VIDEO: Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art Sale

When you talk about masterpieces, you tend to conjure up a list of names and a visual database of the images you associate with being great, historically important or groundbreaking. When it comes to Impressionism and Modern art this list often includes such pillars of 20th century art as Degas, Monet, Pissaro, Sisley, Seurat, Picasso, Matisse, and Giacometti, among others. All of these great artists are represented at the upcoming Christie’s sale of Impressionist and Modern art to be held in New York on November 7, 2012. What is remarkable about this group of works is not only the coherence with which they were curated but also their superior quality.

Many of the exhibits (lots) are truly breathtaking. The sale’s star lot, Wassily Kandinsky‘s Studie für Improvisation 8, 1909 is one of the most important works in an art historical sense as it represented a pivotal moment in the artist’s career that defined his shift from figurative form towards pure abstraction. As Brooke Lampley, Senior Vice President and Head of Evening Sales, Impressionist & Modern Art at Christies, New York explained in this interview, Kandinsky subsequently vacated his canvases of all figurative and representational references and from that point on employed a purely abstract vocabulary for his Impressions, Improvisations and Compositions. The work, estimated to sell between $20 and $30 million – a new auction record for the artist, is a celebration of color where every brush stroke shimmers and every form rides on a cusp of representational and abstract.

Other remarkable works in the auction include Monet‘s Nymphéas, Juan GrisPipe et Paquet de Tabac, Gustave Caillebottes La Place Saint-Augustin, Temps Brumeaux, Emil Nolde‘s Herbsthimmel am Meer, and one of our favorites, Constantin Brancusi‘s Une Muse. The 1912 plaster bust, reminiscent of Amadeo Modigliani‘s contemplative models, glows with serene iridescence under the pure white light in an otherwise dark room. It’s truly a magical and transformative work!

The Giacometti bronzes were also among our favorite works, with the somewhat awkwardly proportioned Diego au Manteau and the surprisingly intimate and emotional Tête Sans Crâne being the most striking among the group.

Overall, this year’s sale is a clear departure from the somber and the somewhat disjointed collection presented in the fall of 2011 and we expect a vast majority of the lots to realize their sales estimates and quite possibly exceed them in selected cases.

Brooke Lampley, Senior Vice President and Head of Evening Sales, Impressionist & Modern Art at Christies, New York: This season’s auction is full of both Impressionist and Modern masterpieces, quite equally. We have 71 lots. Our top lot is Monet Nymphéas from 1905, which is a benchmark piece for the Impressionist market. It is the most sought-after type of Monet, and arguably the most sought-after type of Impressionist picture in today’s market place. We also have a wonderful 1909 Kandinsky, a number of fantastic Giacometti sculptures, very expressive works from different periods, a number of Picasso works and a Brancusi sculpture from 1912.

Predominantly, we see people all over the world trying to assemble collections of 20th century art, and very clearly seeing the lineage from Impressionism right through Contemporary art. When you look at Nymphéas, you are [essentially] looking at the origins of Abstract Expressionism. That is a radical all-over composition, totally abstract, with a lack of central focus. You can really see how innovative those artists were in preparing the grounds for radical innovations to come later. I think you can see that lineage very clearly in some of the examples that we are highlighting in this auction.  Both, the Monet and the Kandinsky particularly, speak to the development of abstraction.

This work Studie für Improvisation 8 was painted by Kandinsky in 1909 and belongs to the pioneering series of Improvisations, which he initiated in that year, and was really part of his first effort to achieve complete abstraction and non-objective art. It was in 1909 that he completed the first manuscript for his manifesto “On the Spiritual in Art,” where he outlined his objective of removing nature and revealing the inner hidden truth and meaning conveyed solely by color and form. And, the first series of works in which he endeavored to accomplish that were the Improvisations. In “On the Spiritual in Art,” he outlined three types of pictures that he would execute over the course of the rest of his career – Impressions, Improvisations and Compositions. This is one of the largest, most fully realized and complex Improvisation works in the entire series. It is a thrill to be offering a work from such a pivotal part of Kandinsky’s career that demonstrates the path that he would move on for the rest of his career. Here you can see him attempting to remove that detail and de-naturalizing both the composition, and already clearly the color, which is so wild and saturated and non-naturalistic. It is a sensational work to look at. We are thrilled to be offering it on behalf of the Volkart Foundation in Switzerland, so all of the proceeds go to charity.

The overall value of the auction and cumulatively the low-end estimate of the auction is $216 million, with a cumulative high-end of $325 million. It is quite a great group, rich sale and a big range. There are a number of works that could set record or landmark prices. Kandinsky is notably estimated at a world record estimate of $20-30 million. The previous record for Kandinsky at an auction was set in 1990 by a “Teens work” which sold for just over $20 million with premium. The Monet, of course, is at an estimate of $30-50 million. We have the Giacometti leg at an estimate of $10-15 million, the Brancusi also at $10-15 million. So we have a number of highlights of the sale that are top lots and at significant prices. I also would mention Miró – our back cover – a painting from 1925. In this year where the new record for Miró has been set twice, this is a work from the same period as the other two works, and set at a very reasonable estimate of $12-18 million and being sold with a guarantee.

List of featured artworks:

Une muse, plaster
Height: 18 in. (45.7 cm.). Executed in 1912

Nature morte, oil on canvas
25¼ x 24 in. (64 x 61 cm.). Painted in 1910-1914

EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
Deux danseuses aux corsages jaunes, pastel on paper laid down on board
32½ x 27 in. (82.5 x 68.6 cm.). Drawn circa 1902

Sam Francis (1923-1994)
Violet, Yellow and White, oil on canvas
57½ x 38 in. (146.1 x 96.5 cm.). Painted in 1958.

Sam Francis
Blue and Red, oil on canvas
32 x 23 ¾  in. (81.3 x 58.4 cm.). Painted in 1953.

Tête sans crâne, painted bronze. Height (including base): 17 in. (43.5 cm.)
Conceived in 1957-1958 and cast in 1962

La Jambe, bronze with brown and green patina
Height (including base): 85 13/16 in. (218 cm.). Conceived in 1947 and cast in 1958

Diego au manteau, bronze with brown patina
Height: 15⅛ in. (38.1 cm). Conceived in 1954 and cast in 1959

Studie für Improvisation 8, oil on card mounted on canvas
38⅝ x 27½ in. (98 x 70 cm.). Painted in 1909

Bindung, oil on canvas
27½ x 23⅝ in. (70 x 60 cm.). Painted in May 1932

Zwei Schwarze Flecke, watercolor and brush and India ink on paper
18¾ x 12⅞ in. (47.5 x 32.7 cm.). Painted in 1923

Franz Kline (1910-1962)
Untitled. oil on canvas
79 x 110⅜ in. (200.7 x 280.4 cm.). Painted in 1957.

HENRI MATISSE (1869-1954)
La Tiaré, signed with initials ‘H.M.’ (on the left side);
Bronze with dark brown patina. Height: 8 in. (20.4 cm.)
Conceived in Nice, 1930 and cast in 1950

JOAN MIRO (1893-1983)
Peinture (Femme, Journal, Chien), oil on canvas
36¼ x 28¾ in. (92 x 73 cm.). Painted in 1925

CLAUDE MONET (1840-1926)
Nymphéas, oil on canvas
34¾ x 38¾ in. (88.3 x 90.8 cm.). Painted in 1905

PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
Baigneuses, oil on canvas
8¾ x 10½ in. (22 x 27 cm.). Painted in Boisgeloup, 4 September 1932 

 Interview ©galleryIntell | Images courtesy of Christie’s Images Limited. 2012