painters and Lot 35 shows his fertile
imagination at work overtime as it ferrets out some huge insect
in a subterranean green world. An oil on masonite, it measures
20 3/8 by 24 inches and was painted in 1945. It has an ambitious
estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It passed at $1,300,000.
Lot 27 is a very fine portrait
of a photographer by Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920). An oil on
canvas, it was painted in 1916. It has a modest estimate of $3,000,000
to $5,000,000. It passed at $2,400,000.
Lot 8, "La danse de Carpeaux
(Le Bal masqué à l"Opéra)," is
a raucous, colorful nightclub scene by Kees van Dongen (1877-1968).
It is an oil on canvas that measures 25 3/8 by 18 ¼ inches
and was painted circa 1904. It was concerned by Mrs. Wendell Cherry.
"The painting mixes fantasy and social satire," according
to the catalogue, "Van Dongen always maintained his sharp
illustrator's eye for capturing the foibles of the haute-bourgeoisie.
The title refers to Carpeaux's sculpture La Danse, which adorned
the façade of the Opeera (today a replica may be viewed
on site;' the original sculpture is in the Musee d'Orsay, Paris).
The sculpture was widely condemned for the lewd abandon of the
nude female dancers when it was unveiled in 1869."
The lot has an ambitious estimate
of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It sold for $2,098,500.