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Impressionist and Modern Art

Part Two


10:15AM, May 11, 2000

Sale 7467

"L'Enfant au Tablier Rouge" by Berthe Morisot

Lot 122, "L’Enfant au Tablier Rouge," by Berthe Morisot, oil on canvas, 23 5/8 by 19 5/8 inches, 1886

By Carter B. Horsley

Although the "Part Two" day sales might seem to be relegated to "second-tier" artists or works of lesser quality than the "important," "major," evening sales, they often contain many gems that serious collectors should not overlook as this auction amply demonstrates.

As usual, of course, any auction with about 310 lots has its share of fluff, but there are some truly wonderful works for those who can endure the wait. Among the highlights are a fine watercolor by Emil Nolde (1867-1956), a great collage by Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948), a couple of very interesting paintings by Marino Marini (1901-1980), a fabulous Berthe Morisot, (1841-1895), a surprising Raoul Dufy (1877-1953), and good examples by Fernand Léger (1881-1955), Paul Klee (1879-1940), Albert Gleizes (1881-1953), Francis Picabia (1879-1953) and Maurice de Vlaminck (1876-1958).

"Oriental Poppies" by Nolde

Lot 234, "Oriental Poppies," by Emil Nolde, watercolor, 13 1/4 by 18 1/2 inches

Nolde is the great German Expressionist whose best works are his small floral watercolors of which Lot 234, "Orientalischer Mohn (Oriental Poppies)," a 13 ¼-by-18 ½-inch watercolor, shown above, that was executed in the early 1930s and has a conservative estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. It sold for $170,750 including the buyer's premium as do all sales results mentioned in this article. This lot is the catalogue’s cover illustration, and no serious collection of 20th Century art should be without a Nolde, whose great floral works rarely come on the market. Lot 231, "Sudseereise in China (South China Sea)," is a very strong watercolor and brush and ink, 8 ¼ by 11 ¾ inches, of several sailboats that was executed in 1913 and has a conservative estimate of $14,000 to $18,000. It sold for $46,750.

"Construction of Space" by Kurt Schwitters

Lot 93, "Construction of Space," by Kurt Schwitters, collage, 7 1/2 by 6 inches, 1921

Schwitters is one of the most sophisticated artists of the early decades of the 20th Century and his small collages were extremely influential. Lot 93, shown above, is one of the best because it works very well aesthetically. Entitled "Konstruktiondes Raumes (Construction of Space)," it is a 7 ½-by-6-inch collage mounted on a card and dated 1921. It has a very conservative estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. It sold for $104,250. Another small, nice collage by Schwitters if Lot 237, "Blue Ivory," which has an estimate of $30,000 to $40,000. It sold for $58,250.

Marini is best known for his large and bulky sculptures of a horse and rider whose sameness erodes much of their charm. This auction has two works by him that demonstrate that his talents were much greater than one might suspect from looking only at his sculptures. Lot 92, "Il Cavaliere," is a 17 ¾-by-13-inch tempera and pen and ink on paper that is highly arresting and animated. The artist, who chose to give the large horse only three legs, has used a variety of drawing styles in this work to great and colorful effect. It has a conservative estimate of $30,000 to $40,000. It failed to sell. Lot 317, shown below, is the same subject but is treated in a much different manner. Entitled "Cavallo e Cavaliere," it is a 64 1/8-by-39 3/8-inch oil on paper laid down on canvas that was executed in 1950 and its white highlights are explosively exciting, hinting at traces of structure, anatomy and action. This magnificent painting has a very conservative estimate of $180,000 to $250,000. It sold for $192,750.

"Cavallo e Cavaliere" by Mario Marini

Lot 317, "Cavallo e Cavaliere," by Mario Marini, oil on paper laid down on canvas, 64 1/8 by 39 3/8 inches, 1950

A few artists like Michelangelo, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse are well known for both their sculpture and painting but they are rare exceptions. It is often interesting to compare an artist’s work in different media. Henry Moore’s drawings, for example, have a more consistent level of high quality than his sculptures, which is not to denigrate his great accomplishments as a sculptor. Lot 287, "Leaf Figure, No. 2," is a 9 ½-inch high bronze sculpture that is extremely interesting and rather reminiscent of some early Near Eastern works and a strong example of Moore’s vivid imagination and experimentation with different styles. It has an estimate of $25,000 to $35,000. It failed to sell. Giorgio de Chirico’s sculptures are much more impressive than his paintings for which he is much better known. Frederick MacMonnies is one of the great American sculptors, but his paintings are marvelous and rare. Edward Steichen is famed as a great photographer, but his tonalist paintings are consistently superb.

