By Carter B. Horsley
This winter, Phillips continued to send shock
waves throughout the New York art market by leasing new quarters
at 3 West 57th Street next to Bergdorf Goodman, hiring Simon de
Pury and Daniella Luxembourg as chairman and president, and capturing
many prized works from the Heinz Berggruen Collection for this
major evening sale.
Mr. de Pury and Ms. Luxembourg are well-known
and highly respected art dealers who have been operating as art
dealers the past several years.. Last season, Mr. de Pury served
as the auctioneer for Phillips's major Impressionist and Modern
Art auction and now he and his partner have solidified their relationship
with Phillips to a much greater extent by merging with the auction
house last December.
As the first major art auction of the spring
season, this auction was closely watched for signals about the
health of the art market in general and the viability of Phillips's
determined assault on its larger rivals, Sotheby's and Christie's,
both embroiled in legal controversies that resulted in the indictments
last week of top executives.
The results were mixed with only 63 percent
of the 41 lots selling for $124,079,000, considerably short of
its pre-sale low estimate of $170,650,000 and a pre-sale high
estimate of $236,100,000. Such statistics, however, do not tell
the whole story as $124 million is not an unimpressive amount,
especially since only two years ago Phillips's Impressionist and
Modern Art auction fetched only $4 million. At a post-auction
press conference, Simon de Pury said that Phillips was "very
pleased" with the results that, he continued, "demonstrated
that Phillips can be taken seriously; Phillips is on the map."
Mr. de Pury declined to disclose any information about how much
of a guarantee it might have offered consignors for this auction,
but maintained that the auction house was "financially pleased
with the sale and the objective is to become very profitable"
and to build an infrastructure tighter than "our competitors."
"We don't want a multiplicity of sales venues, or sales.
Our focus is on a certain level of quality," Mr. de Pury
This season, Phillips is holding sales in
contemporary art, jewelry and American paintings in addition to
this Impressionist and Modern Art auction, but Mr. de Pury indicated
at the press conference that in the fall it will also hold auctions
of important furniture and of 20th Century Design. When asked
if Bernard Arnault, the chairman of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton
SA, Phillips's parent company, was still interested in acquiring
Sotheby's, Mr. de Pury said that "it's much more exciting
to build Phillips into a fine player, a lean organization."
With this sale, Phillips not only can no longer
be considered an "upstart" among the major auction houses,
but an equal at least in the Impressionist and Modern Art category.
The traumatic volatility of the stock markets
this winter has certainly been unsettling to an art market that
has been extremely "hot" over the past few seasons.
Some recent auctions abroad and in other categories here have
indicated that the market is still strong for major works, but
seller and buyer uncertainties about art market conditions have
been quite evident.
This auction contained two works by Vincent
Van Gogh and five works by Paul Cézanne from the collection
of Heinz Berggruen, who recently sold 113 works of art from his
famous collection to the German nation. In addition to the Berggruen
works, highlights of the auction included a fine study of a woman
by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, a scene of bathers by Cézanne,
a haystack scene by Claude Monet, a fine nude by Gustave Courbet,
two lovely paintings of women by Pierre-August Renoir, a very
good Alfred Sisley riverscape, a cityscape by Paul Gauguin, a
sculpture of a nude woman by Henri Matisse, very good cityscapes
by Maximilien Luce and Maurice de Vlaminck, a stunning landscape
by Giuseppe de Nittis, and a very fine portrait of a woman by
Amedeo Modigliani and three excellent portraits by Chaim Soutine.
The auction included seven important works
from the collection of Heinz Berggruen, who recently sold most
of his collection to Germany to be shown in Berlin and had planned
to include these works in that sale, which was made at a very
substantial discount from market values. He decided to consign
the paintings for auction, however, when Germany could not raise
additional funding and because he wanted to provide for his family.
Five of the seven Berggruen lots sold for
$71,182,500, including the buyer's premium, a bit below reports
that the auction house may have guaranteed them for about $80
million and some other reports that suggested an even higher figure.
