The best of New York: Picasso, Kandinsky, Monet

[30 Oct 2012]


The art world’s biggest collectors will be gathered together on 5 and 7 November for the prestigious New York Impressionist & Modern Art sales. Sotheby’s is going first with nine works signed Pablo PICASSO including La Nature morte aux tulipes (130 x 97 cm) showing the painter’s muse as a stone bust beside a bouquet of flowers (1932). The work is carrying an estimate $35m – $50m. Marie-Therese is also the subject of another work (1936) half the size and estimated half the price ($15m – $20m) entitled Femme à la fenêtre (Marie-Thérèse) (Marie-Thérèse).

A whole collection for the price of the best Picasso…
In effect, these two paintings are the finest Picasso’s of the season to arrive on the market. Moreover, if La Nature morte aux tulipes passes its low estimate, it will be Picasso’s best result this year, and if it reaches its high estimate, it will enter his top 5 best auction results, equivalent to the $50 million fetched by one of his early works, Woman With Arms Crossed (1901-1902) on 8 November 2000 at Christie’s New York.

Anecdotally, it is interesting to note that with $50 million at the same sale one could build a superb collection of a dozen or so works including a magnificent nude by Kees VAN DONGEN (La Dame au chien, $2m – $3m), a masterpiece by Pierre BONNARD (Vase de fleurs avec figure, $3m – $5m), a bronze by Marino MARINI (Piccolo Cavaliere, $800,000 – 1.2m) and another by Henry MOORE (Reclining Figure No. 7, $2m – $3m), a still life by Giorgio MORANDI (Natura Morta, $1m – $1.5m), Fernand LÉGER’s L’élément mécanique ($1.8m – $2.5m), a drawing by Egon SCHIELE (Blondes Mädchen im Unterhemd – (Blonde Girl in Underwear)) estimated at $1m – $1.5m, a small painting by Pierre-Auguste RENOIR (Jeune fille au panier (Gabrielle au jardin), $1.8 – 2.5m), a dynamic painting by Joan MIRO (Personnages, étoiles, $1.5 – 2m) … all these works… plus the other major Picasso in the sale, the famous Femme à la fenêtre (Marie-Thérèse) (est. $15m – $20m).

The most affordable work in the sale is a 1958 oil on panel by Max ERNST, Nature Morte carrying a price estimate of $150,000 – $250,000.

Kandinsky and Monet on the verge of abstraction
Two days later, Christie’s will hold its Impressionist & Modern Art sale at Rockefeller Plaza and is expecting a large sum for a Wassily KANDINSKY study from his famous Improvisations series. The work, Studie für Improvisation 8, emerged from the collection of the Swiss charitable foundation Volkart where it had remained for 60 years. This rare work, completed in 1909 a few months before the “official” birth-year of Abstract art, is expected to generate the new record for the historical founder of the Abstract movement. Even at its low estimate ($20m) it will exceed the $19 million paid for his masterpiece Fugue on 17 May 1990 at Sotheby’s New York. Studie für Improvisation 8 is a fairly compact work, whose tight composition and iconographic references to Russian history do not have quite the aerial elegance of Fugue. However, such an important work – operating a historical transition between figuration and pure abstraction, combined with the laudable objective of the sale (to provide financial support for philanthropic initiatives of the foundation) – could well generate a handsome surprise.

In addition to this exciting piece by Kandinsky, the success of the Christie’s sale also depends on Nymphéas by Claude MONET, estimated between $30m and $50m (88.3 x 99.5 cm). Painted in 1905, these Nymphéas are leaving their former owner after 33 years. Recall that the Nymphéas (Water Lilies) are the hottest theme in Claude Monet’s portfolio (we could almost say, by extension, in Impressionism in general) fetching his highest auction prices. Not only did Le Bassin aux nymphéas fetch his auction record in June 2008 at approximately $72 million but almost half of his auction results above the $10 million threshold have been for this and floral and aquatic theme (there are water lilies in 15 of Claude Monet’s 34 eight-digit results).

While Christie’s hopes to see 45% of the lots exceed one million dollars (thirty lots out of 71 offered), the sale’s entry ticket is $250,000 with a choice between a pencil drawing by Georges Pierre SEURAT (Regatta (two sailboats)) that belonged to Maurice Denis, a superb 1950 lost wax cast by Valsuani of Henri MATISSE’s La Gardenia (20.3 cm) or three watercolored roses by Emil NOLDE (45.7 x 34.3 cm).