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Sotheby's Presents Highlights from Its Autumn Sales of Impressionist & Modern Art
People walk past "Homme et femme au bouquet" by Pablo Picasso during a preview of Sotheby's Impressionist & Modern Art auction in New York. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson.
NEW YORK, NY.- Sotheby’s autumn Evening Sale of Impressionist & Modern Art in New York on 2 November 2010 will present a superb offering of works across the period. From an early painting by Eugène Boudin from 1868 to a Pablo Picasso canvas from the 1970s, the sale features classic Impressionist paintings, key Modern works, tremendous sculpture and powerful German Expressionist canvases. Highlights will include important works by Modigliani, Matisse, Monet, Rodin and Picasso, among many others. Prior to the auction, works from both the Evening and Day Sales will be exhibited at Sotheby’s New York galleries beginning 29 October. Highlights will also be exhibited at Sotheby’s London from 11 –15 October.

The cover lot of the Evening Sale catalogue is Nu assis sur un divan (La Belle Romaine), the finest painting by Amedeo Modigliani to appear on the market in years (est. in excess of $40 million)*. The work belongs to the artist’s most important series of nudes, all painted in 1917. While Modigliani began painting nudes in 1908, it was not until he abandoned his pursuit of sculpture in 1914 that he developed the unique style exemplified by La Belle Romaine. Modigliani evokes a voluptuous sensuality through his palette of amber and crimson tones, the model’s pose and the intimate setting. The work and artist both have a distinguished history at Sotheby’s. La Belle Romaine last appeared on the market in 1999, when it sold at Sotheby’s New York for $16.8 million, a world record price for any work by Modigliani at the time. More recently, Sotheby’s set the current record for a painting by Modigliani in 2004 with our sale of Jeanne Hébuterne (devant une porte) for $31.4 million.

MASTERWORKS SOLD TO BENEFIT YOUNGARTS, THE CORE PROGRAM OF THE
NATIONAL FOUNDATION FOR ADVANCEMENT IN THE ARTS

Two highlights of the sale will be offered to support YoungArts, the core program of the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts (NFAA). Le Bassin aux Nymphéas is a spectacular canvas from Claude Monet's iconic water lilies series, a defining motif for the artist in the last thirty years of his life (est. $20/30 million). The canvas is one of the large-format works from this seminal series, completed in conjunction with his grand opus Les Grandes Décorations, now in the Orangerie in Paris. In these large-scale works Monet moved away from a realistic depiction of the pond by bringing the viewer closer to it, hovering above the shifting colors and tones of its reflective surface. Monet’s palette is more vibrant here than his earlier works of this subject and his handling is decidedly more fluid. Le Bassin was acquired by the Reader’s Digest Collection in 1956 and sold at Sotheby’s New York in 1998 for $9.9 million, where it was purchased by the present owner.

The second work sold to benefit YoungArts is Jeanne Hébuterne (au chapeau), one of the first portraits Amedeo Modigliani painted of his great love (est. $9/12 million). Jeanne Hébuterne was 19 when she met Modigliani while studying art at the Académie Colarossi in Paris. For the next three years until Modigliani’s death in 1920 and Jeanne’s tragic suicide the following day, she would be his constant companion, immortalized in a number of portraits that are among the most powerful compositions of the artist’s oeuvre. Jeanne Hébuterne (au chapeau) was completed during the first intense months of the couple’s relationship. The excitement that the artist must have felt is evident in his rendering. The surface texture appears to be almost jewel-encrusted, and Jeanne’s deep-blue eyes possess a mesmerizing quality.

THE GENIUS OF HENRI MATISSE
The Evening Sale boasts a group of works by Henri Matisse attesting his genius in different media. Deux Négresses is one of the most striking sculptures of Matisse’s oeuvre, and a beautiful example of the artist’s vision of the human figure in three dimensions (est. $8/10 million). This remarkable bronze from 1907-08 is the only sculpture by Matisse that includes multiple figures, presenting two almost identical female nudes interlocked and facing on another. Their unique embrace encourages the viewer to move around the piece and observe it in the round. It also raises the question as to whether we are looking at two different figures, or at one figure rendered from different angles, a subject that became critical to the emerging Cubist movement. The figures are based on a photograph of two Tuareg girls the artist found in a French ethnographic magazine, and the exaggerated anatomy of the nudes reveals a clear influence of African art.

Four paintings by Matisse are led by Danseuse dans le fauteuil, sol en damier. This visually-arresting canvas marked the beginning of a revolutionary campaign in Matisse's art in the fall of 1942, when he turned his focus more exclusively towards the essential components of form and color (est. $12/18 million). Matisse had moved into Hôtel Régina in Nice in October 1939, returning to the grand rooms which had become both the artist's home and studio in the south of France. Having largely turned his back on the outside world at the beginning of the war, Matisse concentrated almost exclusively on capturing in his painting the richly decorated interior of his rooms in the Hôtel Régina. In the present work, the background is a boldly geometric black-and-white pattern, with a two-dimensional quality that denies the composition any sense of depth or perspective. Matisse worked in this strong, vibrant style from the end of the 1930s, culminating in the great series of colorful and reductive paper cut-outs of the final years of his life. The offering of works by Matisse also includes a work on paper circa 1940, Robe en tulle noir, brodée or (est. $800,000/1.2 million), that demonstrates how Matisse explored the limits of tonal gradation by using an eraser to blend and lighten passages of his monochromatic medium. The drawing is thoughtfully executed, contrasting the geometric embroidery of the figure's dress with the curvilinear forms of the vase and floral stems.

