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Sotheby's To Sell Important Cézanne Watercolor
Paul Cézanne, Nature morte au melon vert, 1902-06, est. $14/18 million. Image courtesy of Sotheby's.

NEW YORK.- On May 8, 2007 Sotheby’s New York will have the privilege of offering for sale the most important watercolor by Paul Cézanne remaining in private hands, Nature morte au melon vert. Executed in 1902-06, this exquisite masterwork is being sold by the world’s premier connoisseur of Chinese Art, Giuseppe Eskenazi, who has kept it in his private collection for nearly two decades. This is the third time that Sotheby’s has had the honour of offering this work for sale – first, in the legendary sale of The Robert von Hirsch Collection in 1978, one of the greatest collections to be sold by Sotheby’s since World War II, and second, in the sale of The British Rail Pension Fund in 1989, the finest collection to be sold in Europe in the 1980s at the pinnacle of the art market. Mr. Eskenazi purchased the work at the 1989 sale for a record price for a watercolour by the artist (£2,530,000; $4,301,990); a record that still stands today. It is estimated to sell for $14/18 million. Also being offered by Mr. Eskenazi are three other watercolours by Cézanne depicting classic scenes of the artist’s beloved Provence. All four works will be on view at Sotheby’s London from April 17 to 20, 2007 and in New York from May 3 to 7, 2007, prior to their sale on the evening of May 8, 2007.

David Norman, a Chairman of Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art Department Worldwide said, “Not since this stunning work appeared on the market in 1989 in the historic British Rail Pension Fund sale has a watercolour by Cézanne of this quality and importance appeared at auction. It has changed hands very few times in its hundred year history, yet among its previous owners were Ambroise Vollard, the artist’s first dealer and greatest proponent; the legendary collector Robert von Hirsch and Giuseppe Eskenazi, a man renowned for his discerning eye and impeccable taste. Nature morte au melon vert appears on the market in remarkably fresh condition – the saturation of colour and luminosity is virtually undiminished since its execution.”

Mr. Eskenazi commented, “This work has given me enormous pleasure over the past 18 years and I feel the time has now come to give other collectors the chance to enjoy and appreciate it as much as I have.”

Nature morte au melon vert is the finest watercolour by Paul Cézanne remaining in private hands and a pristine example of one of the artist’s most iconic genres, the still life. Executed from 1902-06, the present work demonstrates the extraordinary audacity of style and the confidence and assured quality of the artist’s technique that characterized his late years. Having fully established his unique style, after 1900 Cézanne achieved a freedom of execution and expression beautifully exemplified in the present work. Here, he delineated the contours of his objects with blue pigment, and saturated the sheet with green, red and yellow watercolours, to such an extent that the work achieves the freshness and vibrancy of an oil painting. Cézanne has achieved a dynamic composition by juxtaposing objects of different shapes and sizes, and by contrasting the emphasized linearity of the contours and the looser, free brushwork with which the objects are coloured in. Cézanne’s still-lifes have long been recognized as being among his greatest achievements, the works which demonstrate most clearly the innovations that led to the stylistic developments of early 20th century art. Both art historians and artists have argued that Cézanne reached the very pinnacle of his genius within the discipline of the still-life, as this genre allowed him the greatest time in which to capture his subject.

Three other watercolours by Cézanne will also be offered from Mr. Eskenazi’s collection. Each represents a key image in the artist’s oeuvre focused on his beloved Provence, and has remained in Mr. Eskenazi’s private collection for nearly 25 years. Rochers près des grottes au-dessus de Château Noir, from 1895-1900, belongs to a series of watercolours depicting the rock formations adjacent to the caves above the Château Noir, in the vicinity of the Mont Sainte-Victoire (est. $2/3 million). Dating from the last decade of Cézanne’s career, Amandier en Provence demonstrates his command of the medium of watercolour and his delight in depicting the scenery of his native Provence (est. $1.4/1.8 million). One of Cézanne’s most celebrated images, that of the Sainte-Victoire hill near his native Aix-en-Provence, is also represented. La Montagne Sainte-Victoire, executed in 1900-02, depicts Mont Sainte-Victoire from the west, showing the same view as another watercolour version of this subject, now in the collection of the Musée du Louvre in Paris (est. $1.2/1.6 million).

Mr. Norman concluded, “Individually, each work is an extraordinary example of the artist’s mastery in this medium. Collectively, the four watercolours constitute one of the single greatest holdings in private hands and represent a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for collectors.”

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