The top lot, Paul Cézanne's "La Montagne Sainte-Victoire,"
Lot 5, sold for $38,502,500, the highest auction price on record
for a landscape by the artist and the second highest auction price
realized for a Cézanne, and certainly a very healthy price
by any means. It was sold to a private buyer and had been estimated
at $35,000,000 to $45,000,000. The 25 5/8-by-31 7/8-inch oil on canvas
by Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) was painted 1888-90 and was
formerly in the collections of Ambroise Vollard, Auguste Pellerin
and George A. Embiricos. This is one of the finest of many versions
of this landscape by Cézanne, one of his most favorite
The biggest disappointment was the failure
of a large work by Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890), "Le Jardin
d'automne, or Le Jardin public," Lot 6, shown at the top
of this article, to sell. It had been estimated at $30,000,000
to $40,000,000 and it was passed at $26,000,000. The painting,
which was once owned by Henry Ford II and was sold at Christie's
in 1980 for $1,900,000, was a good but not spectacular example
of the artist's work. The oil on canvas measured 28 1/4 by 36 1/2 inches. A fine Van
Gogh drawing, however, Lot 6, "Arles, vue des champs de blé,"
sold to Getty Museum for $4,402,500 including the buyer's premium,
as do all results mentioned in this article. It had been estimated
at $4,000,000 to $6,000,000 and was a very impressive and complete
drawing in the artist's best style. Drawn in reed pen and sepia ink on paper and executed
in Arles, early August, 1888, it was formerly in the collections
of Paul Cassirer, Robert von Hirsch and J. B. Goulandris. It measures
12 1/4 by 9 1/2 inches.
Another Cézanne landscape,
Lot 2, "L'Allee a Chantilly," shown below, a 32 1/4-by-26-inch
oil on canvas that the artist painted in 1888 is, arguably a better
picture than the "Montaigne Sainte-Victoire" in that
its dense forest scene is the epitome of the artist's highly influential
style. It has a modest estimate of $10,000,000 to $15,000,000.
It sold for $9,352,500.
Lot 1, another Cézanne
landscape, "Je Jardin des Lauves: vue sur Aix et La Cathedrale
de Saint Sauveur," is a 16-by 21 1/4-inch graphite and watercolor
on paper with a watercolor sketch of a tree-lined avenue on verso.
The work was executed circa 1902-6 and has an estimate of $1,500,000
to $2,000,000 and was formerly in the collection of Sam Salz Inc.
It is interestingly abstract and detailed but is the slightest
of the seven works in this auction from the Berggruen Collection.
It sold for $2,422,500.
Lot 4, "Fillete à
la poupée," is a 28 3/4-by-23 5/8-inch oil on canvas
by Cézanne that was painted circa 1902-4 and has an estimate
of $12,000,000 to $18,000,000. It was formerly in the collections
of Ambroise Vollard, Auguste Pellerin, Alphonse Kann, and George
A. Embiricos. The portrait of the young girl holding a doll is
lush with dark and light blues and is superb. It sold for $16,502,500,
which is very impressive since the head of the doll is not detailed.
Lot 3, "Jeune Fille à
la poupée," is a similar subject by Cézanne
but plainer and simpler and without as rich a palette. The 36
1/4-by-28 3/4-inch oil on canvas was painted circa 1894-6 and
was formerly in the collections of Ambroise Vollard, Alphonse
Kann and Walter P. Chrysler Jr. It has an estimate of $6,000,000
to $8,000,000. It failed to sell.
The Phillips catalogue has a long essay on
"Heinz Berggruen, Collector and Dealer," by John Richardson
in which he notes that "Heinz donated ninety Klees to the
Metropolitan Museum, but was so disappointed with the installation
that he never gave the museum another thing." The catalogue
also has a short essay by John Rewald on "The Cézannes
in the Berggruen Collection."
The following excerpts are from Richardson's
"Heinz Bergrruen was born on January 6,
1914 in the Wilmersdorf quarter of Berlin. His parents, assimilated
Jews from Bromberg in Western Prussia, had a successful stationery
store. His grandfather, Oskar Berggruen, had been a critic and
publisher, which is perhaps why Heinz originally aspired to be
a journalist. After passing his final exams at the Goethe Gymnasium
in Berlin, he persuaded his parents to let him continue his studies
in France - first at Grenoble then Toulouse, where he obtained
a master's degree. On his return to Germany, Heinz worked for
the Frankfurter Zeitung, and then in 1935 applied for a scholarship
to study visual arts at Berkeley. To augment his stipend, he wrote
art criticism - despite somewhat shaky English - for the San Francisco
Chronicle and got a job at the San Francisco Museum of Art. In
1939 he managed to arrange passages for his parents on the ill-fated
liner, the Saint-Louis; they were among the lucky few allowed
to disembark in England. Around the same time Heinz married a
local girl and fathered two children, but that did not stop him
running off to New York for a fling with Frieda Kahlo, which left
him very dissatisfied with life in San Francisco. During the war,
Heinz served in the US Army and ended up, demobilized as a staff
sergeant in Munich. Although by this time a US national, he had
never ceased to feel passionately European. And so he decided
against returning to his wife and family in San Francisco. Instead
he went to work for a German-language journal, financed by the
State Department, called Heute, and later moved to UNESCO
in Paris. The job was so boring that he left to become a dealer
and, later, a very obsessive, very driven collector. The Berggruen
collection has its origins in a Klee watercolor that Heinz bought
for $100 in Chicago in 1938 on the occasion of his first honeymoon.
