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Sotheby's Sale of Swiss Art on May 27 to Inaugurate New Auction Room in Zurich
Ferdinand Holder, Lake Geneva with Jura, 1909. Photo: Courtesy of Sotheby's.

GENEVA.- Sotheby's forthcoming auction of Swiss art will be held at 83 Talstrasse, Zurich, on Tuesday, 27 May 2008 at 6 pm, the first auction to take place on these new premises. 154 works of the 19th and 20th centuries with an estimated value of CHF 19-27 million (€ 11.6 – 16.9 million) will be offered at auction. This is the largest sale of Swiss paintings that Sotheby’s has ever organized in Zurich. Urs Lanter, who is in charge of the event, is most enthusiastic: “We are delighted to hold this auction of masterpieces by the major Swiss artists such as Ferdinand Hodler, Félix Vallotton, Giovanni Giacometti, Albert Anker, Ernest Biéler, Alice Bailly, Augusto Giacometti, Albert Müller and Robert Zünd in our new premises. This year’s spring sale, with which we will be inaugurating the new rooms, is sure to be warmly welcomed by art lovers and collectors of Swiss art.”

One of the most important representatives of Swiss art, Giovanni Giacometti (1868-1933) began his career in Munich, where he studied at the Kunstgewerbeschule, before attending the Académie Julian in Paris in 1888. Five years later, shortly before his return to Switzerland, he spent a few months in Italy. The display of his work at the Paris World Fair in 1900 brought Giacometti international acclaim. He then participated in numerous exhibitions such as the Venice Biennale, and in 1929 the Zurich Kunsthaus paid homage to him with a retrospective of his work celebrating his by now proven talent.

After his return to Switzerland around 1893, Giacometti made the acquaintance of Giovanni Segantini, who opened his eyes to the beauty of the mountain landscape. Among the magnificent Swiss paintings on sale by this artist is Blick über Capolago auf den Silsersee (estimate: CHF 1.5-2.5 million / € 900,000-1,500,000). Dating from 1927, this painting with its strong contrasts of the dark tones of a majestic mountain and the brightness of the flowered meadows is doubtless one of the highlights of the auction.

In Winter bei St. Moritz (estimate: CHF 1.4 - 1.8 million / € 850,000-1,000,000)Giacometti once again chose a mountain theme, this time featuring a snowcovered landscape. This canvas painted in 1916 offers further evidence of the artist’s ability to catch the light and play with it to captivate his public. He achieves a similar effect with Winterlandschaft bei Capolago (estimate: CHF 700,000-900,000 / € 425,000-545,000), a snow scene dating from 1930, with its bright blues set against the radiant whiteness of the snow.

A similar fascination with nature and mountain landscapes is to be found in the work of Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918). Genfersee mit Jura, 1909 (estimate: CHF 4-6 / € 2.4-3.6 million) features water and the mountains, two of Hodler’s favourites themes. This painting looking north on the shore of Lake Geneva is one of a series of thirteen oils the artist completed between 1908 and 1911. Composed of a succession of horizontal lines representing the lake shore, the mountains and the sky, intersected by the vertical lines of the clouds, it exemplifies the famous “parallelism principle” Hodler developed.

The subject of Ferdinand Hodler’s very fine oil painting, Bildnis Clara Pasche-Battié (estimate: CHF 500,000-600,000 / € 300,000-360,000) may come as a surprise. But looking at this portrait one gets a sense of the underlying emotion there. Only the vivid background colour or perhaps Clara’s hand on her breast might betray a moment of tension in the serenity of this picture, reflected in the tranquil face of the model.

Other works by this artist in the sale are Strasse von St. Georges, in which the regular geometry of a sunlit road is broken by a tree (estimate: CHF 500,000-800,000 / € 300,000-480,000), and the oil on canvas Lac de Joux, painted in 1876, which demonstrates Hodler’s early interest in lakes and the infinite variations of nature’s reflections in the water (estimate: CHF 200,000-300,000 / € 120,000-180,000).

