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Sotheby's Contemporary Art Auction offers works by César, Dubuffet, Riopelle, Zao Wou-Ki, Soulages
Jean Dubuffet, Midi Sonne Grelot, 1961. Oil on canvas, 89 x 116 cm. Estimation : 2.500.000-–3.500.000€. Photo: Sotheby’s / Art digital studio.

PARIS.- Sotheby’s France announced its second sale of contemporary art this year, on 9 & 10 December. It once again features the artists who contributed to the success of the Paris sale in June 2015, which achieved a record total for a contemporary art sale in France.

Many works in this catalogue will appear on the market for the first time. They include an early compression by César (one of the first he produced), bought by Marie-Laure de Noailles in 1961 and still in private hands. The sale also includes two masterpieces by Jean Dubuffet (a painter much sought-after by collectors), from his most important series: Paris Circus and Tableaux d’assemblage et routes et chaussées. Abstraction is given pride of place, with a composition by Jean-Paul Riopelle, three paintings by Zao Wou-Ki, great examples of his work in the mid-Sixties, and two by Pierre Soulages.

Zim, Compression automobile (1960-1961): an early compression by César from the former Marie-Laure de Noailles collection

On 8 May 1960, César finally revealed the result of experiments he had been carrying out for a year in virtual secrecy in a scrap merchant's warehouse in Gennevilliers. It took months, and the importation of an American hydraulic crushing machine, before the artist was able to produce the first of his great automobile compressions. These "lavish, dense, monumental, accusatory, brightly-coloured metal balls" (to quote Pierre Restany, founder of the New Realist movement) created a scandal at the opening of the 16th Salon de Mai, and put the artist firmly on the map. It took a fearless Marie-Laure de Noailles to recognise the visionary character of this work, which she bought in 1961.

The compression now offered at auction at Sotheby’s (estimate: €600,000-800,000 /$685,000910,000) was purchased by Marie-Laure de Noailles: one of the last example from the Sixties still in private hands. Between 1960 and 1965, the sculptor produced ten automobile compressions, five of which are now in the world's leading museums.

Two major works by Jean Dubuffet from his two most celebrated series: Tableaux d’assemblages et routes et chaussées, 1955-1956 and Paris Circus, 1961-1963
In 1955, Jean Dubuffet, now living in Vence, began focusing on landscape painting, which led to a new phase of experimentation with material and relief. The series of Tableaux d’assemblages et routes et chaussées, produced between October 1955 and July 1956, is imbued with the picturesque. The very first in the series, this 1955 Jardin de Fouille Roucoule (estimate: €800,000-1,200,000 /$910,0001,370,000), is remarkable for its size. The work subsequently featured in several high-profile exhibitions devoted to the artist, from the Pierre Matisse Gallery's retrospective in 1958 to the New York Guggenheim's in 1973. Since its creation, it has hung in some of the most prestigious private collections, including those of the art dealer Pierre Matisse, William Rubin (then director of the painting and sculpture department at the MoMA) and the collector Daniel Cordier, one of the first to promote Dubuffet's work. It then joined the legendary collection of Baron Elie de Rothschild in 1959 before being bought by the current owner.

In Midi sonne grelot (estimate: €2,500,000-3,500,000 / $2,840,000-3,970,000), painted on 10 June 1961, the artist depicts an urban scene in a rediscovered Paris. After seven years in the country, Dubuffet put aside his herbarium and open-air easels and turned to the city, with a new series: Paris Circus, probably the most accomplished of them all, and much sought-after by the world's leading public and private collections. His subjects included building façades, shop signs, Parisian strollers on the banks of the Seine and cars crisscrossing the main boulevards. Midi sonne grelot also stands out for its exceptional provenance: the famous gallery of art dealer and collector Daniel Cordier, one of Dubuffet's earliest supporters.

Jean-Paul Riopelle’s work appears at auction for the first time

With La Forêt, 1953 (estimate: €900,000 -1,200,000 / $1,030,000-1,370,000), Jean-Paul Riopelle draws us into a visual dance. The artist juxtaposes matt and glossy textures, plays with light effects and encourages the eye to wend its way over a kaleidoscopic surface. Here we find Riopelle's most recognisable technique, similar to Pollock's dripping method. Standing in front of the canvas, the artist applied paint in successive layers with a spatula, then incised the material with strokes of his knife. This version is similar to the one in the New York Guggenheim Museum.

Three works by Zao Wou-Ki painted at the pinnacle of the artist’s career
In the early Sixties, Zao Wou-Ki's art reached its maturity, free from all naturalistic constraints. Zao had only one idea in mind: "to paint painting". Thanks to what he had learned at the Hangzhou Fine Arts School, he had developed a supreme ability to appropriate space and light. What he now sought was a balance between gesture and breath, void and wholeness, the visible and invisible, while exalting colour over form. 7.8.1965 (estimate: €1,400,000 – 2,000,000 / $1,525,000-2,270,000) and 19.09.1969 (estimate: €1,000,000-1,500,000 / $1,140,000-1,710,000) are magnificent examples of what he achieved.

The intensely lyrical 7.8.1965 was painted at a crucial moment in Zao Wou-Ki's career, when he was beginning to have numerous exhibitions and retrospectives all over the world, including New York, Paris, Vienna, Essen and Cologne. With 28.10.65, typical of his abstract style in the mid-Sixties, Zao makes the surface vibrate by combining vigorous strokes with an extremely restricted colour range.

A rare painting by Pierre Soulages
Peinture 46 x 38 cm, 14 mai 1961 (estimate: €400,000-600,000 / $454,000-685,000) is a magnificent painting from a major period in the artist's work. This picture, the very quintessence of his style, is appearing on the market for the first time in forty years. Full of movement, the composition beautifully expresses the duality of texture and colour Soulages had been exploring in the Fifties and Sixties, playing with the contrasts between red and black, horizontal and diagonal lines.

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