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Works by three Modern masters to lead Sotheby's Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale
Pablo Picasso, Le Sauvetage. Painted in 1932. Estimate $14/18 million. Photo: Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, NY.- Bright, classic and fresh-to-market works by modern masters Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Fernand Léger from a Private American Collection will lead Sotheby’s Evening Sale of Impressionist & Modern Art in New York on 7 May 2014. Each of the three paintings is an important example from a key phase in each artist’s career: La Séance du matin is one of Matisse’s celebrated paintings done in Nice, France in 1920s, whose pendant hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (right, est. $20/30 million); Le Sauvetage comes from Picasso’s coveted series depicting his young muse Marie-Thérèse Walter in the early 1930s (est. $14/18 million); and Deux figures et une fleur is a prime example of Léger’s monumental imagery of the post-war period (est. $3/5 million). The works by Matisse and Léger never before have appeared at auction, while Le Sauvetage was last seen at auction at Sotheby’s New York a decade ago.

The collection will be on view at the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Center from 3–7 April, and in Sotheby’s London galleries from 11 – 15 April, before returning to New York for exhibition in Sotheby’s York Avenue galleries beginning 2 May.

David Norman, Co-Chairman of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Department Worldwide, commented: “We are thrilled to offer works by three of the greatest masters of 20th century art, each of which exemplifies the artist’s output at a critical moment in their career. Matisse, Picasso and Léger in their unique manner so distinctively catapulted the representation of the figure in to the Modern Age. These paintings, resplendent in color and bold in design, which were respectively executed in successive decades from the 1920s to 40s, resonate with today’s global audience of collectors and connoisseurs.”

Henri Matisse, La Séance du matin. Painted in 1924. Estimate $20/30 million
La Séance du matin depicts Matisse’s studio assistant Henriette Darricarrère, whose own interest in painting he encouraged by offering her lessons during their working time together. In another version of this same subject, now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Matisse depicts a nude model alongside the studious painter. The present composition instead features Henriette alone, completely absorbed in her own work. The canvas boasts all of the elements of the artist's most desirable Nice-period paintings, with its colorful patterning and gleaming white highlights.

The same year that Matisse painted the present work, Henriette had developed terrible stage fright and gave up her musical pursuits. She focused her artistic attention instead on painting, and eventually her work was accepted into the Salon des Indépendents in Paris. This work commemorates Henriette's first serious efforts at this new calling, and it has gone on to become one of Matisse's most beloved canvases from this period.

Pablo Picasso, Le Sauvetage. Painted in 1932. Estimate $14/18 million
Picasso’s Le Sauvetage, represents the largest and most highly developed treatment of a theme which emerged from the artist’s memories of the summer spent at the beach with his young mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter, at Dinard in 1928. The dramatic scene depicts a drowned woman being rescued, inspired perhaps by an event in which Marie Thérèse participated or reported to Picasso, while figures swim and play on the beach. The exuberant and dream-like quality of the composition is heightened by the saturated pigments, independent planes of color and the fantastical cavorting bathers that swirl around the center of the canvas. Le Sauvetage last appeared at auction at Sotheby’s New York in 2004, when it was acquired by the present owners – prior to that sale, it had remained in another European private collection for 40 years.

Fernand Léger, Deux figures et une fleur. Estimate $3/5 million
Powerfully composed and boldly colored, Deux figures et une fleur is one of Léger’s definitive compositions of the late-1940s. In his treatment of the figure, Leger eschewed sentimentality, depicting the personages as both classical ideals and abstract forms integral to the composition. During his stay in the United States, where he lived during the Second World War, Léger was drawn to bold depictions of women, delighting in the curvature of their bodies and the solidity of their features. Much of the inspiration for these figures was derived from watching female entertainers such as dancers and acrobats perform feats of great physical stamina or agility.

*Estimates do not include buyer’s premium and prices achieved include the hammer price plus buyer’s premium.

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