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Impressionist & Modern Art


7 PM, November 6, 2008

Sale 2045

"Livre, pipe et verres," by Gris

Lot 7, "Livre, pipe et verres," by Juan Gris, oil on canvas, 28 1/4 by 36 inches, 1915

By Carter B. Horsley

With a very good selection of fine Impressionist and Modern Art works, Christie's looked like to it might survive the nation's major financial crisis in the fall of 2008.

The auction includes major works by Claude Monet (1840-1926), Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Gustave Caillebotte (1838-1894), Paul Signac (1863-1935), Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), Juan Gris (1887-1927), Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Henri Laurens (1885-1954), Jacques Lipchitz (1891-1975), Henri Matisse (1869-1954), Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), Henry Moore (1898-1986), and Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966).

This excellent group of paintings carried estimates made months before the onslaught of the financial crisis but followed by two days an auction at Sotheby's that indicated that prices would be quite low and the number of "passes" high.

Still, many observers felt that the quality of the Christie's offerings was higher, especially two masterworks, one by Juan Gris and the other by Gustave Caillebotte.

Both houses put on brave faces and managed to convey a fair bit of enthusiastic optimism following these two sales that greatly influence the season's art market despite the fact that many observers felt that the results were disappointment, bordering on disastrous and were sure to lead to very painful and very difficult estimates in the future.

Christopher Burge, Christie's auctioneer, observed after the sale that "given the current economic climate," the results indicated that the art market was still alive. Christie's had altered its normal auction schedule this fall to insert an evening featuring Impressionist & Modern Art works from two private collections November 5, 2006. The collections were from the Alex Hillman Family Foundation and Alice Lawrence (see The City Review article), both of which contained numerous works of high quality. The two collections totaled about $47 million, less than half the pre-sale low estimate of $104 million and 17 of the 58 offered lots did not sell. Normally, these works have been included in the November 6, 2008 sale but that sale already included 85 lots, a very unwieldly number. The total of Christie's three auctions came to close to $200 million, considerably below its pre-sale low estimate and less than Sotheby's one-night total of about $233 million, which fell dramatically short of its pre-sale low estimate of about $375 million. The total at both houses was significant below last spring's major auctions and the very high number of works that failed to sell will certainly confound the marketplace until stability settles in the economic markets with certainty. In the past, the art markets have not followed the economic markets so quickly but this fiscal crisis is much deeper and much more global than any in recent decades.

The effect of these auctions is likely to not have too significant effect on really rare and important works that the world's leading collectors will lust after, but just good, plain ole fine examples that are true-to-textbook formulas are likely to not move or sell at substantial discounts. Already superb works by Monet are selling for small fractions of what they might have sold for just a few years ago. Lesser works are likely to remain in the closets and certainly the auction houses are going to have to re-examine their policies of guaranteeing consignors set amounts no matter what happens at the auction.

On the other hand, for collectors with fine eyes such "vulture" periods as we have now entered will have some extraordinary opportunities to pick up some gems that death and divorce force to the auction block even as the volume of voluntary consignments is likely to contract greatly. Even with the return of some stability, the mood is certain to be quite cautious for some time, especially in the area of contemporary art where values have soared much more than older art. "There's a great deal of money left in the art market, but we have to look at a new, reduced price level," Mr. Burgee said.

Lot 7, "Livre, pipe et verres," is a very fine still life by Juan Gris that was once in the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Colin of New York. An oil on canvas, it was executed in 1915 and measures 28 1/4 by 36 inches. The catalogue entry notes that "Manifest here are Gris' characteristic title and angled semi-transparent planes, stacked one atop another like panes of dark tinted glass, which the artist has contrasted by executing certain areas as flat color zones, others with wood-graiing, and there is even a neo-pointillist passage at the upper left. Instead of he more common cubist inclusion of a newspaper banner Gris has here included an open book."

The catalogue entry provides the following commentary:

"Perhaps the most striking aspect of Livre, pipe et verre is the white highlighting of contours that contrasts starkly with the dark tonality of the underlying composition. These jagged, white-hot linear arabesques traverse the canvas like bolts of lightning in a night sky, and appear to electrify the objects that they delineate; the composition seems charged with the energy that they impart to it. This phenomenon may have been derived from Gris' observation of objects lit from behind, where light appears like an aura emanating from a dark silhouette. Linear patterns in white against a prevailingly dark ground are just the opposite of the dark lines that normally mark contours in modernist paintings, and in this way, Livre, verre et pipe resembles a photographic negative, in which light areas have become dark, and the darkest parts have turned in highlights....Gris' use of dramatically deep and sonorous color in Livre, verre et pipe, seems typically Spanish, and follows the example of the baroque masters Velázquez, Murillo and Zurburán. Matisse is often credited with having kept alive an interest in the potential of color as an integral aspect of modernism, especially during the pre-war phase of analytical Cubism, when Picasso, Braque and other painters had largely relegated color to a secondary role. The evolution of color in Matisse's paintings served as a guiding light at the time when the Cubists reintroduced chromatic values during the synthetic phase of their work. Gris was perhaps more than any other Cubist a superbly varied and subtle colorist, and he had commanded this position from nearly the very start....Livre, verre et pipe showcases Gris in his most richly imagined and profoundly inventive synthetic cubist manner, infused with the subtlety and resonance of a master colorist. Less than a year later, a new classicism would enter Gris' work, influenced by the sense of ambiguous stability and unsettled permanence that he observed in Cézanne's great still-lifes. This, in turn, would point the way to the clarified, crystalline style that had a significant impact on postwar Cubism...."