He went on to make a few minor acquisitions, but ten years would
go by before he was in a position to set major items aside for
himself. Klee would become a lifelong obsession; and, suitably,
this artist's engravings and lithographs were the subject of Heinz's
first show at the gallery he opened in Paris in 1952. His next
two shows were devoted to Matisse: the first to his recent prints,
the second to his papiers découpés - the
first time these great late works had an exhibit to themselves….At
the time Heinz started out as a dealer, I was leaving in France
and watched with amazement at the swiftness with which he graduated
from a smallish space on the Ile de la Cité to a more prestigious,
though still small gallery on the rue de l'Université;
graduated , too, from selling Dada and Surrealist epherera (pamphlets,
manifestos and the like) to dealing in prints, then drawings and
ultimately, paintings and sculpture. In no time his seemingly
small-scale operation became, in its discreet way, a most important
one. Heinz never moved to larger premises, never wasted money
on promotion or advertising, never courted rich clients; and yet,
by 1960, his Paris gallery was known to connoiseurs and museum
curators on both sides of the Atlantic as one of the best sources
in Europe for exceptional works by classic, modernist artists;
primarily Matissse, Picasso, Léger, Gris, Giacometti, Miró,
Chagall, Dubuffet, Max Ernst and Klee (some 150 of whose works
have belonged to Heinz personally; hundreds more have passed through
his hands)….Besides a very sharp, very sure eye, Heinz has
a phenomenal capacity for work and an unerring flair for business.
He is also blessed with qualities that dealers tend to lack: modesty,
geniality and wit - wit that is wry and dry and always on target.
He is famously good company. Artists have always warmed to him;'
so have the important pilot fish, Parisian poets, particularly
Tristan Tzara and Paul Eluard, who needed dealers almost as badly
as dealers needed them. Tzara introduced Heinz to Picasso. The
artist had been so victimized by dealers in his early days that
he was not always well disposed toward the trade. However, he
was sufficiently impressed by Heinz to work with him on a number
of publications. He also allowed him to recast his famous cubist
bronze head of Fernande and other early sculptures. The artist
liked to have an alternative dealer to turn to, because it strengthened
his hand in negotiations with his principal dealer, D. J. Kahnweiler,
the impressario of Cubism. Heinz good nature and resilience save
him from the prevarication and teasing that Kahnweiller sometimes
suffered at Picasso's hands. Far from resenting his much younger
compatriot, Kahnweiler thought so highly of him that he asked
him to take over as his US representative in place of Curt Valentin,
who had died in 19954. Heinz refused. …In 1980, Heinz officially
retired from dealing, He wanted, he said, to devote his time to
his collection. Hence the acquisition over the next few years
of three more masterpiecs by Cézanne….all of which
figure in the present sale. …Heinz limited his choice of
Van Goghs to a single chef d'oeuvre, An Autumn Garden,
and a sublime reed-pen, sepia ink drawing;' both of them views
of Arles and both of them included in the present sale. Also,
the Serurats came and went. Heinz had been at tremendous pains
to assemble a really strong group of this great artist's famously
rare work. It consisted of seven oil sketches, ten remarkable
drawings and two celebrated paintings….He gave his Seurat
oil sketches to the National Gallery in London, where much of
his collection has been on exhibit, sold them the Gravelines
painting, and found good homes (Steve Martin's among others) for
the drawings. Some of us were surprised that Heinz should have
deaccessioned Les Poseuses, which he had sacrificed so
much to acquire - two major cubist Picassos and a Van Gogh drawing
- and which he had told Gary Tinterow, was 'the jewel of my collection.'
However, the sacrifice of this 'jewel' has enabled Heinz to make
some major 20th Century acquistions, including the most profound
and harrowing of Picasso's World War II paintings, the 1942, Reclining
Nude, from the Ganz collection, and a number of other important
Picassos, as well as a dozen or so works by Matisse and yet another
bevy of Klees. When Heinz arranged for the German Government to
acquire the principal part of his collection for a fraction of
hits market value, both sides hoped that the Cézannes would
remain in Berlin. However, the time was not propitious for fund-raising,
and the hoped-for-money from industry was not forthcoming. And
so Heinz has decided on a sale. This time, he will not spend the
proceeds on enhancing his collection instead he proposes to provide
for his gifted children: John, an art dealer, and Helen, a painter,
who live in San Francisco; and Nicholas, a successful financier,
and Olivier, a respected art advisor, who are based in New York.
