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Flash News: Mary Cassatt – ​The Rockefeller collection – ​ Very busy week in Hong Kong

[30 Mar 2018]

Mary Cassatt. Impressionist femininity

Painting almost exclusively female subjects… women in theater boxes, women hugging and caring for their child, women picking fruit in a garden… Mary CASSATT (1844-1926) was one of only a few women accepted into the closed group of Impressionist painters and the only American women. Growing up in the United States and Europe (her wealthy parents travelled a lot and her father was so successful in business he retired at forty…), Mary Cassatt finished her studies at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts and returned to Paris in 1865 with the ambition of breaking into the European art world. In 1868, her Mandolin Player caught the jury’s eye at the Salon officiel.

More than a decade later (towards the end of 1877), Edgar Degas invited her to join the Impressionists after being favourably surprised by one of her paintings admitted to the Salon Officiel that year. Thereafter, she felt free to drop conventions and paint as she wished, with a free and relaxed style, simplified shapes and vibrant colours (occasionally unrefined). She refused to spend her life conforming to the appropriate artistic activities for “ladies” in that misogynist era: miniatures and watercolors. Nor did she wish to drop her favourite themes: maternal devotion and the everyday life of women, such as her Mother and Child at the Bailly Gallery in Geneva or her superb Young Woman Picking Fruit at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Art.

So, with a little help from Degas, Cassatt was accepted among the “revolutionary” but not particularly feminist Impressionists, who counted very few women in their ranks. And, as things turned out, the women it did accept became highly visible, with Berthe MORISOT (1841-1895) and Mary Cassatt greatly contributing to the influence of the movement. At the fourth Impressionist exhibition in 1879, she exhibited twelve works, some of which attracted favourable criticism. At the sixth exhibition in 1881, Cassatt was the star of the event with La Tasse de Thé (loaned from New York’s MET). She remained faithful to the Impressionist adventure through the last exhibition in 1886, indelibly linking her name to the movement and to its future success.

A selection of her work – some 50 pieces including paintings, pastels, drawings and prints – are currently being shown at the Paris Jacquemart-André Museum until 23 July 2018. The exhibition has been organised chronologically so that visitors can literally walk through life of the artist discovering works rarely shown together.

Reflecting the geography of her career, Mary Cassatt’s market is primarily located in the United States and France. Since her auction record at Christie’s New York in May 2007 (Children playing with a Dog (1907), 6.2m$), the artist’s auction turnover has been erratic. Her important works seldom reach the secondary market, and when they do, it’s almost exclusively via Sotheby’s and Christie’s who have generated her 30 latest and highest auction results. The most recent was hammered in May 2017 when her Girl in a Bonnet Tied with a Large Pink Bow (1909) fetched nearly $2.3 million.

The Rockefeller collection: a deluge of superlatives…

Few in New York’s art world will be unaware of the major event about to hit the city in May. Christie’s will be holding what it has already dubbed as the Sale of the Century, exclusively dedicated to treasures from David and Peggy Rockefeller’s private collection. A total of 1,600 lots will be offered for an estimated total turnover of over $600 million. Christie’s has called this the “low estimate”. The funds raised will go to non-profit organizations like Harvard University, the regional park in Maine and the MoMA in New York. The auctioneer is rolling out the red carpet for this star-studded sale which has been promoted via a world tour in Hong Kong, London and Los Angeles before being exhibited in the Rockefeller Center, home to Christie’s New York auction room. There will be no less than five exhibition catalogues, three days of sales, two evening sales and one online sale. Ten works from the collection, accompanied by art experts, spent 5 days in Paris (16-21 March 2018).

David Rockefeller – who died in 2017 at the age of 101 – and his wife Peggy (1915-1996) collected art throughout their lives. The last grandchildren of the business magnate, industrialist and philanthropist, John D. Rockefeller, David Rockefeller inherited from previous generations and gradually built up a reference collection of Impressionist, Modern and Classical art. The couple planned this sale long ago and, as David Rockefeller himself said, These objects, which have given me and Peggy so much pleasure, will again be accessible, available to other guardians, who hopefully will derive the same satisfaction and joy from them as we did.

