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Sotheby's in Paris to offer a selection of works from the Collection of Comtesse Viviane de Witt
Jean-Michel Basquiat, Crown Hotel (Mona Lisa Black Background), acrylic and paper collage on canvas mounted on tied wood supports, 48 13/16 x 85 in. Estimate: 5.000.000 € - 7.000.000 €. © Sotheby’s/ArtDigital Studio.

PARIS.- Sotheby’s announced the sale of a selection of works from the Collection of Comtesse Viviane de Witt.

Viviane de Witt is married to Jérôme de Witt – a descendant of Napoleon's brother Jérôme, King of Westphalia – and became one of France's first female auctioneers in 1978, swiftly making her mark on the country's male-dominated auction world. Her interests span a humanistic wealth of fields, irrespective of fashion, genre or period – ranging from Chinese snuff-bottles to contemporary art, via tribal art and 18th century furniture. Her spontaneous yet learned curiosity is allied to a keen interest in each work and its history. She is also a devotee of Art Deco (and author of a book about the cabinet-makers Jules and André Leleu) and Jewellery (having published monographs on Sterlé and Marina Bulgari).

Now Viviane de Witt has chosen Sotheby’s to offer for auction a score of exceptional works by leading 20th century artists. Her decision to sell this world-class array in Paris confirms the status of the French capital as an international platform for modern and contemporary art market.

Modern art includes a rare Alberto Giacometti Figurine, one of his very first painted bronzes, designed around 1949/50 and doubtless unveiled at Giacometti's first postwar exhibition in Paris, staged at the Galerie Maeght in June 1951. Giacometti gave the bronze to his friend Balthus, suggesting that he attached great importance to it (est. €1-1,5 m / $1,3-2m)*.

The superb array of works by Pablo Picasso embodies different aspects of his genius, ranging from his 1912 drawing of a Seated Man (est. €120,000-180,000 / $158,000-237,000) to his unique, 1948 terracotta Face-Vase (est. €100,000-150,000 / $132,000-197,000).

Contemporary art includes Jean-Michel Basquiat's magisterial Crown Hotel (Mona Lisa Black Background) from 1982, a crucial time in his development – Basquiat was only 22. This precocious artistic triumph conveys the depth of Basquiat's creative power and the extent of his artistic resourcefulness, welding ideological awareness, autobiographical references and expressive genius into an iconic masterpiece. It is a powerful yet coherent work of tremendous depth and complexity – the most important Basquiat ever to appear at auction in France – that nods in the direction of Leonardo's Mona Lisa and Manet's Olympia in its approach to the canons of western beauty. The painting was first shown by Bruno Bischofberger, the Zurich gallery-owner who established Basquiat's global reputation, and resurfaced at the Mary Boone Gallery in New York in 1999, when it was acquired by Comtesse De Witt (est. €5-7m / $6,6-9,2m).

Another major American work is Five Women, a drawing by Willem de Kooning that belongs to his most sought-after body of work (est. €400,000-600,000 / $526,000-789,000). It dates from 1952 (the year De Kooning launched his reputation with Woman I) and counts as one of the most accomplished works on paper by the man described by Thomas Hess as 'one of the greatest draughtsmen of the century.' The drawing is also the most important by De Kooning ever to be sold in France. It was exhibited in the major De Kooning retrospectives held at the Guggenheim and Whitney Museums in New York, the Akademie der Künste in Berlin and the Pompidou Centre in Paris (1983/4). The women at the centre of his pictorial world echo those created by Picasso in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon in 1907.

The collection also includes four sculptures by Alexander Calder, offering a unique overview of his work from the late 1920s down to the 1970s. These include such classics as his monochrome, airy yet dynamic, nine-part Nine Snowflakes mobile (est. €600,000-800,000 / $789,000-1,052,000); and his Standing Mobile, with its more typically vibrant colour scheme (est. €350,000-450,000 / $460,000-592,000). The two other works are less familiar: his 1967 Red Under The Table (est. €150,000-200,000 / $197,000-263,000) – a quest for balance, colour and form – and Bird Chasing Fly (est. €150,000-200,000 / $197,000-263,000) from 1928 (shortly after Calder moved to France): a wire figure that preludes his famous Circus.

The Viviane de Witt Collection also features four fascinating works by Jean Dubuffet, each from a different period in his career. Leading the way is his mesmerizing, quasi-abstract painting La Mer de Barbe (1959) from his celebrated Barbes series (est. €400,000-600,000 / $526,000-789,000). The subject developed from the zany correspondence between Dubuffet and his friend and 'exegete' Georges Limbour, involving a caricature of Roman Emperor Roman Marcus Aurelius, depicted with an increasingly bushy beard. The slightly earlier Paysage Vibratile is a mysterious, fully abstract black-and-white work in gouache and ink with paper collage, done in Vence in 1958 (est. €40,000-60,000 / $52.400-78.700).

Two remarkable sculptures complete the Dubuffet ensemble, both from his Hourloupe cycle and dated 1968: a spectacular Figure d’Arbre (est. €250,000-350,000 / $329,000-460,000); and his three-coloured totem Paysage Logologique (est. €100,000-150,000 / $132,000-197,000).

An important, large-format work by Anselm Kiefer completes the remarkable De Witt selection: Johannisnacht or Midsummer Night (1987-91), made using Kiefer's favourite natural materials of lead, earth and foliage (est. €250,000-350,000 / $329,000-460,000). The title pays tribute to the cycle of the seasons.

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