CLASSIC IMPRESSIONISM
Le Saule is a beautiful example of his work at the height of the Impressionist movement (est. $4.5/6.5 million). The painting depicts a group of willow trees against a background of poplars along the Epte river in Giverny, the French town that inspired Monet with the most important and celebratory imagery of his late work. Le Saule is considered the final painting in a series of four springtime landscapes executed in 1885. These works capture the seasonal variations of light and atmosphere in a way that significantly informed the artist’s groundbreaking work of the 1890s, including his famed series of haystacks, the Rouen Cathedral, and poplar trees. The sale features other classic Impressionist pictures by Alfred Sisley, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, whose La Couseuse from 1875 was painted the year after the Impressionists made their official début in Paris (est. $5/7 million). The transfixing young woman in Renoir's oil of 1874 is believed to be Nini Lopez, a young model from Montmartre who posed for his famous masterpiece La Loge, now at The Courtauld Gallery in London.

EXPRESSIONIST POWER
The sale offers a strong selection of German Expressionist works, including paintings by August Macke and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, and featuring landscapes by Emil Nolde and Max Beckmann. Nolde’s Sunflowers, Evening II is an exuberant and emotive landscape with sunflowers painted in 1944 (est. $1.5/2.5 million). It is one of the few oil paintings that the artist completed in Germany during the war, as he had been prohibited from painting or exhibiting by the Nazi regime after 1940. His engagement with this particular subject matter reflects his interest in the work of Van Gogh and his iconic sunflowers. Max Beckmann’s North Sea I (Thunderstorm) is one of only five depictions of the North Sea that the artist painted in 1937, mostly from memory (est. $1.5/2 million). As one of the last oils that Beckmann completed before leaving Berlin for Amsterdam in 1937, this Expressionist thunderstorm may be interpreted as a metaphor for the trouble that loomed on the horizon in 1930s Europe. The work was executed with great speed, with a dramatic contrast between the dark, tormented expanse of the sea and the bright light in the distance. North Sea I (Thunderstorm) comes from the estate of Beckmann’s life long patron, the late Dr. Stephan Lackner.

MODERN SCULPTURE
Modern sculpture has been highly sought after in recent seasons. In addition to Matisse’s Deux Négresses, the November sale features a number of works by important artists including Auguste Rodin, Alberto Giacometti, Henry Moore, Jean Arp and Aristide Maillol. Originally intended for his monumental The Gates of Hell, Rodin’s Le Baiser portrays the ill-fated lovers Paolo and Francesca from Dante’s Inferno (est. $1/1.5 million). Giacometti’s Homme à Mi-Corps (Diego Assis) is a powerfully-modeled image of the artist’s brother Diego, one of a group of deeply personal works that were closely associated with the Existentialist movement during the tension-filled years of the Cold War (est. $2/3 million). While Henry Moore often rendered his iconic image of the reclining female in the nude, in Working Model for Reclining Figure: Angles he drapes his subject (est. $2/3 million). The dialogue between the soft folds of fabric and the strong, solid forms of the body lends the work great vitality.

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS
Pablo Picasso’s Homme et femme au bouquet was painted the day after the artist’s 89th birthday in 1970 (est. $6/8 million). The amorous couple was a dominant theme during the final years of Picasso's life, and the present work is a poignant manifestation of the subject, rendered with the unmistakable crimson and gold colors of the Spanish flag. The male figure, encircling the woman from behind with his arms, shares the same profile as his female companion, underscoring the physical melding of the two bodies into one unified form. As was the case for the artist's late compositions, the female figure is a reference to Picasso's wife Jacqueline, and the male figure to the artist himself. The present work was one of the paintings included in the 1973 exhibition of Picasso's art at the Papal Palace in Avignon. The exhibition made its debut after the artist's death that same year, and is considered the grand finale of Picasso's long and extraordinary career. Although Picasso's late period was greatly misunderstood by the public at the time, these pictures are now prized for their immensely expressive power and visual impact.

Georges Braque’s still-life from 1930, La Table grise, was executed in the midst of the Surrealist movement and epitomizes the 'transparent' aesthetic that would define the artist’s work for the next decade (est. $4/6 million). Elements of the composition overlap with varying degrees of transparency, creating an illusion of recession and depth. The dimensionality of the picture is further enhanced by Braque's inventive choice of media. He creates a rich topography across the surface of the canvas by mixing his oil paint with sand, adding sculptural texture throughout the composition. The canvas was exhibited at the Parisian gallery of Braque's dealer Paul Rosenberg not long after it was completed. It was later acquired by Nelson Rockefeller, the governor of New York State (1959-1973), Vice President of the United States (1974-1977) and president and trustee of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Rockefeller's extensive collection of mid-century Modern art included works by Picasso, Braque, Lipchitz, Matisse, and Miró, many of which were donated to MoMA.

*Estimates do not include buyer’s premium

Sotheby's | Sale of Impressionist & Modern Art | Modigliani | Matisse | Monet | Rodin |


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October 31, 2010

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