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Impressionist & Modern Art


6 PM, February 6, 2007, London

2 PM, February 7, 2007, London

10:30 AM, February 8, 2007, London

Post-War & Contemporary Art


7 PM, February 8, 2007

10:30 AM, February 9, 2007

All photographs taken at preview exhibition in New York City in January by Michele Leight

"Study for Portrait II" by Bacon

"Study for Portrait II," by Francis Bacon, oil on canvas, 60 by 45 7/8 inches, 1956

By Michele Leight

The Impressionist & Modern Art and the Post-War and Contemporary Art auctions at Christie's in London in February, 2007 are highlighted by an iconic painting by Francis Bacon, two excellent paintings by Egon Schiele, two fine works by Amedeo Modigliani, a good René Magritte, and a selection of works from The Tettamanti Collection, the most important single-owner modern and contemporary art collection from Italy to appear at auction.

The works reproduced here were among those exhibited in January at Christie's in New York.

Following Christie's record-breaking Impressionist & Modern Art sale in New York in November, 2006, it will present the largest ever London evening sale of Impressionist & Modern Art on February 6, 2007. This sale features 130 works, incorporating a section dedicated to 'The Art of the Surreal,' with a pre-sale estimate of approximately 75 million pounds. René Magritte's (1898-1967), "La pretre marie," painted in 1961 appears at auction for the first time, and depicts two masked apples consorting together in a barren desert. Magritte was unusually attached to this painting, and hoped that the intended buyer would not come to collect it, but he did. The painting has an estimate of 2 to 3 million pounds.

Christie's will open its London Post War and Contemporary Art evening sale on February 8, 2007 with "Study of Portrait II," by Francis Bacon (1909-1992). Painted in 1956, it is one of his most famous papal portraits - in an ongoing series of about 50 popes he painted in his career that have now attained mythic status. Bacon was obsessed by Velazquez's 1650 Portrait of Pope Inncoent X that awoke a powerful sensation in him. Although we are now accustomed to Bacon's mesmerizing popes, they were shocking and provocative when they first appeared in the 1950s. While his previous popes were reminiscent of domineering father figures, authoritarian and and forbidding, this portrait depicts a more vulnerable man, worn down by time, hunched under the weight of responsibility, "a prisoner unto himself." The estimate for this painting is upon request. The current auction record for a work by Bacon is "Version No. 2," of a lying figure with a hypodermic syringe, (1968), which sold at Sothebys New York in November, 2006 for $15,024,000. "Study of Portrait II" sold for $27,549,300 to Andrew Fabricant for the Richard Gray Gallery and the Post-War and Contemporary sale February 8 totalled $138,393,378, a record for such an auction in Europe.

"We are thrilled with this evening's record breaking results which demonstrate Christie's driving dominance of the Post-War and Contemporary art market," declared Pilar Ordovas, director and head of Christie's department of Post-War and Contemporary Art in London, adding that "this evening's sale built on the continuing strength of the market as we welcomed a significant number of new clients, the majority of which were private international buyers. Increased interest and bidding from the new markets, including Russian, Middle Eastern and Asian clients, has had a significant effect on the art market over recent years and it is particularly encouraging to see the majority of works this evening bought by European-based clients, highlighting the intrinsic role of London within the international art market."

There are so many significant artworks on offer at this sale in different categories it is impossible to mention them all, but "Brigitte Bardot," (1974), by Andy Warhol, is a show stopper. She was impossible to photograph at the preview because an enormous video camera (and attached cameraman) laid claim to her for an inordinately long time - well, she was the sex symbol of the 1960s, and if this pre-view is anything to go by, nothing much has changed. The gentleman was smitten, and I had to move on without my photograph for lack of time. Her famously large, mascara-lashed eyes, full pink lips and big blond hair have established the sex kitten look for future generations of women, and her legacy endures on contemporary TV shows, MTV videos, and on the runways and red carpets of the 21st century. The amazing thing is she did not like fame and celebrity very much, and gave it all up for retirement when she was still young and in her prime. The synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen inks on canvas measures 47 1/4 inches square and was executed in 1974. It has an estimate of $3 to $3.9 million. It sold for $10,603,140.

There is also a classic Warhol "Flowers" in this sale that he created for his first show at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York in the summer of 1964. Both the Warhols are from the Tettamanti collection, (included in the Post War and Contemporary Art Day Sale on February 9th, 2007). Other artists whose work is featured in this sale are Gerhard Richard, Cy Twombly, Roy Lichtenstein, Tom Wesselman, Enrico Castellani, Richard Prince, Francesco Clemente, and "Sacco et rosso," by Alberto Burri, (1915-1995), an artist and sculptor who extended the boundaries of painting by cutting, layering and burning diverse materials. The Burri sold for $3,780,660 setting a new record for the artist. Records were also set or Anselm Hiefer, Sigmar Polke, Antonio Saura, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Keith Haring, Dan Flavin and Michael Raedecker and records for works on paper were set for Mark Rothko and Lucien Freud.