The lot as an estimate of $12,500,000 to $18,500,000. It sold for $18,520,000, a world auction record for the artist.

Another good, but less spectacular composition by Gris is Lot 51, entitled "Moulin à café et bouteille." An oil on board laid down on cradled panel, it measures 23 7/8 by 14 7/8 inches and was painted in 1917. It has an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,500,000. It sold for $1,426,500.

"La Pont d'Argenteuil et la Seine" by Caillebotte

Lot 36, "La Pont d'Argenteuil et la Seine," by Gustave Caillebotte, oil on canvas, 25 3/4 by 32 1/4 inches, circa 1883, stamped with signature

The other masterwork in the auction is Lot 36, "La Pont d'Argenteuil et la Seine," an oil on canvas by Gustave Caillebotte. It measures 25 3/4 by 32 1/4 inches and was executed circa 1883. It has been widely exhibited and has an estimate of $8,000,000 to $12,000,000.

The catalogue entry notes that "The landscapes that Manet, Monet, Sisley, Renoir, and Caillebotte painted at Argenteuil during the 1870s and 1880s have been widely hailed as a high point of Impressionism. Paul Tucker has identified these artists' views of Argenteuil as 'some of the most novel canvases of their careers' and has asserted, 'Their paintings constitute one of the most remarkable bodies of work in the history of art, making Argenteuil synonymous with Impressionism and a touchstone for the development of Western visual culture....Caillebotte first visited Argenteuil in 1878, the same year that Monet moved away from the town after seven extremely fruitful years in residence there. In 1881, following his mother's death and the sale of the family estate in Yerres, Caillebotte and his brother Martial purchased a house directly across the river from Argenteuil in the quieter, more rustic town of Petit Gennevilliers. For the final decade of his career, this stretch of the Seine would be the focus of Caillebotte's artistic activities. Depicting the highway bridge that connects Argenteuil and Petit Gennevilliers, the present canvas is among Caillebotte's boldest and most inventive canvases from this period. Anne Distel has written, 'With its surprising yet subtle composition and its intense color scheme, this painting is incontestably one of the most successful works executed by Caillebotte on the banks of the Seine....' Caillebotte's interest in Argenteuil was most likely inspired both by his passion for sailing and by the example of his close friend Monet. The Seine is deeper and broader at Argenteuil and Petit Gennevilliers than anywhere else in the environs of Paris, offering optimal conditions for boating. The most elegant yacht club in the capital, the Cercle de la Voile de Paris, had its moorings at Argenteuil, and the town was even chosen as the site for the sailing competition during the Exposition Universelle of 1867. Caillebotte competed in his first regatta in 1879 and quickly became a devotee of the fashionable new sport. In 1882, he began to design his own sailboats, which became well-known for their impressive record of victories, and he even financed his own boat construction yard at Petit Gennevilliers starting in 1886. Although Monet did not share Caillebotte's interest in sailing, he too may initially have been drawn to Argenteuil for its spectacular stretch of the Seine. Between 1871 and 1878, Monet painted no fewer than a hundred views of Argenteuil, including a scene of a regatta that formed part of Caillebotte's own collection....The motifs that Caillebotte chose to paint at Argenteuil, such as the highway bridge and the boat basin, were ones that Monet too had explored, yet Caillebotte personalized this pictorial repertory with more dramatic vantage points and consistently bolder color than that of his celebrated predecessor. The highway bridge was one of two bridges that spanned the Seine between Argenteuil and Petit Gennevilliers, a distance of approximately two hundred meters. The other was the railway bridge, a few hundred meters to the north. The railway bridge is visible in the background of the present painting on the right and also forms the subject of another canvas that Caillebotte painted around the same time....The two bridges were dramatically different in both materials and design. Originally built in 1830-1831, the highway bridge was made from wood and cut stone, with a traditional elevation based on a series of seven graceful, rounded arches springing from carved pilings. Prior to the arrival of the railroad at Argenteuil, the highway bridge provided the only way over the Seine and hence represented the town's principal link to Paris. Serving pedestrians and horse-drawn vehicles, it remained in Caillebotte's day one of the area's most noted landmarks, evoking for contemporary viewers the picturesque Argenteuil of yesteryear. The railway bridge, in contrast, was a marvel of modern engineering, embodying everything new and progressive about the town. Constructed in 1863 from poured concrete and pre-fabricated iron, it had a stripped-down, industrial design, with four pairs of slender, cylindrical supports and a straight, unadorned trestle. As a pair, the two bridges (both destroyed during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 and re-erected shortly thereafter) provided a potent visual analogue for the contrasts of modern life: industry and nature, work and pleasure, town and country, new and old. The way in which Caillebotte chose to paint the highway bridge, however, was anything but traditional. Indeed, Tucker has described the composition as exemplifying Caillebotte's 'typical imagination and distinctly modernist flair....' Rather than depicting the entire structure from a distance, Caillebotte drew in close to the bridge, concentrating on a single span, which slices across the canvas at a slight angle. To paint the scene, he stood on the Petit Gennevilliers bank, looking toward the houses and factories of Argenteuil. Most likely, he set up his easel on a floating dock near the highway bridge that served as the headquarters of the local boat-keeper; this structure forms the central motif of a canvas that Caillebotte painted in 1886-1887, this time standing on the bridge itself and looking down over the boat basin....In the present painting, Caillebotte has adopted a low, angled vantage point, elevating the bridge so high on the picture plane that its underside is fully exposed. The five steel ribs that form the underpinnings of the span leap across the width of the picture, with the far rib silhouetted against the sky. The horizontal thrust of the bridge is cunningly echoed in the pattern of dark and light bands creating a shadow which plays across the surface of the water. Tucker lauds the masterful impasto explaining: 'Everything in the picture is subject to the flickering light that Caillebotte so sensitively renders with his broken brushwork and lively palette, just as everything is vulnerable to the possibilities of transformation, whether through the powers of modern art or those of modern life....' Even the bottom edge of the roadbed overhanging the nearest arch is visible for inspection. This dramatic perspective, moreover, is not the only striking feature of the composition; equally inventive is the unexpected cropping. Caillebotte has depicted only the left-hand pier of the span, cropping out its pendant on the right. As a result, the five steel arches appear to leap into a void....The audacity of Caillebotte's view of the highway bridge at Argenteuil is evident by comparison with earlier renderings of the structure. Monet and Sisley had both painted the bridge as early as 1872, depicting it from a distance, with its straight roadbed and rhythmic arcade closing off a panorama of the boat basin....Renoir opted for a similarly picturesque composition when he painted the bridge in 1882, adding a screen of trees in the foreground....In 1874, Monet painted a series of six views of the structure, drawing closer than he had two years earlier. Two of these show the bridge thrusting into the scene on a steep diagonal..., while the remaining examples focus on a single span, which stretches across the width of the canvas....In no version, however, does Monet approach the novelty of the present composition, with its dramatically angled vantage point, radical cropping, and close-up view of the bridge's girding. Indeed, the closest precedent for these innovations comes from Caillebotte's own oeuvre: namely, the two views that he made in 1876-1877 of the Pont de l'Europe in Paris, the first showing a deep, plunging view along one of the bridge's six spans (Berhaut, no. 49; Musée du Petit Palais, Geneva) and the other painted from the center of the structure, its massive iron trellises parallel to the picture plane....Not until the early twentieth century, in paintings such as Robert Delaunay's Tour Eiffel series of 1909-1912 and Joseph Stella's Brooklyn Bridge paintings of 1919-1922..., would a structural latticework again take such obvious center stage."

