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Flash News: Henri Matisse in Lyon – James Ensor, Paris-London – London hits back

[16 Dec 2016]

Henri Matisse in Lyon

250 works by Henri MATISSE (1869-1954) are exhibited at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyon until 6 March 2017. As part of its 40th anniversary, the Pompidou Centre has lent some thirty works to the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyon in order to add to this major retrospective, also complemented by European and American loans. Entitled Le Laboratoire intérieur as a reference to Baudelaire, the exhibition comprises fourteen rooms: it begins with Matisse’s years of study and his first influences, such as Cézanne, Manet, Rodin and Michelangelo, followed by portraits, his Fauve and Ingres-style drawings, and culminating in his last great work, the Chapelle du Rosaire in Saint Paul de Vence. This is a major event for Lyon, which had not held a large Matisse exhibition since the one organised for the reopening of the museum in 1998. The city nevertheless maintained special ties with the artist, who was successfully operated on in Lyon after being diagnosed with a serious cancer in 1941, at the age of 72. He was given only six months to live at the time. After a successful operation and convalescence, Matisse called this his « resurrection » and offered the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyon a set of several drawings from the series Themes and variations, as well as illustrated books, including the famous « Jazz » series. René Jullian, director of the museum at the time, also bought from Matisse the portrait of antique dealer Georges Joseph Demotte, painted in 1918. In 1993, a second painting by Matisse arrived at the museum: Young Woman in white, with red background (1946), coming from the Pompidou Centre after being donated by Pierre Matisse. Matisse has never been so well exhibited in France, the exhibition of the Shchukin collection is indeed in full swing at the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris, with 22 major works on show by the artist.

James Ensor, Paris-London

Sotheby’s Paris owes a historic success to James ENSOR (1860-1949): on 7 December 2016, the well known auction house sold a particularly cynical work by the artist, Squelette arrêtant masques (Skeleton stopping the masks). Painted in 1891, it remained for nearly a century in the possession of the Serruys family. Sotheby’s emphasised « the extraordinary freshness of its colours, the iconic subject depicting the emblematic figures of Ensor’s art and the composition of amazing modernity » of this work painted in Ostend in 1891. This painting was created during the artist’s most prolific period, the Masks series. Recently rediscovered, this oil painting (30 x 50cm) was estimated between €1 to €1.5 million, before selling for more than €7.3 million ($7.82m), a world record for the artist.

Ensor’s legacy is more than ever alive and his newly found popularity is not just due to the prosperity of his market. His works are currently exhibited in London under the direction of another famous Belgian artist, Luc Tuymans. The exhibition « Intrigue: James Ensor by Luc Tuymans », at the Royal Academy, is built around a substantial loan from the Antwerp Museum of Fine Arts, the main owner of the artist’s works, currently under renovation. Visitors can discover the unusual world of James Ensor in London until 29 January 2017.

London hits back

Market players were expecting a dramatic slowdown in British performances due to the climate of mistrust and gloominess generated by the Brexit vote a few months ago. This has not been at all the case, at least with regard to the second market, that of auctions, which has proved particularly dynamic this autumn. The figures speak for themselves: nearly 4,000 fine art lots were auctioned in London for a total of £101m in November 2016, compared with only £48.5m during the same month in 2015. Sales revenue therefore doubled, after a crucial adjustment period in the first half of 2016. The latest results for the Old Masters sales between 7 and 9 December in London were satisfactory, especially for Sotheby’s, with £14.8m (£12.2m at Christie’s) where prices often flew over the initial estimates. Two major works passed the £2 million mark: Pieter II BRUEGHEL (c.1564-1637/38) (£2.7m or $3.2m for Return from the Kermesse and TIZIANO VECELLIO‘s Portrait of two boys) sold for over £2.1m, or £600,000 above the high estimate. The worst is over and it’s business as usual in the British capital.

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