"Prozession" by Schiele

"Prozession," by Egon Schiele, oil on canvas, 39 3/8 by 39 3/8 inches, 1911

Leading the German and Austrian section of the Impressionist and Modern Art auction February 6 is Egon Schiele's (1890-1918) exceptional "Prozession", (1911), with a pre-sale estimate of $9.8 to 14 million. This is one of Schiele's quasi-religious paintings produced at the height of a period of mystical revelation between 1910 and 1912, characterized by what the auction house describes as "an autumnal atmosphere of death and decay that shocked many of Schiele's contemporaries." "Prozession" has a timeless quality - medieval sorceresses, fairytale witches stirring strange potions, contemporary "goth" MTV musicians with heavily outlined eyes - all come to mind. Not to mention Anslem Kiefer's exquisite color pallette, drawn from earthtones.

According to an article by Linda Sandler in the February 5, 2007 edition of The New York Sun, "Prozession" was consigned by the Neue Gallerie in New York on behalf of the estate of Serge Sabarsky, which forms part of the gallery's collection. It was one of five of 10 Schieles offered that did not sell.

"Selbsbildnix mit gespreizten Fingern" by Schiele

"Selbstbildnis mit gespreizten Fingern" by Egon Schiele, (1909), oil on metallic paint on canvas, 29 1/2 by 10 7/8 inches

Schiele was only nineteen years old when he painted this elegant, highly stylized self-portrait, "Selbstbildnis mit gespreizten Fingern," (1909), and his huge talent had already drawn the recognition of his artistic peers, including Gustav Klimpt, who regarded him as one of the greatest hopes for the future of Austrian art. The idosyncratically elongated painting evokes Schiele's famous drawings, although this one is not anywhere near as erotically charged as his famous works on paper. It has overtones of Gustav Klimpt's exquisite goddessess engulfed in orientalia, but the hard-core somberness is pure Schiele. He is one of the great geniuses of modern art and this unusual portrait should exceed its pre-sale estimate of 4 to 6 million pounds. It sold for $8,824,500.

"Homme au Chapeau" by Modigliani

"Homme au chapeau," by Amedeo Modigliani, circa 1915

The Christie's London sale includes two mouth-watering Amedeo Modigliani's (1884-1920), although his famously elongated figures are rarely as "film noir" as the handsome, rough, "Homme au chapeau," painted in 1915, who looks as if he has stepped out of a Dashiel Hammet novel. With his stylish hat rakishly angled, and jaw firmly set, the only thing missing is a cigar. The somber tones exaggerate the "gangsta" mood of this painting, without the customary piercing blue eyes to relieve the tension. Modigliani was notoriously non-conformist and hedonistic, tailor-made for life in Paris. There are faint echoes of Cézanne in the angularity of the portrait, who influenced many artists active in Paris at the turn of the 20th century. It has an estimate of 2.7 to 3.4 million pounds. It sold for $7,726,000.

"Jeune Fille au beret" by Modigliani

"Jeune Fille au béret," by Amedeo Modigliani, oil on canvas, 25 3/4 by 18 1/4 inches, 1918

Almost the polar opposite of the rakish "homme" is Modigliani's winsome young girl, "La Fillette au béret," painted in 1918, which captures the innocence and purity of childhood. Those signature Modigliani piercing blue eyes have the magnetic quality associated with his most famous faces, and this one is a real stunner. It is curious that such a hedonist was able to capture the emotions of childhood so accurately, but then there is something of the child in every artist. The pre-sale estimate for this lively portrait is $5.9 to $7.8 million. It sold for $11,899,348.

"La Leçon" by Renoir

"La leçon," by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, oil On canvas, 25 5/8 x 33 1/2 inches, circa 1906

Family and children, flowers and nudes are synonomous with Pierre-Auguste Renoir, (1841-1914), and "La leçon," (Bielle, l'institutrice et Claude Renoir lisant), above, shows the teacher and two children reading, one supposedly Claude Renoir, or Coco, the third son of the artist who was born in 1901. Renoir's famously soft, sensuous brushwork transforms a mundane activity into a far more idealized moment than it probably was for the child. Bielle oozes patience, but it is questionable if young Claude was focused on the task at hand, while Renoir's brush rustled quietly on canvas. There never has been brushwork quite like this, heavily influenced by painting flowers and leaves on porcelain at the Limoges factory, where Renoir worked as a young boy. Those days were far behind him in this quiet scene of domestic bliss. Like Bonnard, Renoir had great reverence for family life. The pre-sale estimate for this pleasant work is $4.9 to $6.8 million.