The painting sold for $8,482,500.

"two views of La Lune by Laurens

Two views of Lot 8, "La Lune," by Henry Laurens, white marble, 36 1/4 inches high, 1946

Lot 8 is a great white marble sculpture entitled "La Lune," by Henry Laurens. Executed in 1946, it is 36 1/2 inches high and the purity of the stone and the bulbous and very sensual quality of the work make it far superior to any sculpture by Degas or Matisse. It was once owned by Enid Annenberg Haupt. The catalogue entry suggests that the artist "often took up themes from Greco-Roman mythology and reinterpreted them in his works," adding that "Laurens likely intended the circular motion of the figure's upraised arms in La Lune to represent the roundness of the moon; the figure of the woman thereby embodies the ebb and flow of the feminine lunar cycle. The lot has a modest estimate of $600,000 to $800,000. It sold for $1,600,000.

"Deux masques" by Matisse

Lot 11, "Deux masques," by Henri Matisse, gouache and paper collage on paper, 18 3/4 by 20 3/8 inches, 1947

Lot 11 is a colorful and strong composition entitled "Deux masques," by Henri Matisse. A gouache and paper collage on paper, it measures 18 3/4 by 20 3/8 inches. Created in 1947, it has an ambitious estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000. It was passed at $3,800,000.