The program for this extraordinary sale includes key works by Claude MONET, Paul GAUGUIN, Georges Pierre SEURAT and Edward HOPPER. It also includes works in porcelain, Asian art and ceramics from the pre-Columbian civilizations. There will also be a large number of “objects”, accessible to more modest budgets. One of the major works on offer is a 1905 Pablo PICASSO painting entitled Fillette à la corbeille fleurie emblematic of the artist’s Blue Period and estimated at $100 million. First acquired by Leo and Gertrude Stein and in excellent condition, this museum piece has not been sold publicly for fifty years. At the stopover in Paris we saw paintings by Georges Seurat (La Rade de Grandcamp – 1885, estimated $20 – 30 million), Edouard Manet (Lilas et rose – 1882, $7 – 10 million) and Delacroix (Tigre jouant avec une tortue – 1862, $5 – 7 million).

If Christie’s “at least $600 million’”estimate holds, the Rockefeller collection will break the world record set in Paris in 2009 when the sale of masterpieces collected by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé generated $484 million. The total may also benefit from the $450 million paid for a single masterpiece, Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, in November 2017 (also at Christie’s New York).

Very busy week in Hong Kong

This is the the busiest period of the year in Hong Kong. A large number Asian collectors – mainly Taiwanese, Singaporean and Indonesian – as well as major Western collectors are expected to converge on the 6th edition of Art Basel Hong Kong at the city’s Convention and Exhibition Center. Nearly 250 of the world’s most prestigious galleries will be showing their art to the public from 29 to 31 March.

The auction houses will also be taking advantage of the influx of these collectors, especially as the Fair is only a few steps from their sales rooms… also located in the Convention and Exhibition Center.

To seduce Asian collectors, Sotheby’s has decided to organize an exhibition/sale in the style of a major private gallery. Titled Panorama: A New Perspective (29 March – April 3), everything in the exhibition is directly for sale – without going through the auction procedure – and contains a selection of superb works by some of the most original and influential artists of the 19th and 20th centuries… more than 40 works of Modern and Contemporary art worth a total of $200 million. These include four works by Picasso, one by Salvador DALI, two by Marc CHAGALL, two by Joan MIRO, three by Pierre BONNARD, and works by Mark ROTHKO, Willem DE KOONING, Alexander CALDER and Gerhard RICHTER. All the pieces have been carefully selected to appeal to wealthy Asian collectors with strong appetites for the best signatures of Western art. The four works by Picasso are all ‘important’: Nature morte à la Guitare, Homme à la pipe, Femme à la robe verte and Enfant jouant, Claude… works covering 40 years of creation, with impeccable provenance, straight from the artist’s granddaughter, Marina Picasso.

Besides this exhibition/sale, Sotheby’s has organised no less than 19 auctions between 30 March and 3 April, also at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center, setting the scene for an intense marathon of sales offering luxury goods like “rare” wines, “magnificent” jewelry, “important” watches… and… works of Modern, Contemporary and Asian Art (31 March and 1 April). Here again, the works have been very carefully selected to meet the expectations of major collectors from all over Asia. Sotheby’s has focused on the most sought-after and most expensive artists like Zao Wou-ki, Chu Teh-Chun and Foujita. There are also no fewer than 7 works by Sanyu, two of which are expected to fetch more than $3 million each (Nu Endormi et Léopard rose at the Modern Art Evening Sale on 31 March). This sale will be followed by Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Sale with works by Gutai Group pioneers, leading Chinese, Japanese and Korean artists and top-bracket Western signatures like Lucio Fontana, Jean Dubuffet, Roy Lichtenstein and Gerhard Richter, in a range of prices from $100,000 to $4 million.

Christie’s Hong Kong schedule over the same period is much lighter. The company has organised just one sale of 101 lots entitled First Open (29 March). Rather than trying to compete with Sotheby’s dense calendar, Christie’s has adopted an opposite strategy with just one sale and only a handful of works expected to fetch over $100,000. The auctioneer’s communication has focused on the affordability of the works (“starting at $3,000”) rather than the usual focus on high value and high prestige. The sale is offering affordable prints under $5,000 (Warhol and Foujita), superb drawings under $10,000 (Foujita, Walasse Ting or Key Hiraga), a number of more imposing works in the $20,000 to $50,000 price range (Lee Ufan, Chu Teh-Chun, Yun Hyong-KEUN) and a blue abstraction (2006) by ZAO Wou-Ki expected to fetch over $500,000. Notwithstanding the different price range, the sale has also been perfectly calibrated to appeal to Asian collectors.

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