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This October Christie's presents a perfect storm of 19th century European Art in New York
Wilhelm Kuhnert (German, 1865-1926), Brüllender Löwe, signed 'Wilh. Kuhnert' (lower right); signed and inscribed 'Wilh. Kuhnert Berlin Brüllender Löwe' (on the reverse), oil on canvas, 66¼ x 111½ in. (168.2 x 283.2 cm.). Estimate: 300,000 - 500,000 U.S. dollars. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2012.
NEW YORK, NY.- On October 29, Christie’s New York will offer an exceptional range of 19th Century European Art. The sale will present examples of the classic tradition of Europe as well as the exotic allure of the Orient, and will feature some of the most sought-after artists of the 19th Century including William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Giovanni Boldini, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and Wilhelm Kuhnert. In total, the sale will offer 95 lots of great quality and beauty, and is expected to realize in excess of $13million.

Among the sale’s highlights are four works by William-Adolphe Bouguereau that span the course of his accomplished career. Leading the sale is the artist’s remarkable Marchande de grenades, (estimate: $2.5-3.5million). In the 1870s, Bouguereau painted a small number of Orientalist works of which the present lot is arguably the most sophisticated example. Having already made a name for himself with his poignant portraits of the French peasantry, Bouguereau began experimenting with Eastern subjects in 1870. In Marchande de grenades, the young pomegranate-seller sits on the ground near the distinctive Bab Zuwayla, the southern gate of the Fatimid city of al-Qahira built in Cairo in the late 11th century. The vantage point of the painting suggests that the girl is at the entrance of the Tentmakers Market, looking north along the side façade of the 15th century Zawiya-Sabil, built by the Sultan Farag ibn Barquq. Although Bouguereau never traveled to the Orient, the specificity of the painting would lead anyone to believe that the artist had traveled to Cairo and familiarized himself with the city's people and architecture. Indeed, a finished drawing of Marchande de grenades at the Ashmolean Museum suggests that Bouguereau dedicated a great deal of time to ensuring that the painting was accurate. The map, depicts where the painting is placed in modern Cairo.

Also featured in the Bouguereau selection is Le petit câlin (estimate: $1.2-1.8million). With its tender subject, luminous light and remarkable precision, Le petit câlin is the artist at his best. In Le petit câlin, Bouguereau captures a fleeting, intimate moment between a mother and child. Rather than a formal portrait, he paints the two figures in an unconventional transitional pose; the young mother turns her head to look adoringly at her child who twists and squirms on her lap. With this relaxed portrayal, Bouguereau enhances the humanity of his subject, creating a sincere picture of maternal love. Le petit câlin exemplifies the high praise given to Bouguereau's work by the writer Adrien Désamy in the arts journal L'art contemporain in May 1879, 'It is said that no one is better versed than Victor Hugo to speak of women and children, one can similarly exclaim, that in our times, no one is more skilled to paint women and children like M. Bouguereau.'

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s Ask me no more (estimate: $2-3million), was exhibited at the Royal Academy, London, in 1906, when the artist was at the zenith of his career. Ask me no more, which takes its title from a poem by the Poet Laureate, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, is a quintessential Alma-Tadema subject. Depicting a pair of lovers seated on a marble bench overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, the picture is almost the last in which Alma-Tadema painted his ever-popular theme of a young couple suffering the palpitations of romance, although a watercolour version, entitled Youth, followed in 1908. Ask me no more was the only picture he showed at the Royal Academy in 1906.

Among the sale’s selection of sporting art are three examples from Wilhelm Kuhnert, including Brüllender Löwe (estimate: $300,000-500,000), which translates to “Roaring Lion”. Kuhnert’s extraordinary talent was noticed early on by his teachers, who advised him to dedicate his art to capturing the essence of wildlife. The young artist enthusiastically embraced their advice and in pursuit of his chosen genre, he traveled extensively in Africa and the East, spending a significant amount of time in Ceylon and East Africa, where he was captivated by the wild beauty of the landscapes and their equally exotic denizens. The writer and critic J. G. Millais wrote, 'there is no finer exponent of African mammals than Wilhelm Kuhnert. We who have traveled do not need to be told that his studies from nature are correct. His lions, elephants, zebras and antelopes are so real that we feel we are gazing at them on the plains of East Africa. The landscapes are simple but intense. Sunlight is there, and the tree and grass are just those that grow in the habitat of these species...'

Giovanni Boldini is represented by Suonatrice di lira e ascoltatrice (Woman Playing a Lyre and a Listener) (estimate: $1-1.5million), a consummate example of the Rococo revival. Two women wrapped in ruffled layers of pink and white silks relax on a settee in the midst of an ornate room delicately balanced by a unifying palette of pastel hues. From the cream-colored doors opening onto other sumptuous rooms just beyond our view to the golden sphinx proudly spreading its wings on the guéridon, the painting pulsates with opulent splendor. Sold by Boldini's esteemed dealer Adolphe Goupil to William Henry Crocker, who is credited with bringing Impressionism to California, Suonatrice di lira e ascoltatrice is also exceptional for its provenance. The painting has remained within this venerated art-collecting family throughout its history and has not been seen publicly since its inclusion in a 1959 exhibition at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.





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October 12, 2012

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