The catalogue entry provided the following commentary:

"During the last ten years of his life, Matisse pioneered a new technique - the gouache découpée - that he viewed as the culmination of nearly a half-century of aesthetic exploration. He began with heavy white drawing paper, hand-painted with Linel-brand gouache; he then cut shapes from the paper with scissors, holding the blades wide open to produce a shearing effect. With the help of studio assistants, he then pinned the paper fragments to his studio walls, producing compositions that ranged from whimsical miniatures to dramatic, room-sized creations. The most striking feature of this cut-out technique is its fusion of the expressive elements of painting, drawing, and sculpture within a single medium, a fact that Matisse himself repeatedly noted. To the writer André Rouveyre, one of his closest friends and most frequent correspondents during the last years of his life, Matisse explained, 'The cut-out paper allows me to draw in color. It is a simplification. Instead of drawing an outline and filling in the color--in which case one modifies the other - I am drawing directly in color, which will be the more measured as it will not be transposed. This simplification ensures an accuracy in the union of two means. It is not a starting point but a culmination.'...Dating to 1947, the present work is part of the second major group of paper cut-outs that Matisse executed. The artist had experimented with cut paper throughout the 1930s, most notably for the background of La danse, a mural executed for the home of Dr. Albert Barnes in Merion, Pennsylvania, and for a series of book, magazine, and exhibition catalogue covers based on cut-paper maquettes. But it was not until 1944, following an operation for abdominal cancer that left him seriously weakened, that he began to produce independent works from cut paper, a technique less physically demanding than painting or sculpture. His first series of paper cut-outs, dated late 1944 through early 1946, form a fairly consistent stylistic group, each consisting of a single motif, either geometric or vegetal, centered on a solid ground. These works were executed at Matisse's villa at Vence, a remote hillside town in the south of France where the artist had moved in June 1943 to avoid the expected bombardment of Nice. In June 1946, Matisse left Vence for his apartment on the boulevard du Montparnasse in Paris, remaining there for ten months. During this period, he produced his first mural-sized cut-outs, the expansive Océanie and Polynésie....Upon his return to Vence in April 1947..., he began work on a new series of more than twenty small-scale cut-outs, including the present example. The 1947 cut-outs were conceived as a unified ensemble, assembled in columns on the wall of the artist's bedroom....Rather than pinning the cut-paper motifs directly to the wall, however, as he had in Océanie and Polynésie, he composed each of the 1947 cut-outs on a separate rectangular sheet that he first tacked in place. The works are all variations on the same formal model, centered around a burgeoning vegetal motif that recalls seaweed or coral. Certain examples consist of a single vegetal form that occupies the entire ground, while others feature a whole sequence of such motifs, arranged in a grid pattern or dispersed freely over the surface. In some of the works, Matisse expanded on the aquatic theme, incorporating cut-paper shapes reminiscent of seagulls, snails, and ocean waves. The present cut-out, for instance, features a tentacular form in the center (whose resemblance to a cut tomato gave rise to the work's studio nickname, La tomate) surrounded by six pieces of seaweed that seem to float across the surface....At the end of 1947, Matisse had not yet decided what he was going to do with his recent cut-outs, which had been undertaken, he claimed, 'without any goal other than study.'...A ship owner expressed interest in buying the entire wall from him, and Aimé Maeght wanted to exhibit the works. Matisse declined both offers, writing to his son Pierre, 'I have completed my wall of cut-outs. A ship owner who is building a luxury boat called The French Genius, for the East and Japan, would like to buy it from me for his boat and put it in a decent frame under glass. I said that I would think about it. But there is a big obstacle: in these countries of excessive humidity, all my gouaches would become moldy. I would prefer to keep them or to frame them by motif. Maeght asked me if he could show them, and I refused.'...By 1948, Matisse had changed his mind and decided to exhibit the cut-outs after all. Ten examples, including the present one, were included in a show of Matisse's recent work at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York in February 1949, alongside a selection of paintings and drawings executed during the same period. A few months later, twenty-one cut-outs, also including the present example, were exhibited at the Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris.... These two exhibitions mark the first time that Matisse's work in cut paper had been shown publicly. In both cases, the arrangement of the cut-outs in the gallery indicated the importance that Matisse accorded them within his work. The cut-outs were hung on the wall just like his paintings and drawings, suggesting the equality of these three different media. Moreover, an entire section was given over to Matisse's work in cut paper, announcing the place that this form of expression was to occupy in his oeuvre during the ensuing years."

"Trois hommes qui marchent" by Giacometti

Lot 21, "Trois hommes qui marchent I," by Alberto Giacometti, signed and numbered 4/6, 28 3/8 inches high, conceived in 1948 and cast in 1950

Widely exhibited and published, Lot 21 is a bronze sculpture by Alberto Giacometti that was conceived in 1948 and cast in 1950. Entitled "Trois hommes qui marchent I," it is 28 3/8 inches high and is numbered 4/6. It has an estimate of $14,000,000 to $18,000,000. It sold for $11,506.500.

The catalogue entry for this lot offers the following commentary:

"Mostly..., Giacometti's men walk with a distinctive, determined and purposeful stride.... His homme qui marche is no casual or leisurely stroller; instead he always appears to have a destination in mind, and knows there is limited time in which to get there. His gait is not easy, fluent or natural. His legs are always ramrod stiff and straight, his knees do not bend - it is as if he were walking on stilts. Perhaps Giacometti was thinking of the time he spent on crutches following an accident in 1938, when he was hit by a car in a Paris square and his right foot was crushed. He used a cane for years afterward, and walked with a limp.Giacometti took precedents from Egyptian sculpture and Rodin's own L'homme qui marche, perhaps even from memories of marching soldiers or harried refugees he saw in wartime newsreels. The walker's front foot is always planted firmly on the ground, with his weight placed forward, as he pushes off from the ball of his rear foot. He leans forward as if he were plunging into a strong headwind, straining at an unyielding harness, or pressing forward under some inexorable burden. He does not allow his arms to swing back and forth freely at his sides, but instead they both curve forward in expectation, as if he is prepared to grasp or receive something, or to greet someone. He is a modern-day Sisyphus pushing an invisible stone. He maintains this peculiar stride at all times, in all weather, whether he walking in the sun...or rain....He is, of course, not merely walking. This activity is that and more - the Giacometti walking man is the quintessential Everyman, making his way through life....Place three figures of this kind in close proximity, as seen here..., and the dynamic of human motion instantly unfolds into further dimensions, both spatially and emotionally. This propinquity of figures spins out a spiraling network of relationships with astonishing exponential multiplicity. The happenstantial meeting of three men here is Giacometti's way of summoning together the proverbial 'three is a crowd.'

The catalogue provides an interesting quote from the artist:

"Not until 1946 and after was I able to perceive the distance which makes people appear real and not their natural size. My visual field widened. The true revelation, the great shock that destroyed my whole conception of space and finally put me on the track I'm on today came in 1945, in the newsreel theater 'Actualités Montparnasse.' I used to go to the movies quite often earlier. I went in, saw the film, left the theater, I was in the street again, in a café - it wasn't anything special, nothing really happened at all, I mean, there wasn't the slightest difference between what I saw outside in reality and what happened on the screen. The one was the continuation of the other. Until the day they separated: instead of seeing a person on the screen I saw - influenced by the drawings I was doing at the time - unfocused black spots that moved. I looked at my neighbors - and suddenly I saw them as I had never seen them before. Not what was happening on the screen was new, but the people who were sitting next to me. On that day - I still remember exactly how I walked out into the Boulevard Montparnasse - I saw the boulevard as I had never seen it before. Everything was different, the spatial depth and the things, and the colors and the silence for silence played a role in it too - the film I had seen was a sound film. Everything appeared different to me and completely new. Boulevard Montparnasse was dipped in the beauty of the Thousand and One Nights, fabulous, absolutely strange. Now I was eager to see more. I was, if you will, in a sort of perpetual enchantment of everything. On that day reality was revaluated for me completely; it became unknown for me, but an enchanted unknown. From that day on, because I had realized the difference between my way of seeing in the street and the way photography and films see things, I wanted to represent what I saw"

The catalogue's commentary continued:

"During 1946-1947 Giacometti fully realized his visionary, weightless approach to sculpture. He was creating astonishing figures in attenuated vertical forms, ranging in height from only a few inches to nearly life-size. Rather than fleshing out the armature, the plaster seemed to shrink around it, as if it were clinging to it for dear life. These figures were utterly unprecedented, unless one went back to the most primitive works of the ancient man. Giacometti had made it his challenge and task to reinvent the very idea of sculpture. Pierre Matisse was at this time the only dealer who was closely following and supporting Giacometti's work since his return to Paris. He realized it was high time to give the artist a solo show, his first in almost fifteen years. This would take place in New York, which henceforth became the leading venue in the genesis and expansion of Giacometti's post-war reputation. The exhibition of twenty-nine sculptures (both early and recent), two paintings and two drawings at the Pierre Matisse Gallery which opened in January 1948 was a major event. It proved to be a commercial success, and was the talk of the art world. If critical reception initially seemed hesitant, it was only because it would take time to mull over this approachable but nonetheless daunting body of work, which called into play - in a way New York had not yet experienced - many of the complex and anxious issues that comprised the post-war zeitgeist in Europe. Giacometti selected Jean-Paul Sartre, the leading writer and thinker of the Paris Existentialist set, to provide the introductory catalogue essay. Sartre rose to the occasion with "The Search for the Absolute," which sixty years on remains an essential, classic text on Giacometti and his work. Sartre wrote: "With space Giacometti has to make a man; he has to write movement into the total immobility, unity into the infinite multiplicity, the absolute into the purely relative, the future into the eternally present, the chatter of signs into the obstinate silence of things. The passion of sculpture is to make oneself totally spatial, so that from the depth of space, the statue of a man may sally forth." "But space, even if naked, is still superabundant. 'In space,' says Giacometti, 'there is too much.' This too much is pure and simple coexistence of parts in juxtaposition. Most sculptors let themselves be taken in by this; they confuse the flaccidness of extension with largesse, they put too much into their work, they delight in the fat curve of a marble hip, they spread out, thicken and expand the human gesture. Giacometti knows there is nothing redundant in a living man, because everything there is functional; he knows that space is a cancer on being, and eats everything; to sculpt, for him, is to take the fat off space; he compresses space, so as to drain off its exteriority. We know now what squeezer Giacometti used to compress space: there is only one: distance. He puts distance within reach of your hand, he thrusts before your eyes a distant woman - -and she remains distant, even when you touch her with your fingertips"

In his article on the auction for, Stewart Waltzer remarked that "A plinth with three tremulous stick figures walking past each other sold in a different cast at Sotheby’s London June ‘08 evening sale for $18.5 million, more than $6 million above its expectation. Never again. This particular cast, 4/6, sold in 1999 for $5.7 million."