Heinz's decision to return to life for much of the year in the
city where he was born, and, make his collection of works by artists,
whom the Nazis condemned as degenerate, available to his compatriots
does him and this birthplace the greatest credit. ….The Sammlung
Berggruen should also be seen as a gesture of reconciliation,
of putting the past behind us. As Heinz says at the close of his
memoir, he is opposed to the former Israeli President Ezer Weizmann's
view that, because of the holocaust, no Jew should return to live
in Germany. Heinz feels that, on the contrary, 'understanding
and tolerance are traditional Jewish virtues,' and that, fifty
years after the collapse of Nazidom, 'one can no longer turn one's
back on the country of Durer and Goethe, Beethoven and Brahms,
Gottfried Benn and Max Beckmann…."
Lot 12 is another Cézanne, "Quatre
Baigneuses." The 14 1/8-by-15 1/2-inch oil on canvas depicts
four naked bathers in a forest setting, one of the artist's favorite
themes, and has an estimate of $3,000,000 to $4,000,000. It
was passed at $2,400,000.
Lot 10, "Femme Nue Couchee
(Le Reve)," is a very nice reclining nude by Gustave Courbet
(1819-1877). The 19 1/2-by-24 5/8-inch oil on canvas was painted
in 1860 and has a conservative estimate of $400,000 to $600,000.
It was passed at $260,000.
Lot 17, "Nu couche (Aurore),"
is a very good, 19 3/4-inch long bronze of a reclining nude by
Henri Matisse (1869-1954). It was concerned in 1907 and cast in
an edition of ten plus one artist's proof in 1930. It has an estimate
of $8,000,000 to $12,000,000. It sold for $10,452,500, the
second highest auction price for a Matisse sculpture.
The cover illustration of this auction's catalogue
is Lot 14, shown below, "La Liseuse," a 25 5/8-by-21
3/8-inch oil on canvas by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919). Painted
in 1877, the painting is the largest of a series of three that
depict one of the artist's favorite models, Marguerite Legrand,
known as Margot. A very nice work, it has a slightly ambitious
estimate of $12,000,000 to $18,000,000. It sold for $13,202,500
and it and another Renoir, Lot 16, were consigned by Henry Kravis,
a board member of Sotheby's.
Lot 16, shown below, could
arguably be considered a Renoir than Lot 14. Entitled "Reflexion,"
it is a 18 1/8-by-15-inch oil on canvas that was executed the
same year, 1877. It has an estimate of $6,000,000 to $8,000,000
and was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the summer
of 1996. It was passed at $3,800,000.
Lot 15, "Le Pont de Sevres," is a
very good landscape by Alfred Sisley (1819-1899). The 15 1/4-by-22-inch
oil on canvas was painted in 1877 and has an estimate of only
$300,000 to $400,000. It sold for $640,500.
A somber but good cityscape by Paul Gauguin
(1848-1903) is Lot 18, "Rue à Rouen." The 21
7/8-by-18 1/4-inch oil on canvas was executed in 1884 and has
an estimate of only $800,000 to $1,200,000. It sold for $1,102,500.
In contrast, Lot 22, "Place de l'Alma,"
is a strong Parisian scene by Maximilien Luce (1858-1941). The
25 5/8-by-31 7/8-inch oil on canvas was executed in 1903 and has
a modest estimate of $300,000 to $500,000. It sold for $332,500.
One of Claude Monet's haystacks series, Lot
21, "La Meule," is a 25 5/8-by-36 1/4-inch oil on canvas
that was painted in 1891. It has an estimate of $7,000,000 to
$9,000,000 and is one of the more abstract and "hot"
works in this famous series. It sold for $6,602,500.
One of the auction's more interesting works
is Lot 23, "In Canotto," by Giuseppe de Nittis (1846-1884).
The 21 1/4-by-28 1/4-inch oil on canvas was painted in 1876 and
has a somewhat ambitious estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000.
It was passed at $1,000,000.