Léger is a modern master known primarily for his painting, but Lot 215, shown below, demonstrates that he had a great talent for plasticity and perhaps should have ventured into more sculpture. This work is a precursor to some of the colorful and fine sculptures that Frank Stella would create a generation or so later and has some of the humor of Dubuffet and Niki Saint-Phalle. Entitled "Margueritte," this glazed ceramic, executed in 1952, is 24 ½ by 13 inches and has a very conservative estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. It sold for $87,000.

"Margueritte" by Fernand Léger

Lot 215, "Margueritte," by Fernand Léger, glazed ceramic, 24 ½ by 13 inches, 1952

While many collectors like to get "classic" examples of a particular artist’s style, such "formula" works often are not as interesting or compelling as the artist’s experiments with other styles. The fame of Raoul Dufy, for example, rests on his fluid illustrations in bright colors that would become the prototype for much computer art work done with programs like Adobe Illustrator. Lot 203, shown below, then, is a giant surprise as it is an immensely strong work in a Cubist-related style that would appear to have offered the artist vast opportunities for further exploration, and it makes one bemoan his subsequent commercialization. Entitled "L’Atelier de la Sequier," this 32 ¼-by-25 ½-inch oil on canvas was painted around 1909 and is a remarkably strong and dynamic composition that has a conservative estimate of $120,000 to $150,000. It failed to sell. Another Dufy, Lot 205, "Paysage Au Puits," a 20 7/8-by-25 5/8-inch oil on canvas, is also somewhat surprising as it is a lush landscape that stylistically is very much influenced by Cézanne. "Like his contemporary Maurice de Vlaminck, Dufy was profoundly influenced by the major Cézanne exhibitions held in 1907…While painting with Braque at L’Estaque in 1908, Dufy moved away from the bright tonality of his earlier Fauvist work and moved toward an abstracted set of forms similar to that used by Braque, in pursuit of what Dufy believed to be the lessons taught by Cézanne," the catalogue noted. Both these lots suggest that a major retrospective of Dufy is in order.It sold for $170,750 and had had a low estimate of $200,000.

"L'Atelier de la Sequier" by Raoul Dufy

Lot 205, "L’Atelier de la Sequier," by Raoul Dufy, oil on canvas, 32 ¼ by 25 ½-inches, circa 1909

Maurice de Vlaminck was an uneven artist whose dark, green and black landscapes that have proliferated on the auction market for decades belie his talent that is best seen in his early experiments with bright Fauve colors and in Lot 199, which is as good a Cézanne landscape as they come. Entitled "Chatou," this powerful 23 ½-by-28 ¾ inch oil on canvas, shown below, was also painted in around 1909 and has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It passed.

"Chatou" by Maurice de Vlaminck

Lot 199, "Chatou," by Maurice de Vlaminck, oil on canvas, 23 ½ by 28 ¾ inches, circa 1909

Similarly, Francis Picabia is an artist who went through many stylistic changes but is best known for his incredibly dynamic early Cubist-related works that were dark in palette and mood but very powerful. Lot 164, therefore, is a bucket of fresh water in the face as it is a very fine Pontillist work by him that compares very well with similar works by Henri Edmond Cross (1856-1910), such as Lot 133, "San Giorgio Maggiore (Venise)," that has an estimated of $300,000 to $400,000 and was painted in 1903-4. It sold for $500,750 and had been bought in at Sotheby's in its Fall 1999 sale when it had had an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000 (see The City Review article that has an illustration of it). Picabia’s work, entitled "Le Port de Saint-Tropez, Effet de Soleil," is a beautiful "Divisionist" work that has an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000. It sold for $511,750. This 1909 work, shown below, is an oil on canvas that is 35 ½ by 47 ¾ inches and would be a gorgeous pendant with the Cross lot.

