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The Eye of a Collector

Works from the Collection of Stanley J. Seeger


7 PM, May 8, 2001 (Lots 1 - 62)

10 AM, May 9, 2001 (Lots 63 - 129)

Sale 7647

Single-Collector Sale Again Secret of Success

"Femme assise" by Picasso

Lot 15, "Femme assise," by Pablo Picasso, pastel on board, 20 1/8 by 14 1/4 inches, executed in Madrid in 1901.


By Carter B. Horsley

In 1993, Sotheby's successfully auctioned 88 Picassos from the collection of Stanley J. Seeger but that did not empty the collector's walls and now more, but not all, of his collection is being offered by Sotheby's May 7 and 8, 2001, and Picasso is not the only star this time.

Picasso is, however, well represented by a great pastel, Lot 15, shown above, "Femme assise," on board, 20 1/8 by 14 1/4 inches, executed in Madrid in 1901, a stunning and very beautiful work that has a conservative estimate of $1,200,000 to $1,600,000. Remarkably, it was passed at $750,000, one of only three lots that did not sell in this hugely successful action.

The painting is similar, in reverse, to a large oil in Museu Nacional de Arte Moderno in Madrid. Picasso (1881-1973) had recently returned from Paris. "Heavily rouged and powdered, the sitter conveys a debauched elegance not unlike Lautrec's Moulin-Rouge subjects, all the while alluding to the stately propriety of Goya's paintings....Picasso enlivened this work through the energetic application of layers of pastel, providing striking variations of electric blue tonalities which dramatically highlight the fiugre's pallor against the background," the catalogue observed.

Coming on the heels of the mixed results of the season's opening major sale at Phillips (see The City Review article) May 7, this sale assumed more importance as a bellweather of the state of the art market. While Philips sold more than $124 million of Impressionist and Modern Art and got some hefty prices for a few weeks, it only sold about two-thirds of the lots being offered and the total was considerably less than its pre-sale low estimate of about $170 million.

The evening section of this auction had 62 lots and 59 sold for a total of $54,020,500 versus pre-sale estimates of $28,400,000 to $39,900,000 and auction records were set for Francis Bacon, Max Beckmann and Hans Hoffmann and also for a work on paper by Joan Miró. Although Sotheby's officials conceded that the consignor had agreed to modest estimates, they were nonetheless thrilled with the quite stunning results as 38 of the 59 lots that were sold exceeded their high estimates, a very high percentage.

David Norman, head of Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern Art Department in North America, said after the auction that the "fantastic sale" was "the product of a great eye." Noting that several works sold for more than they had been acquired by Mr. Seeger in recent years, Mr. Norman commented that the auction result "confounds the ideathat freshness is necessary." Charles S. Moffett, co-chairman, Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary Art, worldwide, for Sotheby's, remarked that "what drives his market is quality, it is a very selective market." Tobias Meyer, the evening's auctioneer, said the sale was "a great success" and that the collector's decision to consign the works in the auction was "very emotional - he was ready to let it go."

The large, packed sales room witnessed a lot of bidding activity in the room as well as on the telephones. In many instances, there were numerous bidders on individual lots, leaving little doubt that the art market, despite national economic concerns, remains quite healthy, so far, which is certainly a relief to the consignors of the many remaining auctions this season.

"Männlichher Akt" by Egon Schiele

Lot 11, Egon Schiele's, "Männlicher Akt," a watercolor and charcoal on paper, 17 3/4 by 12 inches, executed circa 1910

The Seeger collection consists mostly of 20th Century figurative art and the cover illustration of the catalogue is Lot 11, Egon Schiele's, "Männlicher Akt," a watercolor and charcoal on paper, 17 3/4 by 12 inches, executed circa 1910, shown above. Schiele (1890-1918) is a great painter and this lot shows his peculiar and extraordinary style to great effect. It has a conservative estimate of $300,000 to $400,000. It sold for $907,750 including the buyer's premium as do all the results in this article. "Like many of Schiele's nude self-portraits, the body is elongated and emaciated, revealing the shoulder lades and the rib cage protruding from beneath the model's taut skin. The composition, as a whole, is a study of the body as an intricate compilation of contours and colors, truncated and abstracted almost beyond recognition to create a veritable anthropomorphic landscape," the catalogue noted.

