On June 22, 2010, in its evening sale of Impressionist and Modern Art in London, Sothebys
will offer a masterpiece by the father and a key figure of Impressionism, Edouard Manet: Self-Portrait with a Palette, estimated at £2030 million*. Charles Moffett, Sothebys Executive Vice President and co-curator of the 1983 landmark Manet exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, describes the painting as not only the greatest Manet portrait in private hands, but also one of the very greatest self-portraits in the entire canon of art history. Painted circa 1878, at a point when Manet was enjoying unprecedented critical acclaim, this extraordinary work brings together all the qualities subtle reference to the Old Masters combined with an audacious, modern handling of paint and immediacy that mark him out as one of the greatest, and most influential, painters not only of his day but of all time.
Melanie Clore, Co-Chairman, Sothebys Impressionist and Modern Art Department worldwide, said: At a time when there is such enormous demand for museum quality paintings by the Impressionist masters, it is exciting to be able to bring this extremely rare painting to auction. The importance of this masterpiece is confirmed by its illustrious roster of previous owners, who include Auguste Pellerin, Jacob Goldschmidt and John Loeb.
Manets significance in the development of Modern art cannot be overstated. Rooted in the traditions of the Old Masters, and himself emerging from the school of Realism that dominated French art of the late 20th century, he nonetheless broke with convention in such a way as to cause outrage among many of the leading the critics of the time, garnering along the way unbounded admiration from his younger peers. Rejected by the conservative Salon des Artistes Français, his celebrated Déjeuner sur lherbe of 1862-3 was subsequently exhibited at the first ever Salon des Refusés. Almost instantaneously, Manet well-heeled, highly polished and elegant became the hero of the avant garde, a rebel in a top hat. His virtuoso talent, and his effortless ability to stand tradition on its head with the politest of brushstrokes, earned him the position of mentor to an entire generation of artists, Monet and Renoir among them.
Important works by Manet seldom appear on the market, and self-portraits are even rarer. Self-Portrait with a Palette (Portrait de Manet par lui-même, en buste (Manet à la palette) is in fact one of just two self-portraits by the artist, and the only one in private hands, the other being in the Bridgestone Museum of Art, Tokyo.
Of the many types of subject matter in any one artists oeuvre, it is often the self portrait that is the most revealing. From Rembrandt to Picasso and Bacon, the self-portrait has been one of the greatest keys to understanding the artist and their art. This particular self-portrait a searching analysis of Manet the artist and the man ranks as one of the finest examples of its type. The freedom of the brushstrokes and the almost tangible sense of movement combine to make for a feeling of immediacy and modernity. Meanwhile, the rich brown background and subtle contrasts of colour look back to the work of Velasquez and Rembrandt.
A series of illustrious collectors have been quick to recognize the importance of this exceptional work. In the early 20th century, the painting was owned by Auguste Pellerin (1852-1929), one of the most voracious and discriminating collectors of the early 1900s. Alongside works by Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley, Degas, Monet and Cézanne, Pellerin owned no fewer than fifty paintings and pastels by Manet. Among them were Le déjeuner dans latelier of 1868 (now at the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen in Munich), La Serveuse de Bocks of 1879 (Musée dOrsay), and the iconic Le Bar aux Folies-Bergères of 1881-82 (Courtauld Institute Galleries, London).
From Pellerin, Self-Portrait with a Palette passed to the Marquise de Ganay, and thence to Jakob Goldschmidt, whose treasures were auctioned at Sothebys in the historic and recordbreaking sale of 1958 which ushered in a new era for Impressionist art at auction. There the painting was acquired by John Loeb (1902 - 1996), a leading figure on Wall Street as well as a prominent philanthropist and major collector. The Loeb collection, offered at auction in 1997, included important works by Cézanne, Degas, Matisse, Monet and Gauguin; one of the highlights of the sale, Manets Self-Portrait realised $18,701,000.