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Brancusi masterpiece to lead $35 million private collection at Christie's New York
Constantin Brancusi, Une muse. Plaster. Height: 18 in. (45.7 cm.). Executed in 1912. Estimate: $10,000,000-15,000,000. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2012.

NEW YORK, NY.- In keeping with increasing collector demand for exceptional examples of modernist sculpture, Christie’s New York is pleased to announce its Evening Sale of Impressionist and Modern Art on November 7 will feature Constantin Brancusi’s Une Muse --- a pivotal work in plaster that was among the first sculptures by the artist ever exhibited for American audiences. Executed in 1912, Brancusi’s delicate, stylized rendering of a woman’s head drew widespread accolades from collectors and the press when it debuted at the inaugural Armory Show of 1913 in New York. Armory Show co-founder Walt Kuhn was so enamored with Une Muse that he purchased it for his own personal collection, keeping this sculpture as well as a second version in plaster for the rest of his life.

Estimated at US$10-15 million, Une Muse is among the highlights of an exceptional private collection of Modernist works that forms the core of the Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale this season and features important sculptures by Alberto Giacometti, Henry Moore and Jacques Lipschitz and paintings by Lyonel Feininger, Emil Nolde, and Marc Chagall, among others. Acquired in the 1980’s with a careful eye and attention to detail, the many important works featured in the sale have not been seen in public in over 25 years. With 16 works in total, the collection is expected to achieve in excess of $35 million.

As part of its international tour of highlights leading up to the November 7 auction in New York, Christie’s has recreated Brancusi’s Muse as a hologram – an innovative approach that allows collectors in Hong Kong to experience the work in three dimensions, while the plaster original stays in New York.

The ghostly visage of Brancusi’s muse was inspired by Baroness Renée-Irana Frachon, who served as the model for the artist’s earlier work, La Muse Endormie of 1909-10. Over the following three years, Brancusi continued to refine the ovoid figure, reaching for new levels of sculptural complexity and stylization while moving steadily toward the abstracted egg-like form that would become the central theme of his work. With its upright pose, elegantly curving neck and expressive features, Une Muse captures a critical moment in the artist’s creative evolution and has been widely heralded as a pivotal composition in Brancusi’s mature career.

Since its first great success at the Armory Show of 1913, Une Muse went on to feature in Brancusi’s first-ever museum exhibition, a 1955 retrospective at the Guggenheim that definitively established the then-88 year old sculptor as a monumental figure in Modern Art. The plaster entered the collection of the Guggenheim Museum in 1955 as a gift from Walt Kuhn’s widow, and was featured in multiple exhibitions in the years following, including a 1976 retrospective devoted to Brancusi’s body of work. Une Muse was last exhibited publicly in 1986, when it was acquired by the present owner at auction at Christie’s New York.

In addition to Brancusi’s Muse, the collection features a trio of important works by Giacometti, Chagall, and Feininger, all estimated at $6-8 million.

Tête sur tige (Head on a rod) stands as one of the most haunting and deeply expressive works of Giacometti’s mature career. With the head thrown back and mouth open as if screaming, this life-sized figure of a human skull impaled on a rod appears alarmingly alive, as though captured precisely in the agonizing moment between life and death. This unsettling premise had both fascinated and preoccupied Giacometti for some time, and in the years following the Liberation, he returned to Paris to begin producing the stylized human figures that would become his signature works. Tête sur tige was conceived in 1947 and first displayed in its original plaster version at Giacometti’s landmark solo exhibition at Pierre Matisse’s gallery in New York. The bronze version offered in the upcoming sale is among the first casts of the work, made in 1952.

By 1928, the year Feininger painted Der Raddampfer III (Side Wheeler III), he was widely recognized as one of Germany’s most important modern artists. Having mastered the tenets of Futurism and Cubism earlier in his career, he applied his deepening sophistication and nuanced skill to creating a powerful, large-scale depiction of a paddle-wheel steamship foundering on a stormy sea. As the third work in a series of three paintings done over 15 years, Side Wheeler IIII became Feininger's final statement on the theme of nature's immense power.

Nature Morte of 1910-14 was painted during Chagall’s heady first years in Paris after leaving his home in Vitebsk, Russia at the age of 20. Already an accomplished artist, the young Chagall reveled in the rich array of artistic influences he found in Paris. Working feverishly to assimilate everything he had seen, Chagall began in 1912 to develop an impressive body of work that would catapult him to instant fame in the art world. Nature Morte — a rare conventional still life for Chagall — reveals the influence of several masters and movements at once, including Chardin, in the work’s spare and meticulously arranged composition, Van Gogh and the Fauves in its ecstatic color choices, and Picasso and the Cubists in its use of free “passages” through which the colors of objects and background flow into one another.

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October 7, 2012

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