"Le Port de Saint-Tropez, Effet de Soleil" by Francis Picabia

Lot 164, "Le Port de Saint-Tropez, Effet de Soleil," by Francis Picabia, oil on canvas, 35 ½ by 47 ¾ inches, 1909

Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt are the two famous woman Impressionists. Lot 122, shown at the top of this article, is a sensational painting by Morisot that is a great example of an artist recognizing that a sketch can often be more exciting than a "properly" finished work. Some observers might argue that such sketches represent the finest inspirations of both artists and also of William Merritt Chase, the American Impressionist. This Morisot, shown at the top of this article, entitled "L’Enfant au Tablier Rouge," is an oil on canvas, 23 5/8 by 19 5/8 inches, and was painted in 1886. It depicts her daughter, Julie Manet, and the catalogue maintains it was "probably executed in the dining room of their house in the Rue de Villejust" in Paris. It has a very conservative estimate of $250,000 to $300,000. It sold for $280,750.

"Final Scene of a Tragicomedy" by Paul Klee

Lot 241, "Final Scene of a Tragicomedy," by Paul Klee, oil transfer and watercolor on gesso-prepared paper, 9 7/8 by 13 3/4 inches, 1923

Paul Klee is one of the few artists whose work is consistently wonderful. Lot 241, shown above, "Schlussbild Einer Tragikomodie (Final Scene of a Tragicomedy)," is a 9 7/8-by-13 ¾-inch oil transfer and watercolor on gesso-prepared paper, mounted on the artist’s board with reddish brown border. It has a very impressive provenance: it was formerly in the collection of Katherine Drier, Philip C. Johnson, Andy Warhol and Heinz Berggruen, among others. Dated 1923, it has an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000. It sold for $335,750. The catalogue has an interesting quotation from Andrew Kagan who has described Klee’s works of this type as "operatic paintings" because "they depend so literally on Klee’s great passion for and understanding of opera and on the way in which the often slight libretti of opera are borne up by great music." "In the operatic compromise between low and high taste, between silliness and sublimity, Klee saw a chance for his wiry, delicate line and the curious images it yielded. Often these images were drawn directly from the iconography of opera, especially comic opera, and figures such as harlequins, acrobats, hanswurst clowns, singers, and dancers frequently appear on Klee’s tiny, imaginary stages," the Kagan quote continued. The catalogue also provides the following remarks about this work by Sabine Reward, the author of a 1988 book on the artist: All that’s left at the end of Klee’s Tragikomodie (tragicomedy) are four spidery figures taking their bow. Their odd shapes distantly evoke the robotlike puppets in Triadie Ballet (1922) conceived by Klee’s Bauhaus colleague, Oskar Schlemmer. The only spot of color in this watercolor that has the look of waterstained old parchment is the dark red arrow pointing to the stage below whose various levels and depth Klee indicated with just a few black lines." This work exudes a great tactility; it has an archaeological air that conjures ancient cave drawings. As always with Klee, the drawing conveys impish glee.

If the above lot is sparsely drawn, Lot 240 is the complete opposite, a densely, crowded work of minute detail, entitled "Structural II," that is a 10 1/8-by-8 5/8-inch gouache on paper mounted on artist’s board. Executed in 1924, it has an estimate of $250,00 to $350,000. It sold for $291,750. "Since joining the Bauhaus in 1921," the catalogue stated, "Klee had become increasingly concerned with linear and planar structure in his compositions, and a firm, logical schemata is apparent in all the works of these years. However, the present work demonstrates how Klee’s preoccupation with geometry never cramped his imagination, his delight in narrative or his humor. In Structural II Klee successfully brought the separate elements of drawing and color into a playful architecture of interpenetrating blocks, without losing the graphic character and power of the composition." This almost child-like doodle is highly sophisticated and despite its small size conveys a sense of infinite, but interesting congestion and texture. The catalogue provides the following quotation from Werner Schmalenbach’s 1986 book on the artist: "With architecture one usually associates the static, stable and constructional. Klee’s architecture is alive, not static; unstable, not stable; and intuitive, not constructional. What holds good for construction and geometry in his work also applies to perspective: it is but one possibility among many." Although the work has a muted, darker palette than much of his oeuvre, its delicate white, yellow and pink highlights and blue and red "instances" give it a very subtle, emerging environment of warmth and neighborliness. It would be interesting to see a major exhibition that would pair large works by Picasso of all his periods with Klee’s small jewels and to see which artist would emerge as the most imaginative and powerful. One suspects that Klee would not be overwhelmed and that the combined inventiveness of these masters would energize and rejuvenate all viewers.