"Study for Improvisation 3" by Kandinsky

Lot 48, "Studie zu Improvisation 3," by Wassily Kandinsky, oil and gouache on board in the artist's painted frame, 17 1/2 by 25 1/2 inches, 1910

Lot 48, a very colorful and striking work by Wassily Kandinsky was on loan to the Kunsthaus in Zurich from 2004 to this year and to the Neue Pinakothek in Munich from 1972 to 2003. Entitled "Studie zu Improvisation 3," it is an oil and gouache on board in the artist's painted frame. It measures 17 1/2 by 25 1/2 inches and was painted in 1910. It has an estimate of $15,000,000 to $20,000,000. It sold for $16,882,500.

"As of the conclusion of 1909," the catalogue entry noted, "Kandinsky had not yet painted any pictures that he called Impressions, although he had done and continued to paint numerous works based on nature. He painted the first of his Compositions in 1910; he executed a total of seven such major works before the beginning of the First World War. The Improvisations were in fact his starting point, the very means by which he began to radically alter the form and content of modern art. He painted eight numbered Improvisations during 1909, and more than two dozen others would follow before the war. Will Grohmann has noted that "The landscapes Kandinsky called 'Improvisations' occupy a special place in his works of the transitional period 1910-1912. They come closest to the ideas he developed in On the Spiritual in Art. The strict canon of the human figure is less amenable to new conceptions than the landscape, which can be treated with greater freedom" He painted these remarkable, prescient pictures in an unlikely place, the small Bavarian market town of Murnau..., on Lake Staffel at the foot of the Alps, about 44 miles (70 km.) south of Munich. Kandinsky first visited Murnau in 1904, while he was living in Munich. From the end of 1905 until the summer of 1907, Kandinsky and his companion, the painter Gabriele Münter, had lived outside Germany, first traveling in Italy, then spending just over a year in Sèvres, a suburb of Paris. They attended the 1906 Gauguin retrospective, visited Ambrose Vollard's gallery, called on Gertrude Stein, and became familiar with the paintings of Cézanne, Van Gogh, Munch, Matisse and Picasso. The works Kandinsky submitted to the Salon d'Automne, however, had gone unnoticed, and he and Münter failed to develop any strong ties with other artists working in Paris....The great developments in early modern art often took place, not in the great cosmopolitan centers of Europe, but in small, out-of-the-way locales where painters could experience a quieter, more introspective and elemental way of life. Murnau would become for Kandinsky what Collioure had been for Matisse, or Horta del Ebro, Céret and Sorgues for Picasso. Kandinsky and Münter admired glass paintings and other folk art of the region, and they were only a few miles from Oberammergau, whose Easter Passion plays had been famous throughout Germany since medieval times. Removed from the bustle and art politics of Munich, Murnau became a retreat where Kandinsky could reflect and take stock of his ideas and his work. It was here that he finally assembled his notes, many of which he had been carrying around for years, and completed the German draft of On the Spiritual in Art. Kandinsky's enticed two close friends, the Russian-born painters Marianne von Werefkin and Alexej von Jawlensky, to join him and Münter in Murnau. For the first time in two years Kandinsky was again involved in a circle of talented and mutually supportive artists. In January 1909, Kandinsky, Münter, Jawlensky, and Werefkin joined with the artists Alfred Kubin, Adolf Erbslöh and Alexander Kanoldt, as well as the art historians Heinrich Schnabel and Oskar Wittgenstein, to form the Neue Künstlervereinigung München - the New Artists' Association of Munich - known by the initials NKVM. Kandinsky was elected to serve as the group's first chairman. That summer Münter purchased a house in Murnau, where she and Kandinsky could spend a few months each year. They decorated the house with their own folk art-style designs, and because their Russian friends were frequent visitors, it became known as the Russenvilla."

Lot 50, "Fliessent," by Wassily Kandinsky, oil, gouache and pen and black ink on board, 27 1/2 by 23 1/2 inches, 1931

Lot 50 is a crowded abstraction by Wassily Kandinsky that is entitled "Fliessent." An oil, gouache, and pen and black ink on board, it measures 27 1/2 by 23 1/2 inches. Executed in 1931, it has an estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. It was passed at $2,000,000.

"Rosa Rot" by Kandinsky

Lot 45, "Rosa Rot," by Wassily Kandinsky, watercolor and gouache on paper laid down by the artist, 12 1/4 by 19 1/4 inches, 1927

Lot 45 is very impressive and complex abstract composition by Wassily Kandinsky. Entitled "Rosa Rot," it is a watercolor and gouache on paper laid down by the artist. It measures 12 1/4 by 19 1/4 inches and was created in 1927. It has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,600,000. At one time, it belonged to Vittorio de Sica of Rome. It sold for $866,500.

