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Christie's annual sale of 19th- and 20th-century art in Tel Aviv raised a fine $3.3m. last weekend. Timepecker, one of the best oils ever by the late Mordecai Ardon, sold for $643,200, an auction record for any Israeli work of art that also doubled the previous record for any work by the artist. Offered from the estate of Benno Gitter, an Israeli industrialist and philanthropist, Timepecker more than doubled its pre-sale high estimate after fierce bidding.
Reuven Rubin's The Heavenly Jerusalem, circa 1956-1967, doubled its estimate at $441,600, a second-highest auction price for the artist. Mordecai Ardon's Sur le champ d'honneur, 1980, also doubled its estimate at $240,000. Three other Ardons and two other Rubins also topped their estimates.
NOBODY BUT the auction houses cares which house will top the other at their seasonal sales.
But it appears that Christie's will come off best at next week's sales of impressionist and modern art in New York. As we described last week, the Christie's lots contain some exceptional works, headed by a famous Van Gogh of the only Arlesienne in private hands, expected to reach $50m. It may go for more.
Sotheby's sale on May 3 cannot quite compete. It is coy about its estimate for Picasso's Portrait of Dora Maar with a Cat, 1941, but suggests it may also go to $50m. But who knows? This picture has never appeared at auction and it is more interesting, if less appealing, than the Picasso head of Dora Maar offered at Christie's for around $3m. The beautiful Dora Maar was a brilliant photographer and sometime painter thought to be Jewish, but she ended her life as a Catholic. Her intimate relationship with Picasso was stormy, but she inspired some of his finest portraits.
Another seated Picasso at Sotheby's, Woman in an Armchair, 1960, is much less remarkable but still has expectations of reaching $5m. Picasso's Arlequin au Baton, 1969, an unattractive personification of himself as a clown, is optimistically estimated $8m.-$10m. There's also a fine, early Picasso drawing in mixed-media on paper from 1907 of a nude boy in a style that presages his African art-inspired approach to Cubism. This drawing, which once belonged to Walter Chrysler, should top $1m. But a 1914 painted collage on cardboard, a cubist period Glass by Picasso, has a much lower estimate. A unique plaster Cockerel, 1932, also by Picasso, is expected to reach $500,000. Two other Picasso canvases are rather weak, though Sylvette, 1954, is hoped to reach between $4.5m.-$6m.
A stiff, over-sweet pastel by Degas, La Dance Grecque, depicts three dancers erect on their points, the composition having been formed by joining several pieces of paper. I doubt it will make its lower estimate of $5m.
One of the top lots at Sotheby's is a 1927 nude by Matisse, painted in Nice in 1927. The model is surrounded by the exotic carpets and a copper samovar of his odalisque period. The rhythmical stylization of the nude's back and legs is almost Picassoish. It has an estimate of $12m.-$15m.
There's a Van Gogh at Sotheby's, too, a watercolor and gouache made in 1882 before the artist had the knowledge and confidence to form his signature style. Les Toits is one of a series of a long perspective of rooftops seen from his attic window in the Hague, all receding to a vanishing point on the distant horizon. It has an estimate of $2.5m.-$3m. Though just a view, it is, after all, a Van Gogh.
Marc Chagall left Vitebsk for Paris in 1910, but he took his native country with him wherever he went. His 1912 depiction of Russian soldiers, a favorite theme, gave him an opportunity to express his delight with color while playing with reality. Though a gouache on cardboard, this strong early work should reach its top estimate of $3.25m. A good Chagall oil of lovers from the '50s has a similar estimate. I prefer the soldiers.
A soundly abstracted tabletop oil by Fernand Leger, painted in 1920, may reach its $4m.-$5m. Among other fine lots are canvases by Dufy, Braque, Redon, Soutine and Magritte. There are also many bronzes by Rodin, Maillol, Lipchitz, Giacometti, Hepworth and Miro.
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