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Impressionist and Modern Art


7 PM, November 6, 2000

American Craft Museum (40 East 53rd Street)

Sale NY842


Phillips Starts the Fall Major Auction Season with Announcement It Will Move To New Quarters In The 12-story Building At 3 West 57th Street, adjacent to Bergdorf Goodman In Time For The Spring 2001 Season


Phillips Also Obtains The Services Of Simon de Pury As Auctioneer For This Season's First Two Important Evening Sales


Auction-goers Consider Sale Healthy

Gladiolas by Henri Matisse

Lot 21, "Les Glaieuls," a 60 5/8-by-40 1/8-inch oil on canvas by Henri Matisse

By Carter B. Horsley

Although this is the first major auction of the Fall 2000 season in New York, it is unlikely to be too accurate a bell-weather as Phillips has scaled back its offerings in the Impressionist and Modern Art category, offering only 29 lots at the Part 1 evening sale, a reflection perhaps of its relatively poor showing in the spring when it launched its major campaign to join the ranks of Sotheby’s and Christie’s.

While its Impressionist and Modern Art auction last spring was less than a major success, it had many fine paintings and its subsequent major Contemporary Art and American Art auctions were very successful and Phillips’s executives indicated that the auction house was determined to become a major player in the top-tier art auction business.

New flagship building at 3 West 57th Street for Phillips

Phillips new "flagship" building at 3 West 57th Street just to the left of Bergdorf Goodman store at right

On the day of this auction, Phillips announced that it has signed a lease for a new "flagship" building, the 12-story, 60,000-square-foot, limestone-clad commercial building at 3 West 57th Street. The building, which for many years housed the Greenwich Savings Bank in its retail space, is wedged between two of New York's major landmarks, Bergdorf Goodman and the sleek, sloping skyscraper at 9 West 57th Street. The building was designed by Adolph Lanchen Muller and was erected in 1947 and has a pink granite, glass and metal entrancement and a double-height, column-free ground floor. Christopher Thomson, CEO of Phillips Auctioneers, said that "this wonderful building, ideally situated in the heart of Manhattan, will enable Phillips to expand its position as one of the world's leading auctioneers." The space will have a main salesroom that will have capacity for about 500 people. The new location will be the best of the three competing auction houses. Christie's recently moved into very attractive large quarters at 20 Rockefeller Plaza on 48th Street from its prior location on Park Avenue and 59th Street. Christie's is convenient and in the spectacular Rockefeller Center environment, but the area is full of tourists and it is not easy to get a cab. Sotheby's, which used to be on Madison Avenue and 76th Street, is at York Avenue and 72nd Street in a building that has been being expanded for a couple of years. Its location, however, is extremely inconvenient and distant from midtown. At a press conference that followed this auction, Mr. Thomson said that the "new premises" precisely demonstrate that Phillips is committed to establishing "substantial new roots" for its high-end auction enterprises. Lord Powell of Bayswater, KCMG, the chairman of the board of directors of Phillips Auctioneers, said that it is "advancing very rapidly in the last year, the last eight months have been very remarkable."

Phillips's timing, of course, was excellent as both Sotheby’s and Christie’s continue to be embroiled in investigations and have agreed to pay very high penalties for alleged collusion on fee-fixing. Surprisingly, however, the legal troubles of Sotheby’s and Christie’s, which started early in this year and continued over the summer and are still not settled, have not led to a rush of major consignments to Phillips as both Sotheby’s and Christie’s have hefty fall catalogues.

While the stock markets slid in roller-coaster fashion quite a bit over the summer, they recovered somewhat and have not collapsed. At the same time, the Presidential election is not expected to have a significant impact on the art market. So, all things considered, it is a bit surprising that the "high" or "strong" economy/market has not triggered more collectors to "cash" in and sell some of their masterpieces. On the basis of the catalogues, Christie’s seems to have garnered more of the best Impressionist and Modern Art paintings this season, but Phillips’s sale cannot be ignored by the market as it has some very good works, most notably an excellent landscape by Paul Cézanne, an excellent still life by Henri Matisse, a great Giorgio de Chirico, a good landscape and an excellent still-life by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, a great interior by Edouard Vuillard, and a very nice nude by Pierre Bonnard.

Interestingly, the second part of this sale, which occurs during the day, November 7, 2000, has a very fine collection of Russian Constructivist paintings, just as the Part II sale at Phillips did last spring (see The City Review article).

La Cote du Galet, à Pointoise by Cézanne

Lot 13, "La Côte du Galet, à Pointoise," a 23 1/8-by-29 ¾-inch oil on canvas by Paul Cézanne, circa 1879-1881

The cover illustration of the Phillips’s catalogue is Lot 13, "La Côte du Galet, à Pointoise," a 23 1/8-by-29 ¾-inch oil on canvas by Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), painted circa 1879-1881. This is a fine example of the artist’s strong brushwork and it is an interesting and dense composition with a very high horizon line.