"Nu au feuillage vert, fond noir" by Matisse

Lot 68, "Nu au feuillage vert, fond noir," by Henri Matisse, oil on canvas, 15 3/8 by 24 inches, 1936

Lot 68 is a very pleasing, small oil on canvas by Henri Matisse (1869-1954) of a nude woman. It measures 15 3.8 by 24 inches and was painted in 1936. It has an estimate of $12,000,000 to $18,000,000. It passed at $8,200,000.

The catalogue's long entry on this lot contains this commentary:

"On 4 March 1936 Matisse sat before a blank white primed canvas which Lydia Delectorskaya, his young Russian-born assistant, had prepared and set up on an easel in his studio at 1 place Charles Félix, Nice....Holding a narrow brush he had dipped into thinned paint, he began to sketch in the figure of reclining nude female figure. The blonde-haired Lydia served as his model. At some point during that day, he dictated to her some notes, which she carefully recorded, about the new painting that was now underway, under a provisional title Nu couché sur le dos, les jambes relevées, le talon posé sur le genou....This uncommon information is fascinating enough, but even more remarkable was that on 6 March, during the third day in the genesis of this painting - by then called Nu au feuillage vert, fond noir - Lydia photographed the picture in the state which Matisse left the canvas at the end of that day's session. The year before, she had already documented with photographs the progress of Grande nu couché,...a painting that took Matisse five months to complete, and is today recognized as his masterwork of the mid-1930s. This new painting, which also depicts a pink-hued reclining nude, must have seemed sufficiently important to him that he wanted her to record its evolution in this same manner. Lydia photographed the picture once each day during the next four days (7, 8, 9 and 10 March). She then skipped a day, the 11th, in which Matisse may not have worked on the canvas, but resumed photographing it on 12 and 13 March....Matisse finished the painting on 14 March 1936, a week and a half after he commenced it....A significant development in Matisse's odalisques of this decade is the extent to which the model becomes a fully integrated component within the larger ensemble of decorative elements. The odalisque paintings of this period are among the most rigorously architectural and carefully orchestrated compositions that Matisse painted since the end of the First World War. By returning to the principle of flatness as the essential fact in modernist painting, Matisse positioned himself to test anew the plastic possibilities of form and color, and in this way he reclaimed his status as a leading proponent of modernism in the art of his time."

Lot 68, Henri Matisse, Nu au feuillage vert, fond noir, 1936, estimated. $12 million-$18 million. The naked Lydia Delectorskaya reclines on a patterned couch with an ankle cocked over her knee. Christie’s deflects the notion that Matisse spent his evenings further delectating upon Lydia’s parts. Lydia, who served as both model and assistant, photographed the painting after each day’s work over the period of a week, proving that what seemed effortless was not. The painting is so pictorial that Lydia seems almost an irrelevance. Christie’s hoped for a repeat of last November, when the firm sold the marginal L’odalisque, harmonie bleue (1937) (estimated . $15 million-$20 million) for $30 million, but that picture had an odalisque with ripe fruits and anemones. Nu au feuillage vert, fond noir, a much better picture but lacking the saccharine gambit of the harem, passed.

"Anemones et grenades" by Matisse

Lot 53, "Anemones et grenades," by Henri Matisse, oil on canvas, 25 3/4 by 32 inches, 1946

Lot 53 is a very beautiful still life by Matisse that is notable for its strong asymmetrical composition. Entitled "Anémones et grenades," it is an oil on canvas that measures 25 3/4 by 32 inches. It was painted in 1946 and at one time belonged to Alfred M. Frankfurter of New York. It has an estimate of $4,500,000 to $6,500,000. It was passed at $3,800,000.

The catalogue notes that:

"In the present still-life Matisse has assembled anemones from his garden with pomegranates from the local market. These are apt elements for a springtime painting and, moreover, they allegorize the painter's profound experience of a "second life." Anemones are ephemeral, short-lived flowers, their name derives from the Greek ánemos, meaning 'wind.' According to Greek legend, the anemone first blossomed from the blood of the beautiful youth Adonis, who was killed by a boar. The pomegranate was the fruit of Proserpine, the goddess who dwelt among the shades in the underworld during the winter and was resurrected each spring to resume her place among the living. Palm fronds that show through the window at left resemble rays of light and represent the sun, glory and immortality. There is small cruet of olive oil on the right side - olives are traditionally a gift offering of peace in Mediterranean cultures, and indeed Europe had recently seen an end to six devastating years of total war. The presence of the black ink bottle at lower left may signify the role of drawing in Matisse's new paintings. Concurrently with the Vence interiors, Matisse executed a series of large brush and black ink drawings in a manner he associated with Chinese painting..., in which he reduced figures and objects to essential, summary signs. Fluid arabesques of line drawing served as the genesis of Anémones et grenades, and drawing remained a visible and controlling force in the final state of the painting."

"Femme en corset lisant un livre" by Picasso

Lot 54, "Femme en corset lisant un livre," by Pablo Picasso, oil and sand on canvas, 36 1/8 by 23 1/2 inches, 1914-1918

Lot 54 is a very good Picasso oil and sand on canvas from 1914-1918. Entitled "Femme en corset lisant un livre," it measures 36 1/8 by 23 1/2 inches and was owned by Marina Picasso until at least 1982. It has an estimate of $15,000,000 to $20,000,000. It failed to sell and was passed at $9,800,000.