Like many Swiss artists of the 20th century, Félix Vallotton (1865-1925) honed his artistic talent in Paris. As a student of the Académie Julian he regularly visited the Louvre where he took in the work of great masters such as Leonardo da Vinci, Dürer and Antonello da Messina. Joining the “Nabis” group in 1892 he made the first of his woodcuts that were to make him famous the same year. Although he resided in Paris after 1900, he maintained regular contact with Switzerland and more particularly with Lausanne, his birthplace.

With Famille d’arbres, 1922 Vallotton was at the acme of his art (estimate: CHF 800,000-1,200,000 / € 480,000-720,000). Here the artist succeeds in portraying the emotion he feels before this Normandy landscape and its majestic trees, harking back to his earlier interpretations of decorative elements inspired by Japanese prints, but with an additional dimension, the diagonal structure of the foreground elements and their strong perspective. An earlier work, Les blés (estimate: CHF 300,000-500,000 / € 180,000-300,000), will also be put up for sale. This picture was painted in the late summer of 1900, while Vallotton was sojourning at the Château de la Naz in Romanel-sur-Lausanne. Most of the works created during his stay there mark a new phase in the artist’s career. Following a period during which he concentrated mainly on people, their emotions and all the incidents of daily life, he here comes back to portrayal of the landscape. But this is by no means a mere return to nature, but a new approach to the genre along the lines of the “Nabis” principles. Thus this landscape is more than a traditional representation of nature, but a true decorative work.

Cuno Amiet (1868-1961), a great admirer of Van Gogh, is best known for his love of colour and his bold, rapid brush strokes. From 1908 on he regularly followed his famous Dutch mentor’s technique. Blumenstillleben, painted in 1905, may be seen as something of a prelude to this period. In this flower composition Amiet plays with contrasts, putting vivid colours against a dark background to achieve a rich, harmonious whole. The work reproduced on the right is estimated at CHF 400,000-600,000 (€ 240,000-360,000). A further work by this artist on sale is Bildnis Emilie Amiet-Baer, one of a series of family portraits painted in 1894. This very fine portrait of the artist’s mother-in-law is valued at CHF 200,000-300,000 (€ 120,000-180,000).

The artistic universe of Albert Anker (1831-1910) was the country village, of which the little moments of everyday life were considered worthy of portrayal. Among his paintings in the sale are Junge Mutter, bei Kerzenlicht ihr schlafendes Kind betrachtend (1875), showing a mother looking down on her sleeping child(estimate:CHF 400,000-600,000 / € 240,000-360,000) and Die Kartenlegerin,
painted in 1880 (est.: CHF 800,000-1,200,000 /€ 480,000-720,000), which depicts a scene common in the 19th century, in which two young girls are standing next to an old lady in a red headscarf pointing to a card with her right hand. These characters’ faces are bathed in a warm light, while the dark interior is redolent of the artist’s earlier work.

Among the works of Robert Zünd (1827-1909) presented at the auction will be Haus zwischen Nussbäumen (Schellenmatt), a beautiful sun-filled country scene with an estimated value of CHF 300,000-500,000 (€ 180,000-300,000). The composition of this picture with a man, mighty walnut trees, and a farm in the background typifies Zünd’s amazing ability to capture a mood and reproduce it.

Alice Bailly (1872-1938) was an artist of boundless fantasy, one of the rare Swiss women artists who belonged to the International Avant-Garde. She is represented at this auction by Caprice des belles, an oil on canvas dating from 1918 (estimate: CHF 200,000- 300,000 / € 120,000-180,000), where once again she takes us into a colourful world of fairies with a light, playful atmosphere evoked by its repeated curved forms.

Following on from the successful auctioning of a private collection of 37 works by Ernest Biéler (1863-1948) in November 2007, Sotheby’s is particularly gratified to offer five further paintings by this artist in the coming auction in May. They include a gouache and pencil on paper, Deux jeunes valaisannes, painted in 1923 (est.: CHF 280,000-350,000 / € 170,000-210,000), representing two young women of the Valais at their domestic chores, a sensitive interior which stands as one of Biéler’s finest works.

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