The catalogue provides the following superb commentary on this Cézanne painting:

"The seeming conventionality of this scene is ultimately undermined by the various, ground-breaking, formal experiments that has made Cézanne such a celebrated prophet of modernism. One soon notices, for example, that the slender poplar trees nearly traverse the canvas as they stretch from its base to the top edge. These prominent vertical elements are balanced against a steady horizon and other strong horizontals, including the lengthy, shadowy base of the foreground shrubbery. Intersecting one another at right angles, these linear elements effectively impose a grid-like structure over the entire canvas, and thereby emphasize its two-dimensional surface. La Côte du Galet, à Pointoise also showcases numerous other ways in which Cézanne exploited this tension between the depth of the visible world and the undeniable flatness of his canvases. In typical Cézanne fashion, similar tonalities of color have been used to describe forms in both the immediate foreground and along the distant horizon. The sandy patch of tan pigment at the bottom-right edge is reiterated in both the plowed fields and building facades that rest on the far hillside. Similarly, the exact same steely blue that cloaks the foreground path in shadow is hued to color the stream that glides through the middle-ground. By restricting his palette in this manner, describing both near and far with the same vigorous hues, Cézanne consistently denied atmospheric perspective and coerced his expansive landscape into an uneasy marriage with the picture plane. Another remarkable feature of the present work is tits insistent use of passage. This term is regularly used to describe Cézanne’s pictorial fusion of forms that exist independently in the real world. One notices, for example, how the tips of the poplar trees poke through the high horizon line. At this point they sacrifice their integrity to mingle with the small buildings and trees that appear there. Once again, this subtle blurring of near and far elements manages to collapse foreground and background into a single, unified pictorial surface. The present work also demonstrates Cézanne’s use of a constructive brushstroke, perhaps his most significant contribution to the history of art, and certainly crucial to later, twentieth-century developments in abstract painting….He described both solids and voids with discrete, hatch-like marks that normally ran parallel to one another. Consequently, all of his pictorial elements became woven into a unified plane. The present landscape is a remarkable demonstration of this technique."

While this is not a truly stunning Cézanne landscape, its estimate of $8,000,000 to $10,000,000 is rather conservative as it is a strong and interesting work. It sold for $8,527,500 including the buyer's premium as do all sales prices mentioned in this article.

A far more appealing work for many collectors will be the still life, "Les Glaieuls," a 60 5/8-by-40 1/8-inch oil on canvas by Henri Matisse (1869-1954), Lot 21, that is the illustration of the catalogue’s back cover and is illustrated at the top of this article. The painting was executed in Nice, France, in 1928 and was formerly in the collection of Walter P. Chrysler Jr. It has a very conservative estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000. It sold for $4,952,500. The work depicts gladiolas in a jug on a Renaissance-style table in a corner of a room with trompe-l’oeil marblelized walls and the catalogue notes that the composition dissolves "the last vestiges of illusionistic space into a decorative display of riotous color and pattern."

Still life by Renoir

Lot 4, "Nature Morte, Fleurs et Fruits," a 25 7/8-by-21 ¼-inch oil on canvas by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

A fine companion piece to the Matisse would be Lot 4, "Nature Morte, Fleurs et Fruits," a 25 7/8-by-21 ¼-inch oil on canvas by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919). This is a very vibrant and luscious still life of Renoir and was formerly in the collection of Mr. and Mrs. William Goetz of Beverly Hills. It has a conservative estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It sold for $1,432,500.

Another Matisse work in the auction is Lot 12, an oil on canvas, 29 by 21 1/2 inches, of a standing woman in white in frontof amirror. The work is very sketchy and its palette quite bland for this master of color and pattern and it has an ambitious estimate, despiteits size, of $1,200,000 to $1,800,000. It did not sell.

Renoir is also represented by several other nice paintings in this auction including Lot 9, "Femmes Dans Un Jardin," a 21 ½-by-25 ¾-inch oil on canvas, painted in 1873. This work was once in the collection of Thelma Chrysler Foy of New York and is a quite interestingly dense composition with considerable Impresssionist bravura and technique. It has a fairly ambitious estimate of $6,000,000 to $8,000,000 as it is not the typically bright Impressionist work but a very good study of dark and light contrasts. It sold for $6,712,500.

Lot 15, "Les Philosophes Grecs," a 44 ½-by- 33 3/8-inch oil on canvas, shown below, painted in 1925 by Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978), is a luscious and very fine example of his Surrealism.

Les Philosophes Grecs by de Chirico

Lot 15, "Les Philosophes Grecs," a 44 ½-by- 33 3/8-inch oil on canvas, painted in 1925 by Giorgio de Chirico

The catalogue provides the following interesting commentary:

"As can be seen in the present work, the motif of the mannequin was a crucial component of de Chirico’s metaphysical visions. Insofar as these figures assumed the conventional anatomy of human beings, they helped secure the terrestial roots of de Chirico’s paintings. But their blank ovoid heads, stitched with the black markings of tailor’s dummies, rendered these figures otherwordly. It has been suggested that de Chirico’s brother, Alberto Salvinio, provided inspiration for the mannequin motif in his poem Les chants de la mi-mort. Published by Apollinaire in 1914, part of this early surrealist poem describes a ‘voiceless, eyeless, faceless man.’ Indeed, de Chirico’s mannequins are consistently deprived of facial features, and thus the conventional means of expressing human emotions."

