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Sotheby's Paris Contemporary Art Sale led by masterpieces produced between the 1940s and 1960s
Nicolas de Staël, Paysage à Agrigente, 1953. Oil on canvas, 60,3 x 81 cm. Estimate: 800.000 – 1.200.000 €.

PARIS.- For this first Contemporary Art sale of the year on 6 and 7 June, Sotheby’s France is once more paying tribute to masters of abstraction whose international renown is supported by ever-increasing prices for their works: Pierre Soulages, Zao Wou-Ki, Jean Dubuffet, Nicolas de Staël and Simon Hantaï. These are artists Sotheby’s France has helped to establish in the contemporary art auction market in France and America. The selection of some of the most iconic works from their most sought-after periods includes a major painting by master of black Pierre Soulages – an astonishing blue, and a masterpiece by Zao Wou-Ki from the early 1960s: a key period when his style reached full maturity.

The catalogue includes a section with some of the most recent works by Annette Messager, Anselm Kiefer, Antoni Tàpies, Takashi Murakami, Jan Fabre and Gilbert & George.


The sale will be led by a major work by Pierre Soulages. Here a luminous blue makes a surprising incursion, highly unusual with the master of black. Incidentally, another "blue" work achieved the artist's world record in 2013 at Sotheby's London, showing that this series remains highly sought-after by collectors.

Peinture 162 x 130 cm, 14 Avril 1962 (estimate: €2,000,000-3,000,000). This work, considered extremely important by the artist himself, who originally wanted it for his own collection, aroused such enthusiasm in Sam Kootz (the American dealer working for Soulages, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning and Robert Motherwell) that he bought it for himself and kept it in his private collection until his death.


In 1962, Zao Wou-Ki was one of the figureheads of the international art scene, and one of the most illustrious representatives of the new Paris school and lyric abstraction. With 19.3.62 (estimate: €1,800,000-2,500,000), a remarkable piece that has remained for 40 years in a private North American collection, Zao Wou-Ki was at the peak of his art. He had found the long-sought balance between tradition and modernity, his gestures were accomplished and his palette perfectly controlled. Here a sensitive, dreamlike landscape rises up, drawing the viewer deep within it.


Jean Dubuffet's price index has increased over the last three years, thanks to the major international retrospectives staged at the Fondation Beyeler in Basel and the Morgan Library in New York. Two new retrospectives are being prepared in the Netherlands, including one at the Rijksmuseum.

Paysage gris aux tâches cerises, 1949 (estimate: €1,500,000-2,000,000) comes from the celebrated "Paysages grotesques" series highly popular with collectors. They are "Grotesque" because, as he had previously done with his portraits, the artist makes a complete break with typical landscape clichés. Here the painting takes us on a journey, and foreshadows a pictorial technique revolutionary for the period. Dubuffet used novel materials – sand, tar, gravel, plaster and asphalt - which he boiled, then spread on with a trowel, a knife or his fingers. In this work, the material is scraped and roughly handled.

There is also a work produced by Dubuffet in 1943, the year in which he began his career as a painter at the age of 41: Quatre leveuses de bras (estimate: €600,000-800,000). He may have started out late in life, but he was inspired by a visionary attitude that was to influence the leading artists of the next generation: the flattening of figures, the simplification of silhouettes, reduced to their archaic forms, and the dissolution of depth, which forms one body with the support. This work prefigured the "Corps de dames" series that inspired William de Kooning's Women.

In his works of around 1958, Simon Hantaï painted with small dabs, which he poetically dubbed "wake-up touches". Less well-known than the "Meuns" and the "Mariales", this series revolutionised the painter's technique while reviving the ancestral art of mosaics. Sans titre, 1958 (estimate: €100,000-150,000) is a speaking example, corroborating Dominique Fourcade's comments in the catalogue raisonné of the Centre Pompidou's exhibition: "The imperious need for interiority and the need to achieve a state more secret, more real than painting led Hantaï to the intuition (and concept) of the little "wake-up touches". At the same time, it was this way of painting that made possible and viable his withdrawal and revival – which could be described as his birth. It was a powerful, continuously inspired process. (…) "

In the summer of 1953, Nicolas de Staël went on a journey that took him to Sicily, where the ruins of Greek temples crumbling in the sun gave him an aesthetic shock that led, during the following months, to one of the most remarkable series he ever produced. Consisting of only 19 paintings, all considered absolute masterpieces, this
series is one of the most popular with amateurs of the painter's work. Sotheby's is thus honoured to be able to offer this Paysage à Agrigente, 1953 (estimate: €800,000-1,200,000).

The evening catalogue ends with a large contemporary section including recent works by Annette Messager, Anselm Kiefer, Antoni Tàpies, Takashi Murakami, Jan Fabre and Gilbert & George.

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