With last week’s Old Master auctions well in the past, both Christie’s and Sotheby’s are steadily focused on the next collection of works to grace the auction block. This time, Impressionist & Modern artwork take center stage in London today as pieces by prominent icons of the art world, including the likes of Picasso, Léger, Miro, Mondrian, Chagall, Matisse and Renoir are up for auction this season. The keynote features of these particular auctions are the Evening Sales, that rarely fail to impress, drawing well over a $150 million when the final hammer brings these exciting nights to a close.
In addition to the riveting, Evening Sales, Sotheby’s, no doubt has their sights on sale results close to the $348 million mark (latest figures achieved during the most recent Impressionist & Modern sales from last November). While Christie’s, on the other hand, is surely expecting higher figures in comparison to the dismal results from last fall, with sales falling flat at $180 million. The impact of artists’ success at past auctions, have left their mark on both auction houses’ sale catalogues with quite a few works by Giacometti (whose Tete de Diego sold for $50 million) and Chagall (whose Les Amoureux dans le bouquet de fleurs achieved $2.3 million over a high estimate of $2 million).
Holly’s Highlights – Impressionist & Modern London Sales:
UPDATE: Last night (February 4th), Christie’s Evening Sale (featuring Impressionist and Modern Evening Sale and The Art of the Surreal auctions) fetched the highest total for an auction in London, selling £177 million ($289 million) of art. Yesterday’s results exceeded pre-sale estimates of £113.3 million to £162.9 million, with 86 percent of lots finding buyers. Christie’s overall Impressionist, Modern & Surrealist sales (including evening and day auctions) for February, totaled £196.9 million ($320.7 million). The art market appears to be very healthy indeed!
For any student of architecture, Le Corbusier’s contribution to the craft is unmatched by only a few greats. Le Corbusier, better known for his architectural innovations, revolutionized our interpretation of the country house, while modernizing urban spaces, the father of modern architecture was also an active painter – producing 450 oil paintings throughout his lifetime. I wanted to draw attention to this true Renaissance man, like Michelangelo and Da Vinci, whose creative genius impacted both two and three-dimensional works, however Le Corbusier’s fine art career isn’t well known. Annibal Simla is distinctive of Le Corbusier’s own style, known as Purism, dominated by the notion of “color solidarity”, where color and form remain distinctive, even when expressed in an overlapping manner. The master of shapes, Le Corbusier’s play with shadow and light in architecture – Annibal Simla is a colorful representation of this method, using a bright color palette (of coral and greens) and strong, bold outlines to define objects in a very abstract fashion. This delineation of form by the use of color creates a very neat effect – each element has their own space, own voice on the canvas, capturing an energy through refined means. A more streamlined and certainly in Le Corbusier’s eyes, a purist version of Cubism.
In addition to this piece being the highest valued lot at auction (following the recent sale of the Spaniard’s Marie-Thérèse, femme assise près d’une fenêtre selling for £28.6 million by Sotheby’s last February – this painting will no doubt sell for an equally expensive price), I am drawn to Femme au costume turc for two reasons – the first, it adds another chapter to the portrait-style painting tradition. Picasso’s Cubism take on the classic form of portraiture is invigorating. The composition remains true to the well-known portrait style, and in particular, the sitter’s folded hands are reminiscent of the Mona Lisa, perhaps in homage to the most famous portrait of all time. The use of colors, grey skin tones, contrasting beautifully with the primary and patterned colors of the “odalisque” dress, where the indentation of Picasso’s brush strokes are also visible.
Secondly, Picasso’s inspiration for the painting’s subject is a beautiful example of the relevance to the art history narrative – art inspiring new art. Picasso was moved by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’s Le bain tucs as well as Eugène Delacroix’s Les femmes d’Alger dans leur appartement. As stated in the auction catalogue: “Even in Femme au costume turc dans un fauteuil, the costume appears to echo that of Delacroix’s odalisques, be it the central figure whose skin is partially exposed through the filter of her chiffon-like top or the red and gold of the left-hand woman who is lying, looking out from the scene”
My favorite painting to be sold during the Impressionist & Modern auction season, Lempicka’s La chemise rose II is emblematic of the Art Deco movement (dating from the 1920s and 1930s). In an era defined by the male gaze and domination of men artists, Lempicka’s countless depictions of women, added a woman’s point of view to a man’s perspective. This painting is beautiful in so many ways, I can’t help but to be drawn to what I define, as her Neo / Post Mannerism style – a modern take on the Mannerism movement from the 16th century. The Mannerism style is an exaggeration and beautification of the human form. Lempicka adheres to this style, and goes one step further; with defined edges and strong colors, her models become almost sculpture-like representations yet take on these seductive, slightly unnatural poses. In La chemise, the painting is strong, yet feminine – the strength of the woman’s outward looking gaze and robust body frame, contrasted with the delicate pink, lace garment, her red lips and stylish bob make this a fascinating piece.
And, now onto the Sotheby’s Catalogue:
UPDATE: For a second night in a row, an array of Impressionist, Modern & Surrealist artwork hit the auction block in London – this time, at Sotheby’s. The auction house realized sales of £163.5 million ($266.7 million) total, highest ever in Sotheby’s London’s history (however, slightly shy of Christie’s record breaking numbers achieved for an evening sale). Sotheby’s did have the last laugh, with overall sales totaling £215.8 million ($345.3 million) – highest ever for any art auction series in London.
CAMILLE PISSARRO (1831 – 1903)
LE BOULEVARD MONTMARTRE, MATINÉE DE PRINTEMPS (1897)
oil on canvas
Estimate: £7,000,000 — 10,000,000 | SOLD: £19.7 MILLION/ $32.1 MILLION
No Monets of note are up for auction this week, however the Impressionists are magnificently represented by this wonderful piece, by another master of this style, Camille Pissarro. Le Boulevard Montmartre’s composition depicting a bird’s eye view of the bustling street below captures everyday life of fin-de-siècle Paris (a reinvigorated city, Technicolor version of sorts). This city scene of horse-drawn carriages and Beaux-Arts style buildings line this broad boulevard that carries into the distance, representing a new, modern France – even the trees that Pissarro captures so beautifully in vivid green appear youthful. This painting, unfortunately, also harbors a sad story whose provenance has been tainted by the Nazis. The original owner, Max Silberberg was a prominent collector of French Impressionist and Realist artwork, unfortunately forced to relinquish his acquisitions at auction in Berlin.
Holly knows art. Photo Credits: Christie’s & Sotheby’s