The catalogue also notes that the figure on the left "recalls the marble figures from the Parthenon frieze" and the smaller figure on the right "echoes Jacques-Louis David’s neoclassical masterpiece, The Death of Socrates. "By recuperating artistic traditions from antiquity, de Chirico also drew upon their associations with stability and order, and thus responded to the chaos of the preceding decade. …Yet these are deaf, dumb and blind beings who are ultimately incapable of communication. Thus a tragic sense of alienation even crept into de Chirico’s visions of a resurrected golden age," the catalogue continued.

The lot has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000 and is certainly one of the most beautiful and lyrical of his works and not as stilted and unpainterly as some of his earlier and more famous works. It sold for $1,102,500.

Madame Hessel à l'Echarpe by Vuillard

Lot 7, "Madame Hessel à l’Echarpe," a 31 ¾-by-27 1/8-inch penitre à la colle on board, painted in 1911 by Edouard Vuillard

Perhaps the auction’s best picture is Lot 7, shown above, "Madame Hessel à L’Echarpe," a 31 ¾-by-27 1/8-inch penitre à la colle on board, painted in 1911 by Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940). An elderly woman looks at the viewer with her hands raised and clasped in front of her face in a poise of focused attention and interest. Behind her, the walls of the room are covered with paintings and the table on which she rests her arms is filled with a variety of objects including a silver tray and coffee pot. The perspective distorts the size of the table which takes up nearly the bottom third of the composition and has the effect of bringing the viewer into closer proximity with the woman, adding a great deal of spatial depth to the composition, which is painted in Vuillard’s imitable painterly style and warm palette. This is a major Vuillard and has a very conservative estimate of $300,000 to $500,000. This lot failed to sell.

A pleasant floral still life, Lot 1, by Odile Redon (1840-1915) that was formerly in the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Verner Reed of New York sold has an estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000, which is slightly ambitious because it was not a classic jewelly Redon. It sold for $827,000.

A pleasant painting of a woman in a hat, Lot 2, by Renoir has a very sweet quality to it although it was essentially a minor sketch. It was formerly owned by Hal B. Wallis of Los Angeles and has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It sold for $1,322,500. Another pleasant and good painting of a woman in a hat, Lot 6, has an ambitious estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It sold for $1,652,500.

A rather dramatic but not terribly luminous village scene, Lot 3, by Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) has an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It was formerly owned by Jaime Ortiz Patino of Vanoeuvres, Switzerland. It sold for $2,532,500.

A very sketchy and not terribly attractive, but large painting of a watering pot on the ground by Edouard Manet (1832-1883) has a very ambitious estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. The oil on canvasis 38 by 23 7/8 inches. It failed to sell.

Lot 8, "Nude by a Radiator," is a very fine oil on canvas, 22 5/8 inches square, by Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) that has an estimate of $700,000 to $900,000. It sold for $794,500.

Lot 17 is a very strong Picasso still life that has a conservative estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000. It sold for $882,500.

The sale's total of $32,633,000 was below the pre-auction low estimate of $39,500,000. The pre-auction high estimate was $54,150,000. While only 55 percent of the lots sold, those that did were the better pictures unlike last Spring when many of the finest works passed. Although the percentage of lots that did not sell was high, the mood of many of the auction-goers was that it was not a bad sale and that the market appeared to be holding up.

The auctioneer for this sale was Simon de Pury, the co-founer of de Pury & Luxembourg Art, former chairman of Sotheby's Europe, and an active dealer in the art market. Mr. de Pury has also agreed to be the auctioneer for Phillips Contemporary Art Auction Nov. 13. In a press release, Phillips issued the following statement:

"Consignors and bidders should please note that neither Simon de Pury nor his business partner Daniella Luxembourg nor the staff of de Pury & Luxembourg will be bidding on behalf of themselves, their firm or their clients at either of the above-mentioned sales. Other entities with whom Simon de Pury may have a business association will not be precluded from bidding at the sales but will be doing so on an arms length basis, on the same terms as any other bidder at the sale. As Simon de Pury will be acting in the limited role of auctioneer for these two sales, he will not have access to non-public information in relation to the consignors, the lots or otherwise, except to the extent necessary for the proper conduct of the actual auction."

Phillips has gotten some controversial publicity over its policy offering some of its sellers guarantees, a practice also engaged in occasionally by the other major houses. At the back of this auction's catalogue, Phillips said that it had "a financial interest, which may be an advance, a price guarantee and/or an ownership interest in the following lots: 5, 10, 12, 15, 16, 17, 19, 22, 24." That is 9 out of 29 offered lots.

Phillips executives at post-auction press conference

From left to right, Lord Powell of Bayswater, KCMG, chairman of board of directors of Phillips, Christopher Thomson, chief executive and Dan Klein, international executive director, at post-auction press conference

With good prices for its good lots, the announcement of a great location for its new premises, and the agreement of Simon de Pury to act as auctioneer at its two most important auctions this season, Philips certainly was not resting on its publicity laurels of the spring and seems determined to make the art auction scene more exciting and lively.


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