"Compotier et Guitar" by Picasso

"Compotier et Guitar," by Pablo Picasso, oil on panel, 38 1/8 by 51 1/8 inches, 1927-9

"Compotier et Guitar" was painted in 1927-29, early in Picasso's long and prolific career, (1881-1973), and it is bursting with energy and confidence. This painting is a sophisticated hybrid, fusing order with the informality of Cubism. There are strong overtones of Léger's Purism, and more than a hint of Braque, with whom Picasso collaborated and had a close working relationship for many years, until Picasso branched off more emphatically into Cubism. This giant of twentieth century art was a self-proclaimed plagarist, borrowing from whoever or whatever caught his imagination, yielding superb compositions like this. The pre-sale estimate is $2.2 to 3.1 million. It sold for $5,969,284.

"Nature morte" by Picasso

"Nature Morte," by Pablo Picasso, oil on canvas, 15 by 24 1/8 inches, 1937

A stunning nocturnal still life, "Nature Morte," by Pablo Picasso has quite a history, in addition to being a wonderful work of art in its own right. It was painted on April 25, 1937, the day before the planes of the German Condor Legion bombed the Basque town of Guernica. This was immotalized in one of Picasso's most famous anti-war paintings "Guernica," and it gives some idea of the artist's feelings about the totalitarian regime that he would not allow the painting to be exibited in a Fascist ruled Spain. When the country finally attainted democracy and became a free Republic, "Guernica" returned home. Sadly, this was after Picasso's death. The pre-sale estimate for "Nature Morte" is $4 to 5.9 million, and it should go for more. Another important Picasso offered at the sale is ""Femme Dans Un Rocking-Chair," painted in 1956, reminiscent of the cut-outs of Henri Matisse, who died only two years earlier. It sold for $4,871,124. Complimenting a prime selection of Picasso's is "Mousquetaire assis," painted in Mougins in April 1967.

A fine cut-out work by Henri Matisse (1869-1954) sold for $4,431,860 and a nice landscape by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) sold for $3,992,596. New auction records were set for Giorgio Morandi, August Macke, Christian Schad, and Henrich Maria Davringhausen. The top lot of the auction was "Les Maisons dans les arbes" by Fernand Léger (1881-1955), which sold for $12,300,000. Jussi Pylkkaenen, president of Christie's Europe and international director of the Impressionist and Modern Art Department and the auctioneer for the sale, said that the sale realized $175,870,324, "the highest total for an Impressionist and Modern Art sale ever at Christie's in Europe," adding that 46 lots sold for over $1 million. "European buying," he continued, "continues to dominate with 9 out of 10 of the leading works selling to European clients who represented 71.5 percent of the buyers."

"Strawberries" by Freud

"Strawberries," by Lucian Freud, oil on Copper, 4 by 4 1/2 inches, circa 1950

Lucien Freud is full of surprises. Who would have thought that the world's most eminent figurative painter, (mainly of nudes drained of emotion, often with pets or objects), including a news making portrait of the Queen, (extremely respectable of course), a lounging nude of super-model Kate Moss, and a series of extraordinary, unsettling portraits that echo the psychological preoccupations of his famous grandfather, Sigmund Freud, could have changed lanes and painted this diminutive and tender still life? Humans are set aside, momentarily, for the simple strawberry. The choice of subject is as unexpected - for Freud - as it is refreshing, recalling the wonderful artist Albrecht Durer, and his penchant for portraying the grandiose, the humble, and the disturbing. The miniscule oil on copper was painted circa 1950 and has an estimate of $240,000 to $340,000.

The sampling on view in New York was impressive, especially "Nature Morte" by Picasso, far more moving in the "flesh" than any reproduction could possibly convey. The mythic pope imprisoned in his robes by Bacon is hauntingly beautiful, if sad: power extracts its pound of flesh, and the artist has captured this to perfection.

"Untitled," (Black, Red, Black on Brown)," by Mark Rothko, painted in 1968 is typically moody and gorgeous:

"I am interested in expressing only basic human emotions - tragedy, ecstacy, doom - and if you are moved only by their color relationships then you miss the point," said the artist.

An oil on paper laid downon canvas, it measures 32 1/4 by 25 1/8 inches and was painted in 1968. It is part of the Tettamanti Collection and has an estimate of $2 to $2.9 million.

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