Another good but less complex architectural composition by Klee is Lot 221, "Architektur In Rot Und Grun (Architecture in Red and Green)," a 5 7/8-by-10 ½-inch watercolor, pen and ink, and pencil on paper with green paper border on the top and bottom. It is one of several lots that were gifts to The Jewish Museum from the estate of Jerome L. Green that are being sold to benefit the museum. It has an estimate of $150,000 to $200,000. It sold for $236,750.

Albert Gleizes is a "second-tier" Cubist artist who produced many superb paintings. Lot 214, "Composition," is a very interesting Cubist study dated 1943 that is a 45 5/8-by-61 ½-inch oil on burlap. The swirling forms, painted in a muted palette, are contained compositionally in two rows of dashes that visually frame the work whose texture is almost akin to a tapestry. It has an estimate of $50,000 to $70,000. It sold for $69,750. In dramatic contrast, Lot 212A, "Vierge a L’enfant," is a 10 ¼-by-6 ½-inch gouache on paper that is insistently bright and a wonderful treatment of the Virgin and Child. Instead of the traditional gold and rich reds of Renaissance versions, Gleizes has used a cool palette of blues and grays and whites and stretched the halo motif to encompass both figures who are clearly discernible in this very interesting geometric and Cubist influenced work that has a very conservative estimate of $15,000 to $20,000. It sold for $22,600. Gleizes’s Cubist work is well represented in this auction by Lot 207, "Les Bateaux de Peche ou Les Pecheurs," a 15 3/8-by-10 5/8-inch gouache on paper, dated 1913. The catalogue notes that "this work is a study for an oil painting from the same date which Apollinaire called the glory of the Salon d’Automme of 1913-14. The very handsome and strong work has a modest estimate of $50,000 to $70,000. It sold for $87,000.

Other highlights of this auction include Lot 84, "Baigneuse Assisse," a powerful Cubist bronze sculpture by Jacques Lipchitz (1891-1973), 32 7/8 inches high, that was executed in 1917 and was formerly in the collection of the Frederick and Marcia Weisman family and has been widely exhibited. It has a conservative estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It sold for $621,750. Lot 87, "Alfios 2," is a good oil on carved board, 13 3/8 by 21 5/8 inches, by Ben Nicholson (1894-1982) that has a conservative estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. It sold for $52,500.

Lot 238, "Composition," is a wonderful study in geometrics by Laslo Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946). The 12 1/8-by-16-inch watercolor, collage and pencil on gray paper was executed in 1921 and has a conservative estimate of $30,000 to $40,000. It sold for $49,625.

The auction also has some nice works by Albert Sisley.

See The City Review article on the evening auction May 10, 2000 of Impressionist & Modern Art at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Impressionist & Post-Impressionist evening auction May 9, 2000 at Christie's

See The City Review article on the May 11 & 12, 2000 auctions at Phillips of Impressionist & Modern Art

See The City Review article on the Sotheby's Impressionist & Modern Art Auction, Part I, Nov. 11, 1999

See The City Review article on Part Two of the Sotheby's auction November 11, 1999 of Impressionist & Modern Art

See The City Review article on the Christie's Nov. 8, 1999 evening sale of Impressionist & Post Impressionist Art

See The City Review article on the morning auction Nov. 9, 1999 of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Art at Christie's

See The City Review article on the afternoon auction Nov. 9, 1999 of Impressionist and Twentieth Century Works on Paper at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Christie's Nov. 9, 1999 evening auction of Twentieth Century Art

See The City Review article on the Christie's Nov. 10, 1999 day auction of Twentieth Century Art

See The City Review analysis of Part 1 of the Sotheby's auction May 11, 1999 of Impressionist and Modern Art

See The City Review analysis of Part 2 of the Sotheby's May 12, 1999 auction of Impressionist and Modern Art

See The City Review article on the Christie's May 12, 1999 auction of Impressionist Art and 19th Century Art

See The City Review of the Christie's May 13, 1999 auction of 20th Century and Modern Art

Recap of the Spring 1998 Impressionist and Modern Auctions

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