Art Market : Sotheby’s, a highly colorful sale by Artprice

For its first spring sale of Impressionist & Modern Art on 9 May in New York, Sotheby’s has decided to focus on artists involved in the Fauvism, Nabi, and Pointillism movements, artists who, at the dawn of the 20th century, turned painting into an explosion of colour, and particularly warm colours.

This year Sotheby’s catalogue stands in stark contrast to that of its rival Christie’s, which is offering a collection of strong and solemn works that are favourites with the market but which give a somewhat austere view of this pivotal period in art history. While Christie’s is selling a version of Claude Monet’s Bassin aux nymphéas (1919) and one of his cloudy landscapes, Petit-Gennevilliers (1874), Sotheby’s has united three paintings by the Impressionist master that are literally bathed in sunlight.

Claude Monet [1840 – 1926]Marée basse aux petites-dalles, 1884 Oil on canvas (60 x 73 cm) Estimate: $3,000,000 – $5,000,000

In fact, the sale’s overall mood amply reflects that of the two Fauvist masterpieces at top of its price list. André Derain’s Voiles Rouges (1906) and Maurice de Vlaminck’s Sous-bois (1905) both sing like odes to a radiant world with a dreamlike and benevolent nature. This impression continues throughout the catalogue with paintings by Signac, Pissarro and Sisley, and it culminates with Henri Manguin’s Les oliviers à cavalière (1906) which fetched $880,000 at Christie’s in 2007 and is now estimated $1 – 1.5 million at Sotheby’s. Les oliviers à cavalière should set a well-deserved new record for this artist and could even fetch well above its estimate.

Paul Signac [1863 – 1935)Maisons du port, Saint-Tropez, 1892 Oil on canvas (46.5 x 55 3 cm) Estimate: $8,000,000 – $12,000,000

The 62 lots offered at Sotheby’s evening sale emphasise the oft-forgotten gentleness and tranquility of that era. This feel is achieved by combining phantasmagorical works by René Magritte, Francis Picabia and Marc Chagall with poignant portraits by Pablo Picasso, Auguste Renoir and Egon Schiele. There are also nudes by Pierre Bonnard, Edvard Munch and Kees van Dongen and several more or less sensual statues by Aristide Maillol, Henry Moore, Edgar Degas, not to mention  Auguste Rodin’s almost obscene Iris, messagère des dieux (1890/91). However, surrounded by all that colour, even that seems relatively tame.

Egon Schiele [1890 – 1918] Frau in Unterwäsche und Strümpfen, 1913 Gouache, watercolor and pencil on paper (47.6 x 30.6 cm) Estimate: $2,500,000 – $3,500,000

Auguste Rodin [1840 – 1917] Iris, Messenger of the Gods, cast in 1963 Bronze (height 95.5 cm) Estimate: $2,500,000 – $3,500,000

With this very attractive sale, Sotheby’s is breaking with the common practice of incorporating only a few colourful works into generally austere prestige sales of Impressionist & Modern Art. Here, we have a collection of joyous works that manages to make even its heavier works look bright and optimistic. Sotheby’s may not have united the rarest pieces on the market, but the freshness of the catalogue may well elicit some inspired bidding.



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