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Sotheby's to offer a rare and important work by Félix Vallotton
Félix Vallotton, La Néva, brume légère, 1913. Photo: Sotheby's.

ZURICH.- Sotheby’s announced the star lot of its Swiss Art / Swiss Made sale, to be held on 27 June: a rare and important work by Félix Vallotton, La Néva, brume légère, 1913.

This superb landscape by the celebrated Swiss-French painter is one of a small group of works completed following his visit to Russia in 1913. Adding to its rarity, the painting boasts exceptional provenance: presented by Félix Vallotton’s brother Paul at the first exhibition dedicated to the artist, at the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery in Lausanne in 1914, it remained within close circles connected to the artist until it was acquired for a private collection in 1965.

Thanks to the elements which make up its composition – instantly recognisable as Félix Vallotton’s work – as well as its exceptional quality and its history, this absolute masterpiece is a rare discovery for the auction market.

The painting will be offered on 27 June at Sotheby’s Zurich, with an estimate of CHF 1 – 1.5 million.

Speaking ahead of the sale, Co-Directors of Sotheby’s Swiss Art Department, Stephanie Schleining and Urs Lanter, said, “It is a great privilege for us to have been entrusted with this exquisite painting, and to offer it for the very first time at auction. Upon viewing this masterpiece for the first time we were both extremely moved. We are greatly looking forward to sharing this enthusiasm during our upcoming pre-sale public exhibitions in Geneva, London and Zurich.”

In 1913, Félix Vallotton travelled to Russia, visiting Moscow and Saint Petersburg. His journey yielded a series of paintings, completed upon his return, examples of which are rarely seen on the market. They include a group of works depicting the area surrounding the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, among them La Néva, brume légère, 1913.

This painting is illustrated in all of the major literature describing Vallotton’s work, and is presented as a reference. It is one of his most important works from this period and without a doubt, ranks among the painter’s masterpieces.

The highly modern composition of La Néva, brume légère shows the artist tending towards abstraction. Stylistic elements such as the flat surfaces, lack of perspective and the darkly silhouetted male figure and lamp-post are reminiscent of the wood-cut technique so characteristic of Vallotton’s work. This print-inspired aesthetic was also central to works completed by Vallotton in the early 20th century as part of the “Nabi” movement - revealing the enduring influence of Japanese wood prints on the artist’s oeuvre.

Furthermore, the painter displays extraordinary skill in conveying the atmosphere surrounding Saint Petersburg’s Peter and Paul Cathedral, whose spires seem to dissolve into the purple fog. The cathedral dominates two thirds of the painting, in stark contrast to the foreground, where the snow forms a solid band of white.

Vallotton’s careful attention to the nuances of colour and light in the landscape, as well as his sense of place, reflect a recurring theme in modern art history. They bring to mind majestic London cityscapes by Claude Monet and ethereal landscapes by Ferdinand Hodler or Giovanni Giacometti, which frequently depicted other-worldly winter scenes of cloud and fog, masterfully rendered in a range of rich blues and purples.

First presented to the public at the Paul Vallotton Gallery in the spring of 1914, this museum-quality masterpiece has remained in the same private collection for more than 50 years. As such, it is a fantastic discovery for the market, both at a Swiss and an international level. Two other variations on the same theme exist: one is housed in a Swiss private collection; the other was acquired by Zurich’s prestigious Kunsthaus.

Following the new world auction record of CHF 3.5 million for a work by Félix Vallotton, set by Au marché at Sotheby’s Zurich on 29 November 2016, Sotheby’s is delighted to once again offer a seminal work by an artist of importance for the international auction market.

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