The catalogue provides the following commentary:
"De Nittis began his career as a member
of the Italian Macchiaoli group where he built a strong reputation
for his exquisite workmanship and his natural sense of color and
design. The artist at once took to painting en plein air, one
of the many tenets held commonly by the Macchiaoli and the Impressionists,
and he produced breathtaking views of the Italian landscape. In
1867, De Nittis moved to Paris, drawn by the city's intrinsic
beauty and its position as the center of the artistic world. He
was quickly befriended by Edgar Degas and Edouard Manet and was
invited by Degas to participate in the landmark, First Impressionist
exhibition of 1874 where he showed five canvases alongside others
by Renoir, Cézanne, Pissarro, Sisley, Morisot and Degas
at Nadar's gallery on the boulevard des Capucines. A champion
of what Baudelaire called 'l'heroisme de la vie moderne,' De Nittis'
canvases from this time portrayed a vertiginous sensibility for
Parisian society and awarded him immediate success. Hailed as
the ultimate chronicler of the Belle Epoque, De Nittis represented
the atmospheric effects of his surroundings as accurately and
as effortlessly as he depicted the pulsating vibrancy of 19th
Century Paris. Immediacy, sincerity, spontaneity, natural lifht,
and above all truth were the underpinnings of De Nittis' technique.
According to Enrico Piceni, "De Nittis was known as the Guardi
of his time and there is little doubt that his paintings provide
a precious means of documenting the spirit of the epoch in which
he lived...no other painter managed to represent the elusive charm
of the streets of Paris, their strange vitality and that special
atmosphere which transports the observer to a realm of visionary
If the De Nittis painting depicts a sparkling
optimism and tranquility, Lot 24, "Le Coucher (femme en chemise
devant un lit (Madame Poupoule))," is a very pensive and
sensitive and very fine portrait of a partially undressed woman
by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) that is dark and lovely.
The 24-by-19 3/4-inch oil on panel was painted in 1899 and has
a modest estimate of $3,500,000 to $4,500,000. It was passed at
Another sensitive work is Lot 33, "Portrait
de Louise,"by Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920). The 21 1/4-by-17
3/8-inch oil on canvas was painted in 1917 and is a fine and classic
work by this highly stylized painter. It has an estimate of $4,000,000
to $6,000,000. It sold for $4,072,500.
It would make a nice pendant for Lot 38, "Le
Femme en rouge sur fond bleu," by Chaim Soutine (1893-1943),
one of three excellent Soutine portraits in the auction. This
work is a 31 7/8-by-21 1/4-inch oil on canvas and has an estimate
of $800,000 to $1,200,000. It was passed at $600,000, but another
Soutine portrait, Lot 37, "Le Valet de chambre," sold
for $2,092,500, an auction record for a Soutine portrait. It had
been estimated at $1,200,000 to $1,800,000.
Clearly, the sale indicated that the art
market has not withered much. The prices for the large Cézanne
landscape, the Cézanne "Fillette a la poupée,"
Renoir's "La Liseuse," Soutine's "Le Valet de chambre,"
the Van Gogh drawing, the Modigliani "Portrait de Louise,"
and the Matisse sculpture are hefty and solid. The large Cézanne
and the Van Gogh paintings while impressive were not supreme masterpieces.
The Lautrec painting should have sold within its estimate but
perhaps was not bright enough for some modern collectors and too
rich for some connoisseurs. The Courbet nude should also have
sold at its reasonable estimate especially since it was a nice,
While many people were most curious about
the state of the market and whether Phillips was flirting with
danger in such volatile economic times, many others were curious
about how Phillips could accommodate the hordes of collectors,
dealers and art-market followers that normally fill the huge auction
rooms at Sotheby's and Christie's to standing room.
In its new 12-story quarters at 3 West 57th
Street, Phillips was able to seat just 214 people in the main
auction room on the ground floor. It did, however, accommodate
another couple of hundred on its third floor and another couple
of hundred or so in the "magic room" in the LVMH tower
a block away between Fifth and Madison Avenues, a building owned
by its parent company. The 600 or so attendees in total still
amounted only to about half the total at its rivals' venues for
similar sales, but the scene at the new quarters was calm and
orderly and one bidder on the third floor was successful more
than once, which led Mr. de Pury to remark at the press conference
that "the gentleman will clearly move down" and get
a seat in the main room next time. Indeed, Mr. de Pury announced
that only four of the building's 12 floors have been completed,
actually quite a fine construction record for so swift-moving
a company, and he said that Phillips will add a mezzanine with
an additional 80 seats by the time of the fall auctions.
Although there were numerous Asian bidders
at the auction, none of them ended up buyers, Mr. de Pury said,
adding that many of the buyers were European.