Art/Auctions logo

Impressionist and Modern Art

Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg

May 7, 2001. 7 PM, 3 West 57th Street

Sale NY848

The Art Market and Phillips Are Still Alive!

"Le Jardin d'Automne" by Van Gogh

"Le Jardin d'Automne" by Vincent Van Gogh, oil on canvas, 28 1/4 by 36 1/2 inches, painted in Arles, October, 1988, crease at right center is from fold in catalogue reproduction

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 said.

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 Berggruen Paintings

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 subjects.

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.

"Arles, wheatfields" by Van Gogh

Lot 6, "Arles, vue des champs de ble," by Vincent Van Gogh, reed pen and sepia ink on paper, 12 1/4 by 9 1/2 inches, August, 1888

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.

"L'Alee a Chantilly" by Cézanne

Lot 2, "L'Allee a Chantilly," by Paul Cézanne, oil on canvas, 32 1/4 by 26 inches, 1888

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.

"Fillete a la poupee" by Cézanne

Lot 4, "Fillete à la poupée," by Paul Cézanne, oil on canvas, 28 3/4 by 23 5/8 inches, circa 1902-4

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 essay:

"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…."

Works from other consignors

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.

"La Liceuse" by Renoir

Lot 14, "La Liseuse," by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, oil on canvas, 25 5/8 by 21 3/8 inches, 1877

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.

"Reflexion" by Renoir

Lot 16, "Reflexion," by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, oil on canvas, 18 1/8 by 15 inches, 1877

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 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 timelessness."

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 $3,000,000.

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, modest size.

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.


See The City Review article on Sotheby's Spring 2001 Impressionist & Modern Art auction

See The City Review article on Phillips Fall 2000 Impressionist & Modern Art auction

Use the Search Box below to quickly look up articles at this site on specific artists, architects, authors, buildings and other subjects

Home Page of The City Review