"Studies of the Human Body" by Francis Bacon

Lot 14, "Studies of the Human Body," by Francis Bacon, each section, 78 by 58 inches, 1979

Contortion and distortion are the hallmarks of Francis Bacon (1909-1992) and Lot 14, shown above, "Studies of the Human Body," is a major and classic work. The triptych consists of three oils on canvas, each 78 by 58 inches. It was painted in 1979 and has an estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000. It sold for $8,585,750, breaking the previous auction record of $6,606,000 for the artist.

The catalogue offers the following commentary:

"....[this work] sees the confluence of two of Bacon's greatest inspirations, Eadweard Muybridge and Michelangelo in one of his most beautiful and erotically charged compositions. Through its slight ambiguity of content, this work teems with sexual energy and tension, born of Bacon's deep instinctual understanding of the painterly language which he so uniquely manipulated....Against this calm and spare background, the players fidget and buzz with energy....Bacon frames his figures as if in a spectable: we are watching them and they seem to know it. They are cognizant of our attention, the left-hand figure turns away to bare the gash on his back whilst the right-hand figure turns toward us to flex his biceps. The triptych format seems to hint at a narative between the panels, but that narrative remains ambiguous....Here the nature of the human form, which has been mediated through a number of representative media is adapted through Bacon's mind and hand to be at once amorphous, yet totally real. Through moments of magic, Bacon coagulates color and form to achieve a heightened sense of figurative reality, which leaves the viewer thrilling to the sensations of his subjects. This is nowhere more dramatic than in the present composition."

This auction also includes a Bacon self-portrait, Lot 9, which measures 14 by 12 inches and has an estimate of $350,000 to $450,000. It sold for $1,765,750.

"Perseus's (Hercules') Last Duty" by Max Beckmann

Lot 28, (Perseus' (Hercules') Last Duty," by Max Beckmann, oil on canvas, 35 1/4 by 56 inches, 1949

Max Beckmann (1884-1950) is another artist represented with two important works. Lot 28, "Perseus' (Hercules') Last Duty," a 1949 oil on canvas, 35 1/4 by 56 inches, and Lot 13, "Meeting in the Night, a 1928 white and colored chalk on paper. Lot 28 has a conservative estimate of $700,000 to $900,000. It sold for $3,855,750, just exceeding the previous auction record of $3,749,560 for the artist. Beckman, like Bacon, liked to work in triptychs. The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"In this picture, Beckmann has painted the male figure, depicting Perseus, in the act of beheading the Gorgon Medusa. Wearing Hades' helmet, the magical wallet and brandishing the fatal sword, Perseus looks into the polished shield on the right, which bears the reflection of the Gorgons. Interestingly. Beckmann depicts Medusa and her Gorgon guardians not as vile, snake-haired monsters but as young women, vulnerable to the weapon which Perseus lords over tyhem. As if to critique the violence of the scene, the artist's choice of color and positioning of the figures reassigns the heroic qualities associated with each mythical character. Persus, with his back turned to the viewer stands as a dark and looming figure in a pool of blood, the color of which is echoed by the tuft of shocking crimson hair on the back of his head. Beckmann has instead placed Medusa in the center of the composition, her body swelling with fecundinty and illuminated like that of a martyr. The intense drama of this picture is further emphasized by the projection of the sword's tip to the extreme left and beyond the picture plane. Here, the artist suggests the sword's penetration into the viewer's space as Perseus anticipates swinging the weapon above his head."

Lot 29 is a drawing study for Lot 28 and has an estimate of $65,000 to $70,000. It sold for $225,750.

Lot 13, "Meeting in the Night," is another Beckman that is not as colorful but no less gruesome as Lot 28. The 42-by-19-inch white and colored chalk on paper is dated 1928 and has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It sold for $797,750. It depicts a tuxedo-clad man looking untroubled on a nude woman who is shackled and hanging upside-down. The catalogue notes that the artist was interested in themes of alienation, injustice and inequality.

