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Flash News ! Pierre Soulages – Fernand Léger – Christie’s Hong Kong

[07 Dec 2018]

Pierre Soulages, exponential value potential

On 15 November, Christie’s in New York hammered a superb new record for Pierre SOULAGES – famous for his outre-noir (beyond-black) – at $10.6 million for a work entitled Peinture 186 x 143 cm, 23 décembre 1959 (a date corresponding to the eve of his 40th birthday). Acquired by an anonymous collector from the personal collection of an American gallerist, the textured work in volcanic red and intense black had never been sold publicly having remained in private hands since 1959.

With a previous record at $6.9 million (for Peinture 162 x 130 cm, 14 avril 1962) Soulages’ price progression has been phenomenal: his price index is up more than 1,000% since 2000. As the artist approaches the ripe old age of 100, a number of events have been organised including a retrospective at the Pierre Gianadda Foundation of Martigny bringing together, for the first time, some works from the Pompidou Center’s collection; an exhibition at the Soulage Museum in Rodez with more than 120 works on paper from the a donation by the artist, including a precious collection of walnut stains. Very rare in public collections, these works from the 1946-1948 are among the artist’s best works along with his Outre-noirs. But the big event next summer will be an entire room at the world’s most prestigious museum, the Louvre. The last time Soulages was in Paris (at the Pompidou Center 10 years ago) the show was a huge success attracting more than half a million visitors. A few weeks from his 99th birthday, Pierre Soulages is still displaying the same desire for intensity, actively engaged in the projects for his upcoming centenary.

Fernand Léger

In 1913, Fernand LÉGER painted a series of 14 paintings in a search of pure abstraction, beyond Cubism. One of these, Contraste de formes, is an explosion of shapes and colours composed around a network of strong lines. One of the few works from this series still in private hands (the Anna Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation), the painting was auctioned for the first time last year on 13 November 2017 at Christie’s New York where it fetched a new record for the artist at over $70 million. However Fernand Léger’s success has spread beyond the secondary market with numerous recent and current exhibitions: Le Beau est partout, organized in Bozar Brussels in the first quarter of 2018 was the first retrospective of the artist in Belgium since 1956. Followed a presentation at the Pompidou Center in Metz, the show explored Léger’s enthusiasm for the technologies of his era and the highlighted the influence of his work and his teaching on a whole generation of artists like Louise Bourgeois, William Klein and even Serge Gainsbourg. Some forty major works by the artist are currently being shown in an exhibition entitled Fernand Léger: New times, new pleasures, open until March 2019 at the Tate Liverpool in England. The paintings, drawings, textiles and films in this show reveal a mature Fernand Léger, affected, like so many of his generation, by the the horrors of WW1. Léger served as an engineer in that war and was gassed at the Battle of Verdun. In the midst of the chaos of the bombs, the artist remembered being “dazzled by the breech of a 75-millimeter gun gleaming in the sunset… by the magic of the light on the bare metal”. The paintings that he subsequently produced are known as his ‘mechanical period’ and belie an obsession with the machine particularly visible in Le Disque (1918), a collision of geometric shapes and crashed planes. His Cubism is so personal that posterity has classifies it separately: Léger, who drew as many curves as straight lines is said to have invented Tubism. His search for modernity also reached beyond traditional artistic media. Passionate about cinema and a fan of Charlie Chaplin, in 1924 he directed a 12-minute experimental film called Ballet Mécanique, a deliberately non-narrative piece mixing circus scenes, pistons in action and close-ups of smiles. It is also marked the return of human figures in his work: acrobats, workers, women at the beach… anonymous men and women. In his monograph on Léger, Werner Schmalenbach recalled that the artist was “obsessed with his duty as a painter of the ‘present’”.

World record for Christie’s in Asia

Since its first sale in Hong Kong in 1986, Christie’s has participated in the development of the largest auction platform in Asia, organizing prestigious sales twice a year, in the spring and the autumn. This November’s major sales – including fine wines and luxury watches – generated a total of $353 million. The four sales dedicated to Modern and Contemporary Asian Art totaled $85.3 million.

However, the highlight of this flamboyant season was the sale of a small masterpiece for $59.2 million on 26 November. This impressive result was hammered for a drawing by SU Shi, an eleventh-century artist who is one of the most important figures in Chinese history but unknown in the West. Su Shi was a Song Dynasty scholar – poet, philosopher, painter and calligrapher – who according to Christie’s experts, completed the work Wood and Rock in his later years, after 1071. This millennial masterpiece represents a dry and tortuous tree trunk leaning in the opposite direction of a huge rock forcing its diagonal growth. A metaphorical and introspective landscape, it is one of the last known works by this master whose brushstrokes express a free and modern spirit. Preserved by a succession of forty collectors over the centuries, in 1937, this exceptionally rare work fell into the hands of a Chinese art dealer whose wife was Japanese. Wood and Rock subsequently spent many years in Japan before arriving in Hong Kong where it fetched Christie’s best-ever result in Asia and one of the best Fine Art auction results in Chinese art market history. The Asian market has once again expressed its power, raising Su Shi’s drawings to a price level never achieved in the West by Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo drawings.

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