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Picasso Portraits and Rare Works by Ernst, Giacometti, and Jawlensky Highlight Christie's Sale
Max Ernst (1891-1976), Malédiction à vous les mamans, oil on canvas, 51¼ x 63¾ in. (139 x 162 cm.) Painted in 1928 estimate: $7-9 million). Photo: Christie's Images Ltd. 2009.

NEW YORK, NY.- Christie’s announced details of its Evening Sale of Impressionist and Modern Art on May 6, 2009. Comprised of 50 works from the great masters of the era, the sale presents a unique opportunity to collect rare and important works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Alberto Giacometti, Joan Miró, Max Ernst, Tamara de Lempicka, Henry Moore, Alexej von Jawlensky, and Egon Schiele, among others. The sale is expected to realize in excess of $94 million.

At well over a meter in height and length, Max Ernst’s monumental Malédiction à vous les mamans from 1928 (estimate: $7-9 million) is a striking cerulean blue canvas from a European collection. Acquired by the present owner circa 1974, it has never before appeared at auction.

Malédiction à vous les mamans evolved from a series of paintings devoted to Ernst’s Dadaist subversion of traditional Madonna-and-child depictions. “Being a man of ‘ordinary constitution’ (to use Rimbaud’s term), I have done everything to make my soul monstrous”, Ernst wrote in his 1937 text Beyond Painting. Here, the loving image of a mother and son is replaced by strange half-bird, halfhuman figures locked in a contentious embrace. A younger man looks on and flexes his limbs in a menacing pose, as if ready to join the fray. To heighten the drama of the scene, Ernst removed nearly all indications of a pictorial setting so that his group of figures appears to float untethered against a sea of vivid blue. This entirely modern pictorial device is remarkable for its similarity to the signature style adopted by the Irish-born painter Francis Bacon half a century later. In February 2008, Christie’s London set the world auction record for an Ernst painting with the sale of La conversion du feu from 1937 for $2.38 million.

Late Picasso Portraits
Among the top works at this season’s Evening Sale are a pair of important late Picasso portraits, one male and one female, and both bearing more than a passing resemblance to the artist himself. Mousquetaire à la pipe from October 1968 (estimate: $12-18 million) is a vivid, full-length image of the artist in one of his favorite guises: the brave and adventurous musketeer with long, wavy hair, clad in doublets and ruffled collars. Equally vivid in palette is Femme au chapeau from August 1971 (estimate: $8-12 million), an iconic portrait hand-selected by Picasso for inclusion in his second solo exhibition at the Palais des Papes in Avignon, France. Since 1989, Femme au chapeau has been a centerpiece of the private collection of the artist and Oscar-nominated film director Julian Schnabel. As Schnabel noted of the portrait, “The painting can be read as a self-portrait as well as a portrait of a woman. Picasso painted his own image into the head.”

Jazz Age Icons
The distinctive style of Tamara de Lempicka fuses elements of French Cubism, Purism, Neo-Classicism, and Italian Mannerist techniques into a cool and urbane vision of physical beauty that has become synonymous with the Jazz Age. This season, Christie’s offers two exceptional portraits, La Chemise Rose I from circa 1927 (estimate: $1.3-1.8 million) and the seductive Portrait de Madame M. from 1932 (estimate: $6-8 million). As one of the last of the large portraits Lempicka completed on a commission basis, Portrait de Madame M. is an exquisite swan song. Lempicka executes with relish the folds in her subject’s dress and the decorative floral clusters of drapery in the background, achieving a baroque effect that recalls Bernini’s great masterpieces. Christie’s achieved the current world auction record of $4.59 million for a Lempicka work in May 2004 with the sale of Portrait de Mrs. Bush from 1929.

Distinguished Private Collections
A trio of exceptional works by Henri Matisse, Alberto Giacometti, and Joan Miró are drawn from the private collection of the late Caral Gimbel Lebworth, a prominent New York philanthropist and arts patron. Giacometti’s Buste de Diego (Stele III), a rare full-size bronze bust balanced on a tall, narrow plinth (estimate: $4.5-6.5 million) is fresh to the market, having been acquired by the Gimbel family in 1959, the year after it was cast. Two more pivotal works from the collection are Matisse’s Nu à la serviette blanche (estimate: $2-3 million), an early figure painting that hints at Fauvist innovations to come; and Joan Miró’s Maquette pour Personnage, 1971 (estimate: $300,000-400,000), a unique study for a monumental 11-foot wide sculpture completed the following year.

An exceedingly rare full-length nude entitled Odalyske by the Russian-born painter Alexej von Jawlensky (estimate: $4-6.5 million) is a highlight from the collection of Evelyn Annenberg Jaffe Hall. Only a handful of nudes by Jawlensky are extant, and none are of a comparable scale and accomplishment as Odalyske. The painting has been in private hands since 1958, when it was acquired by the late collector. Other highlights from the family collection include Camille Pissaro’s La cueilette des pommes from 1881 (estimate: $1.4-1.8 million); Picasso’s Arlequin (estimate: $600,000-800,000), a watercolor study from circa 1915 for the large oil painting of the same name; and Henri Edmond Cross’ Paysage avec le cap negre (estimate: $700,000-900,000), a pointillist landscape from 1906. From the estate of Joan S. Ben-Avi comes Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s Madame Misia Natanson from 1897 (estimate: $2-3 million), an idyllic portrait rendered in loose exuberant brushwork that has been in the family collection since 1954.

From the Serge and Vally Sabarsky Collection, the Evening Sale presents three works on paper by Egon Schiele that were most recently exhibited at New York’s Neue Galerie. Seher from 1913 is a double self-portrait in gouache, watercolor and pencil with the added visage of the artist’s girlfriend Walli Neuzil (estimate: $800,000-1,200,000); Wieblicher torso in unterwäsche und schwarzen strümpfen from 1917 is one in a series of studies of a young red-headed model (estimate: $500,000-700,000); and Liegende from 1918 is a reclining figure drawn with great economy of line in black crayon on paper (estimate: $200,000-300,000).

Sculpture Highlights
Like Giacometti's Buste de Diego (Stele III), Henry Moore's five-foot long bronze Falling Warrior (estimate: $2.5-3.5 million) boasts a pristine provenance, having been acquired direct from the artist soon after casting was completed in 1957 and maintained in an important European collection. Other casts of Falling Warrior are in institutional collections, including the Tate, London and the Art Institute of Chicago. Among the additional sculptural highlights is a charming bronze portrayal of two deer with a fawn by Rembrandt Bugatti (estimate: $350,000-450,000), one of only three recorded copies cast between 1911 and 1937. Two bronzes by Jacques Lipchitz, both cast in the artist's lifetime, assimilate cubist principles learned directly from Picasso and Juan Gris into three-dimensional form. Arlequin à l’accordéon (estimate: $700,000-900,000) is the inaugural sculpture of one of Lipchitz’s most masterful series of cubist figures; an earlier work, Baigneuse assise (estimate: $500,000-700,000) marked a new phase of free-standing cubist sculptures that would occupy Lipchitz from 1916 to the early 1920’s.

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