"Deux Personnages" by Picasso

Lot 58, "Deux Personnages (Marie-Therese et sa soeur lisant)," by Pablo Picasso, oil on canvas, 39 1/4 by 31 1/4 inches, 1934

Lot 58 is a large and impressive 1934 oil on canvas by Pablo Picasso. Entitled "Deux Personnages (Marie-Therese et sa soeur lisant)," it measures 39 1/4 by 31 1/4 inches. It has an estimate of $18,000,000 to $25,000,000. It sold for $18,020,000.

"Portrait d'homme" by Gauguin

Lot 39, "Portrait d'homme," by Paul Gauguin, oil on canvas, 23 1/4 by 18 1/4 inches, 1884

Lot 39 is a very striking and fine portrait of a seated man by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903). An oil on canvas that measures 23 1/4 by 18 1/4 inches, it was painted in 1884. It was once in the collection of Justin K. Thannhauser and was consigned by the estate of Evelyn Annenberg Hall. It has a very modest estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000. It sold for $1,178,500.

"Vetheuil au soleil" by Monet

Lot 30, "Vetheuil au soleil," by Claude Monet, oil on canvas, 23 1/4 by 39 1/4 inches, 1880

There are two very attractive landscapes by Claude Monet (1840-1926) in the auction. Lot 30 is entitled "Vetheuil au soleil" and is an oil on canvas that measures 23 1/4 by 39 1/4 inches. It was painted in 1880. It has an estimate of $5,500,000 to $7,000,000. It failed to sell and was passed at $4,900,000.

"Les tilleuls à Poissy" by Monet

Lot 24, "Les tilleuls à Poissy," by Claude Monet, oil on canvas, 31 1/4 by 25 1/4 inches, 1882

Lot 24 is a less pleasing composition than Lot 30 but it has some bravura brushwork and strong colors. Entitled "Les tilleuls à Poissy," it is an oil on canvas that measures 31 1/4 by 25 1/4 inches. Painted in 1882, it has an estimate of $1,800,000 to $2,500,000. It sold for $1,650,000.

"Apres le bain" by Degas

Lot 26, "Apres le bain, femme s'essuyant," by Edgar Degas, pastel on paper laid down on board, 27 1/8 by 21 1/2 inches, 1883

Lot 26 is a very good pastel on paper of a woman drying herself after a bath by Edgar Degas (1834-1917). It measures 27 1/8 by 21 1/2 inches and was drawn in 1883. It has an estimate of $5,500,000 to $7,500,000. It was passed at $5,000,000.

"Les Voiles au sec. Saint Tropez" by Signac

Lot 64, "Les Voiles au sec. Saint-Tropez," by Paul Signac, oil on canvas, 25 1/4 by 31 1/4 inches, 1916

Lot 64 is a very beautiful painting of sailboats at Saint-Tropez by Paul Signac (1863-1935). It is a spectacular and very colorful composition that well shows off the artist's pointillistic style. An oil on canvas, it measures 25 1/4 by 31 1/4 inches. It was painted in 1916 and has an estimate of $3,500,000 to $4,500,000. It passed at $2,200,000!

"La Dogana, Venise" by Signac

Lot 72, "La Dogana, Venise," by Paul Signac, oil on canvas, 28 1/4 by 36 1/4 inches, 1923

Lot 72 is another very good Signac although not as dramatic as Lot 64. Entitled "La Dogana, Venise," Lot 72 is an oil on canvas that measures 28 1/4 by 36 1/4 inches. It was painted in 1923 and has an estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000. It was passed at $2,900,000.

The 45 lots of the 81 offered sold for $145,715,000, way below the pre-sale estimate of about $250,000,000.

See The City Review article on the Spring 2008 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Spring 2008 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Fall 2007 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Spring 2007 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Christie's

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See The City Review article on the Fall 2006 Impressionist & Modern Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Spring 2006 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Spring 2006 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Fall 2005 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Sotheby's November 2, 2005

See The City Review article on the Impressionist & Modern evening sale at Sotheby's in the Spring, 2005

See The City Review article on the Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction in the Fall, November, 2005

See The City Review article on the Impressionist & Modern Art day auction at Sotheby's November 5, 2004

See The City Review article on the Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Christie's May 4, 2004

See The City Review article on the Impressionist & Modern Art day auction at Christie's May 5, 2004

See The City Review article on the May 5, 2004 evening auction at Sotheby's of Property of the Greentree Foundation from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney

See The City Review article on the Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Sotheby's May 6, 2004

See The City Review article on the Spring 2004 Impressionist & Modern Art day auction at Sotheby's

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See The City Review article on the Fall 2002 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg

See The City Review article on the Spring 2002 Impressionist & Modern Art day auction at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Spring 2002 Impressionist Art evening auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Spring 2002 Impressionist Art Part Two day auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Nov. 5, 2001 auction of the Smooke Collection at Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg

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See The City Review article on Phillips May 7, 2001 Impressionist & Modern Art auction

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