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Sotheby's previews highlights from impressionist & modern and contemporary art sales in Hong Kong
Gustav Klimt, Seeufer mit Birken (Lakeshore with Birches), 1901. Oil on canvas, 90 x 90 cm, est. £6-8 million / HK$74-98 million. Photo: Sotheby's.

HONG KONG.- Sotheby’s is exhibiting selected highlights of the London Sale Series of Impressionist & Modern and Contemporary Art at Grand Hyatt Hong Kong from 25 to 27 November (Friday to Sunday) 2011. The exhibition offers an early viewing of important highlights from the major London sales of Impressionist & Modern Art which take place on 8 and 9 February 2012, and the Contemporary Art auctions on 15 and 16 February 2012. Prominent works by Gustav Klimt, Pablo Picasso, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Delvaux, Francis Bacon and Gerhard Richter, among others, are featured.

Following Sotheby’s recent sale of Gustav Klimt’s Litzlberg am Attersee (Litzlberg on the Attersee) for the remarkable sum of US$40.4 / HK$315 million (est. in excess of US$25 / HK$195 million) in the November Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale in New York, a major highlight of the London Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale on 8 February 2012 is Gustav Klimt’s recently rediscovered masterpiece of 1901, Seeufer mit Birken (Lakeshore with Birches). The painting (illustrated above) has not been seen in public for over a century and is estimated to fetch £6-8 million / HK$74-98 million*. Coming to auction in the year of the 150th birthday of the painter, it is a work of haunting beauty and innovative format that stands at the very axis of Klimt’s modernism.

First acquired in 1902 from an exhibition in Dusseldorf by distinguished collectors Richard and Klara Koenigs-Bunge, Seeufer mit Birken was given to their daughter Martha Koenigs in 1903 on the occasion of her marriage and has remained in the same family for over a century. When the descendants sought authentication of the painting this year, it became clear that the present work was unknown to scholars – it had not been included in the Gustav Klimt catalogue raisonné of 2007. Alfred Weidinger, Vice Director of the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, and author of the catalogue raisonné remarked that “its discovery is a sensation”. Research established that in 1901 Klimt had written to Marie Zimmermann that he was working on a series of landscapes including one of a group of trees in a sun-lit field beside a lake. In addition to an infrared scan that uncovered a preparatory sketch on the canvas, which is characteristic of the artist, an original photograph of the painting taken at the celebrated XIII Vienna Secession Exhibition of 1902 shows the present work hanging alongside other works by the artist.

Executed whilst Klimt was on holiday on the Attersee in the Viennese countryside, where the artist would escape to from the city every summer from 1899, the present work depicts the shoreline of a lake, the glittering body of water rippling jewelled waves into the shore. Two lithe birch trees intersect the right-hand side and set the rhythm for the rest of this wonderfully balanced composition.

A further work to be exhibited in Hong Kong is one of Paul Delvaux’s finest paintings, his haunting evocation of a farewell, Les Adieux (est. £700,000-£900,000 /HK$9-11 million). The moonlit beauty standing at a window, gesturing a lingering goodbye, captures the surreal atmosphere of this painting, and a wealth of imagery displayed with painterly prowess charges the viewer’s imagination. The painting captures essential Surrealist motifs, such as the drawn curtain on the boardwalk which recalls the work of René Magritte, as well as Renaissance evocations in the treatment of the serene, nude female subject.

Alexej von Jawlensky’s highly charged Heilandgesicht: Märtyrer (est. £350,000-450,000 / HK$4-6 million) is undoubtedly one of his most accomplished canvases from this series. The mystical spirit of the image is enhanced by luminous colours and a finely tuned composition. Jawlensky’s relentless pursuit of his artistic ideals through the series marked him out as uniquely gifted artist working towards a truly modern vision of art.

Buste d’Homme (est. £500,000-700,000 / HK$6-9 million) was exhibited by Pablo Picasso at the famous exhibition held in the Palais de Papes in Avignon in 1970. This witty and inventive work has as its subject one of Picasso’s definitive themes, the Musketeer, a figure of revelry and humour in which Picasso infused his own more light-hearted traits.

Appearing at auction for the first time, Les Coteaux de la Celle-Sous-Moret, vus de Saint-Mammes (est. £600,000-800,000 / HK$7-10 million) is one of Alfred Sisley’s most charming river scenes. These works were the embodiment of his aesthetic ideals, combining technical verve with a sensitivity to the countryside outside Paris and the effects of light upon it. In this painting, executed in 1884, the intensity of Sisley’s brushwork suggests a growing acquaintance with neo-Impressionist ideas, as well as his prodigious talent for manipulating paint.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s painting Femme Accoudée (est. £400,000-600,000 /HK$5-7 million) is a delightful example of the painter’s more intimate late works. Painted in 1905, the year he moved to Cagnes-sur-Mer, Renoir’s subtle brushwork and gentle palette gives this endearing image a velveteen softness. This sophisticated painting marks the maturity of Renoir’s Impressionism.

Highlights from Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening Sale on 15 February 2012 include Francis Bacon’s 1951 oil on canvas, Figure with Monkey, which is estimated at £1.8 – £2.5 million / HK$22–31 million. This very early and beautifully executed work embodies Bacon’s inimitable working process and reveals his fascination with both wild animals and photography, specifically with monkeys and photographic clippings and book illustrations he collected. Bacon was intrigued by monkeys’ interest in themselves and their own image, which parallels that of humans. The composition reveals his interest in spatial and framing devices, which would be developed through the famous Men in Blue and Pope series of the mid-1950s.

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled (Slingshot), executed in 1983, is estimated a £300,000-400,000 / HK$4-5 million. Featuring an archetypal Basquiat motif, it combines the highly characteristic combination of text and image which lies at the heart of his aesthetic dialect. The work exhibits Basquiat’s unprecedented experimental innovation, with acrylic being over-painted on two sheets of paper laid down on canvas, which is stretched on the artist’s distinctive overlapping wooden supports.

As one of Gerhard Richter’s incipient Stadtbild and Grau paintings, the present example, Stadtbild M8 (grau) (est. £300,000-400,000 / HK$4-5 million) is of exceptional historic importance in the development of the artist’s interest in Abstraction and the limits of representation in painting. Executed in 1968, it belongs to a series of 9 Stadtbild paintings, which were originally all part of one canvas before Richter divided them. This is Richter’s first series dealing with townscapes and together they were based on an aerial photograph of Milan. The other 8 paintings, one of which is on permanent loan to the Städelsches Kunstinstitut und Städtische Galerie in Frankfurt, all depict sections of the original photograph in blocks of different grey tones, while Richter has overpainted this particular canvas in grey as one of his very earliest Grau works.

Also featured in Sotheby’s Contemporary Day Sale on 16 February 2012 is Gerhard Richter’s Untitled 472-3 of 1981, which is estimated at £300,000-400,000 / HK$4-5 million.

*Estimates do not include buyer’s premium

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