good news for Sotheby's and Christie's is that Phillips de Pury
& Luxembourg is not competing in many areas this spring in
such major auction categories as Impressionist Art and American
Paintings. The bad news is that uncertainties about the nation's
economy has made for slim pickings.
Although the offerings are not huge in number, there are, of course,
One of the highlights of Sotheby's Impressionist & Modern
Art evening auction May 6 is Lot 35, "Suprematist Painting,
Rectangle and Circle," by Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935). The
stunning, 17-by-12 1/8-inch oil on canvas, shown at the top of
this article, was executed in 1915 and has been widely exhibited.
The work until recently was entrusted to the Busch-Reisinger Museum
at Harvard University for more than 40 years. The catalogue notes
that Malevich's Suprematist paintings "are among the most
compelling works of 20th Century art," adding that "With
its sharply defined blue and black forms set against a field of
white, this composition is what Malevich considered to the be
the pinnacle of artistic expression and 'the creation of intuitive
reason.'" The work, it continued, "demonstrates the
liberation of form and the celebration of the abstract in an extreme
manner that was unmatched by avant-garde artists of the day."
The painting has an estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000. Bidding
opened at $4,000,000 and the lot was passed at $4,600,000 with
no apparent bidders in the room. After the auction, Charles S.
Moffett, co-chairman of the auction house's Impressionist and
Modern Art department, said he was "very surprised"
that it did not sell because there had been "lots of pre-sale
and his co-chairman, David Norman, however, both said they were
thrilled with the auction's results. While only 71.79 percent
of the 39 offered lots sold, most were within or slightly above
the pre-sale estimates. The auction's sales total was $65,604,000.
The pre-sale estimate for the auction was $70,910,000 to $99,400,000.
Given pre-sale nervousness about the length of the war in Iraq
and the continued uncertainty over the nation's economy, there
was obviously some anxiety about this first major sale of the
Spring season and despite some passes the auction appeared to
indicate that the art market has not run out of fuel and still
has some strength.
One of the
most glorious works in this auction is Lot 20, "Le Thonier
Entrant à La Rochelle (Couchant)," by Paul Signac
(1863-1935). The 28 3/4-by-36 1/4-inch oil on canvas was executed
in 1927 and is exceeding vibrant and beautiful and as fine as
any work in the recent Signac exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum
of Art. It has an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It
sold for $1,576,000 including the buyer's premium as do all results
mentioned in this article. Since January of this year, Sotheby's
has raised its buyer's premium to 20 percent of the first $100,000
and 12 percent of the amount over $100,000.
superb work is Lot 8, "Les Deux Lavandieres au Bord de La
Cascade," by Paul Sérusier (1864-1927). This 29-by-36
5/8-inch oil on canvas was executed circa 1890 in Brittany where
the artist worked with Paul Gauguin to whose oeuvre it bears a
strong similiarity. Indeed, it looks like a masterpiece "Although
greatly influenced by Gauguin," the catalogue observed, "Sérusier's
paintings often surpassed those of the elder artist with their
daring abstraction, and the present composition is an example
of this tendency. In this picture, which was once attributed Gauguin,
Sérusier employs the rich palette that was popular among
the artists working in Brittany. The organic treatment of the
sky and the figures, however, is evidence of Sérusier's
own distinctive technique." It has a modest estimate of $500,000
to $700,000. It sold for $624,000, setting a new auction record
for the artist.
Another stunning work is Lot 22, "Paysage à Chatou,"
by Maurice de Vlaminck (1876-1958). An oil on canvas that measures
29 1/8 by 21 5/8 inches, it was painted circa 1907 and shows the
influence of Cézanne. It is a very strong composition and
has a modest estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for
major work in this auction is Lot 18, "Dan Les Roses (Madame
Leon Clapisson), by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919). The lush
oil on canvas, which measures 39 1/4 by 32 inches, was executed
According to the catalogue, this painting "ranks among Renoir's
most beautiful and significant figurative works" and "is
an exceeding effective synthesis of the best characteristics of
Renoir's 'high' or 'classic' Impressionist style of the 1870s
and the more linear manner that he began to experiment with in
the early 1880s." This work was rejected by the sitter's
husband as too "daring" and Renoir "had to paint
a second picture, in soberer tones, which was accepted,"
the catalogue noted.
The lot has an ambitious estimate of $20,000,000 to $30,000,000.
While the brushwork is quite free and the blue of the sitter's
dress very pretty and the composition is pleasant, this painting
is charming, but not masterful. It sold to Steve Wynn, the
Las Vegas gaming entrepreneur, for $23,528,000.
Another Renoir is Lot 12, "Gabrielle et Coco Jouant aux Dominos,"
a 20 1/2-by-18 1/8-inch oil on canvas that is very charming. Executed
circa 1905-6, it has a conservative estimate of $1,200,000 to
$1,600,000. It sold for $1,688,000.
It has been
consigned by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, which has also
consigned two works by Edgar Degas (1834-1917) including Lot 11,
"Danseuse," which is the cover illustration of the catalogue.
"Danseuse" is a 30 1/4-by-17 3/4-inch pastel on paper
mounted on cardboard that was once in the collection of Jacques
Seligmann. It was executed circa 1885-1890 and has an estimate
of $9,000,000 to $12,000,000. It sold for $10,648,000.
It is a
more finished work that Lot 10, another Degas consignment from
the museum entitled "Danseuses Près d'un Portant,"
which measures 23 1/4 by 18 1/4 inches. Lot 10 is a pastel on
paper mounted on cardboard on a wooden stretcher and was executed
circa 1888. It has an estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. It
is sketchier but has two main figures as opposed to the solitary
dancer in Lot 12. It sold for $3,928,000.
Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) is an uneven artist but Lots 2 and
7 show him at his best. Lot 2, "Meules de Foin Dans Le Pre,
Eragny," is a 28 3/4-by-36 3/8-inch oil on canvas. It is
dated 1896 and has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It
sold for $1,352,000. Lot 7, entitled "La Route de Rocquencourt,"
is an oil on canvas that measures 20 1/4 by 30 3/8 inches, it
is dated 1871 and has an estimate of $3,000,000 to $5,000,000.
It sold for $5,608,000.
"Les Trois Ages (Maternité)," is a fine painting
by Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947), although at first glance some observers
might assume it was by Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940) because of
its muted green and dark red palette and patterning. The work,
which was painted in 1893, was once in the collection of actress
Natalie Wood and has a conservative estimate of $600,000 to $800,000.
It sold for $568,000.
Lot 13, "Devant La Tapisserie: Misie et Thadeé Natanson,
Rue St. Florentin," is by Vuillard. An oil on board, it measures
19 by 20 3/4 inches and was painted in 1899. It has an estimate
of $1,200,000 to $1,600,000. It failed to sell and was passed
at $750,000. The catalogue notes that while the famous couple
are seated with their backs to the "spectator, the viewer
has an unmistakable sense of the intensity of their relationship."
"La Clairière (Composition avec Neuf Figures),"
is a 23 1/8-inch-high bronze by Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966)
that is one of six cast. It has an estimate of $8,000,000 to $10,000,000.
It failed to sell and was passed at $7,250,000. A similar
work is being offered this spring at Christie's (See The
City Review article on the Spring 2003 Impressionist & Modern
Art evening auction at Christie's).
Auction records were also set for Max Lieberman,
whose "Mein Haus in Wannsee, Mit Garten," Lot 6, sold
for $1,576,000, and André Masson, whose "Pasiphae,"
Lot 38, sold for $904,000.