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Top bracket artworks for sale at the beginning of 2019

[01 Jan 2019]

Focus on three rare works on offer in January…

No respite for art lovers! The new year begins today for collectors, with two drawings by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres presented on 1 January 2019 in a municipal auction in Normandy (Bruno Roquigny in Saint-Valéry-en-Caux). The two portraits, one of Ferdinand-Philippe, Duke of Orleans (1841), the other of Count Molé (1833), each estimated between €200,000 and €300,000, constitute the first important lots of the new year. Indeed, with French provincial sales often throwing up superb treasures, it is worth keeping track of what’s on offer…. After that detour, the auction calendar will resume back in New York with Christie’s starting 2019 with five sales, including a highly anticipated Art Brut sale. Below we focus on three of the star lots on offer over the coming days.

    1. The unique world of Henry Darger

Henry Darger (1892-1973) created an exceptionally broad spectrum œuvre that was discovered in his room after his death. A secretive and reclusive character, Darger created a unique world, including a 15,000-page illustrated and typed manuscript, The Realms of the Unreal, describing events from a completely imaginary world in which a bunch of pre-teen girls (the Vivian Girls) on an imaginary planet wage a war against adults to obtain their freedom. Parallel to this written saga (but never published), Darger also painted. He produced – sometimes on both sides – large narrative panels that are pure masterpieces. His technique was also unique, drawing inspiration from a variety of sources (children’s art books, various magazines, fashion catalogs, etc.) copying the images in charcoal before applying water colours.

The first Darger works sold on the secondary market were actually auctioned in France at Loudmer’s in 1989. At that time, a panoramic drawing by the obscure celebrity fetched less than $10,000. Today, his drawings are in the collections of major museums including the MoMA, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris and the Collection de l’Art Brut in Lausanne. On the auction market one would expect to pay at least $150,000 for one of his most important works because they are both in-demand and rare. The one proposed by Christie’s on 18 January in New York is monumental – nearly three meters wide – and double-sided (drawn on both sides). It is expected to fetch between $250,000 and $500,000.

    1. The opulence of a small masterpiece by Wtewael

Jumping back over 400 hundred years… we have a superb baroque painting on copper entitled Banquet of the Gods by the Dutch painter Joachim Anthonisz Wtewael, one of Holland’s most important artists, active in the years 1580 – 1620. This masterful work depicts 47 figures – gods, fauns, women and putti – in orgiastic debauchery… all within the confines of 15.8 x 20.4 cm. With unmatched density, the artist portrays Bacchus, Ceres, Mars, Venus, Cupid, Pan and his muses at a grand banquet, and despite its small size, the work is expected to sell for between 5 and 7 million dollars on 30 January at Sotheby’s (New York). However, in view of its quality, it is quite possible the lot will reach its high estimate, especially since a smaller Wtewael work has already crossed the $7 million threshold. That was also an oil-on-copper measuring just 18.2 x 13.5 cm, a virtuoso composition depicting 12 bodies on the sensual theme of Mars and Venus surprised by Vulcan (Mars and Venus Surprised by Vulcan, $7.26m, at Christie’s London in 2012).

    1. One of Rubens’ best drawings

Sotheby’s will also be offering an exquisitely rare drawing by Rubens which should fetch the Dutch virtuoso’s second best-ever auction result for a work on paper. It’s a study of a young man with arms raised measuring almost 50 centimeters, drawn in charcoal with a couple of white chalk highlights to catch the light. The work shows the artist’s change of mind regarding the position of the tensed and muscular legs. The torsion of the lower limbs and the momentum of the figure, forward and upward, is typical Baroque bravura. A result within the estimated range of $2.5 – $3.5 million would make it the second best-ever auction result for a Rubens drawing (and the best result for a Rubens charcoal). On 10 July 2014, Christie’s London hammered his best-ever result for a work on paper – an ink representing Samson and Delilah – at over $5.5 million.

Apart from the provincial sales in France and the year’s first New York sessions at Christie’s and Sotheby’s, we don’t yet know what other wonders the other major auction houses around the world will be offering over the coming months (China’s Poly Auction and China Guardian, Germany’s Dorotheum, France’s Artcurial, Korea’s Seoul Auction). In fact, the majority of auction operators do not start selling until later in the year, and some wait as long as May (Grisebach) before reopening after the winter break.

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