The Seeger Collection is by no means focused only on tortured souls and has several fine works by Jean Dubuffet and Joan Miró.

Lot 35, "Le chien rodeur," is a delightful oil on canvas, 32 by 39 1/2 inches by Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985) and has an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000. It sold for $511,750. Lot 36, "Vache bleue et rouge" is a 23 5/8 by 28 3/4-inch oil on canvas by Dubuffet that has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000, and sold for $170,750, and lot 57, "Marché en campagne" is a 62-by-55 1/4-inch vinyl on canvas by Dubuffet that has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000 and sold for $335,750. Lot 60, "Cortege," is a very strong and fine oil on canvas, by Dubuffet, 45 3/4 by 35 inches and it has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It sold for $423,750.

Lot 41, "Nocture," is a 14 7/8-by-18-inch tempera and oilwash on paper by Joan Miró (1893-1983) that is a classic example of the artist's surreal and humous imagination. It has an estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. It sold for $5,615,750 significantly surpassing the artist's previous record for a work of paper of $2,6955,000. It is one of 23 paintings collectively entitled "The Constellations" that the artist completed between January 1940 and September 1941.

The catalogue notes that André Breton praised the series for its "resistance" to the forces of evil in Europe at the time. It also offers the following commentary:

"...Miró enlivened the picture with swirling lines that shape and direct the flow of energy within the compositon. The ground of the composition has been brushed, scraped, polished, moistened and rubbed, creating the gradated pockets of light and dark that convey the celestial boundlessness in which the objects float. The bold reds and ultramarine blues, along with flickers of yellow and white comets, electrify the surface of the paper, while the great black voids add a spatial depth to the picture plane. Interspersed amidst the crescent moons, somnolent suns, comets and stars are the pseudo-sexual amoeboid shapes and fragmented body parts that were often featured in Mirós surrealist paintings of the twenties."

"Colored Alphabet" by Jasper Johns

Lot 22, "Colored Alphabet," by Jasper Johns, 12 by 10 1/2 inches, oil, encaustic and paper collage on panel, 1959

Lot 22, "Colored Alphabet," by Jasper Johns, 12 by 10 1/2 inches, oil, encaustic and paper collage on panel, was executed in 1959 and has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It sold for $3,745,750. This work was painted the year after the artist had a sell-out show at the Leo Castelli Gallery and had introduced color into his previous, mostly monochromatic work. The catalogue observes that the "stirring visual impact" of Johns's work of this period "urges toward the intellectual rather than the transcendental, the objective over the sublime" and was a "departure from the concerns of Abstract Expressionism."

Lot 28 is a Jasper Johns monochromatic work, in green, from 1958. Entitled, "Green Target," it is a 8 1/2-inch square encaustic and collage on panel and has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for $3,855,750. A larger version of this was sold by Leo Castelli to the Museum of Modern Art.

"Divided Oval: Butterfly" by Henry Moore

Lot 8, "Divided Oval: Butterfly," by Henry Moore, white marble, 36 inches long, 1967

Lot 8, "Divided Oval: Butterfly," by Henry Moore, is a very beautiful white marble sculpture, shown above, 36 inches long. It was executed in 1967 and has a conservative estimate of $150,000 to $200,000. It sold for $291,750. "The aesthetic success" of this work, the catalogue noted, "inspired Moore in 1982 to create a monumental bronze, based on the original sculpture, for Mr. Seeger's new house, Sutton Place, Surrey. A working model in bronze was cast the same year in an edition of six and the enlarged version, measuring 26 feet 4 inches, was begun in a Berlin studio. When Mr. Seeger sold Sutton Place in 1986, before the sculpture's completion, it found a new home in Berlin, where it adorns the city's concert hall."

Another fine sculpture is Lot 7, "Petite tete au triangle" by Julio González (1876-1942). The 10 1/4-inch-high white metal sculpture was executed circa 1933 and has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It sold for $819,750.

The second session of the Seeger sale on May 9, 2001 totaled $2,574,100 with 57 of the 66 offered lots selling.

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

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

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


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