The Section d’Or… the “other” cubism

[16 Sep 2014]


Considered an offshoot of Cubism, Section d’Or (Golden Section) artists are not as expensive as the hardcore Cubists like Picasso. While their prices have continued to climb (new record for Juan Gris this year), many works by the major avant-garde artists are still very cheap by comparison.

Cubism did not remain confined to its initiators, Braque and Picasso, but rather beamed out around the world via various groups of artists such as the Section d’Or, also known as the Groupe de Puteaux. This particular form of Cubism emerged under the leadership of Jacques Villon (brother of Marcel Duchamp) after he invited his friends in 1911 to Puteaux to trace the outlines of an unorthodox Cubism under a name referring to the ideal proportion governed by the Golden Ratio. The first manifestation of the Section d’Or was in 1912 at an exhibition organized by the Galerie La Boétie in Paris. The show contained works by strong personalities like Jean METZINGER, the Villon brothers, Roger DE LA FRESNAYE, Louis MARCOUSSIS, Robert DELAUNAY, Frantisek KUPKA, Henri LE FAUCONNIER, Fernand LÉGER and Albert GLEIZES.

How much would Marcel Duchamp’s marvelous Nude Descending a Staircase be worth on the auction market today? The final version of this work – both cubist and futurist, rejected at the Salon de Printemps (Paris 1912) and subsequently exhibited at the Armory Show in New York in 1913 with scandalous effect – would be one of the world’s most expensive works of Modern art if the Philadelphia Museum of Art decided to sell it. In 1937, Marcel Duchamp reproduced the work in the form of a stencil-colored collotype (approx. 30 cm x 20 cm). Collectors have to content themselves with this smaller version which nevertheless fetched $72,000 ($88,900 incl. fees) at Phillips de Pury & Company, New York, on April 25, 2012, three times its 2008 price. As long as a masterpiece like Nude Descending a Staircase remains in museum hands, Juan GRIS and Fernand LÉGER will continue to be the most expensive adventurers of the Section d’Or. They are the only artists in the Section to have generated auction results above 10 million dollars, including a personal record for Fernand Léger whose Woman in Blue (1912/1913) fetched $35 million at Sotheby’s New York on May 7, 2008 and a recent new record for Juan Gris whose Still Life with checked tablecloth (1915) fetched $50.7 million ($57m incl. fees) at Christie’s London on February 4, 2014.

Today, the other cubisteurs well-placed to fetch 7-digit auction results are Jean METZINGER, Albert GLEIZES, Alexander ARCHIPENKO, Jacques VILLON, André LHOTE, Sonia DELAUNAY-TERK,Robert DELAUNAY and Francis PICABIA. Their prices soared in 1990, following the inflation that affected Modern masters in general… before collapsing. After a sluggish decade, the Section d’Or artist are back on an upward path, particularly as the overall scarcity of cubist works by Braque and Picasso has led collectors to focus on artists that were once considered secondary.

While the best-dated paintings (the 1910s) are inflating in value, small paintings by Albert Gleizes, Roger De La Fresnaye and Jacques Villon are still available in a range of $3,000 to $10,000. At these prices, the oil paintings offered are usually late or not particularly brilliant, but the signature is a guarantee of value. Works on paper offer a wider choice as well as relatively stable prices as long as the supply remains concentrated on the French market. A Cubist portrait in charcoal by Jean Metzinger fetched around $7,000 earlier this year (April) in Paris.