Auctions: Money and the masters

Two of the outstanding paintings in Christie's sale of Impressionist and Modern Art in London next Monday are by two brilliant pioneers of Fauvism who ended their lives as pariahs in France, shunned because of their contacts with the German occupation.

June 14, 2007 10:15
3 minute read.
chagall art 88 298

chagall art 88 298. (photo credit: )


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Two of the outstanding paintings in Christie's sale of Impressionist and Modern Art in London next Monday are by two brilliant pioneers of Fauvism who ended their lives as pariahs in France, shunned because of their contacts with the German occupation. But by then neither of them had retained much respect as artists. The two, Andre Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck, were lifelong friends. Back in 1905 they were among the world's most daring and influential landscape painters, pioneering the use of colors completely divorced from those of nature. But by the early Thirties, both had turned their back on modernism. Derain produced uninspired still life and portraits of ladies that were opaque and literal in color. Vlaminck was reduced to churning out potboilers of village roads painted largely with a palette knife. During the occupation they dined publicly with German officers and foolishly accepted a tour of Hitler's Berlin. Snubbed in postwar France, they died in the Fifties. Derain's Boats at Collioure, 1905 (lot no. 5) is a complete break with previous representational painting. Everything in it is just a cipher of dashes of vibrant color, with much of the canvas left in view. It had a tremendous effect on painters like Matisse, Braque and Van Dongen. Its top estimate is 1.2m. ($2.4m.), but this superb canvas may well go higher. Vlaminck painted many of his best canvases at Chatou on the Seine, depicting its banks, its bridge and boats. Lot no. 6 in this sale, depicting houses across the river and painted by Vlaminck in 1906/7, has a healthy top estimate of 2.2m. Kees van Dongen's portrait of a lovely young woman in a blue robe, was painted in his best post-fauvist but still colorful manner in 1911. This wonderful composition escapes being merely pretty and should top 0.5m. The exaggerated eyes may be a debt to Jawlensky. Hoped to reach 3m. is a wonderful late Pissarro of the Pont Neuf, one of the last of a series, when the aging master was at the height of his powers (lot 9). The top lot of the sale is Monet's 1913 depiction of the arch of flowers over his little lake at Giverny. A little too pretty for my taste, it is nevertheless a basically abstract picture, with the reflection of the arch forming the main abstract motif ( 9m.- 12m.). A marvelous earlier Monet of London's Waterloo Bridge, painted in the fog that Monet loved, eschews actual color and is almost Fauvist; it dates from 1904 and should easily reach its estimate of 6m.- 8m. There's a great Jawlensky portrait of a Spanish girl (lot 16) from 1912/13, clearly fauvist, that may reach 3m.; and several Jawlensky abstracts. A Mondrian abstract that once belonged to his acolyte Theo van Doesburg was painted in 1913 (lot 23, 1.6m.- 2.4m.). A late Cezanne landscape that came from a private collection in Japan starts at 2m. But my favorite is a wonderful Alfred Sisley riverside landscape from 1880 of trees and a house often painted by Pissarro and Monet (lot 37). The English-born Sisley is a long respected, but to my mind still underrated painter; I predict a fight for this superbly composed and painted oil, which starts at 1.4m. Another striking Sisley, lot 13, starts even higher. Both these canvases enhance Sisley's ever-growing reputation. This sale is rich in major canvases, including those of Matisse, Leger, Chagall, Picasso and Magritte. THE PARALLEL evening sale at Sotheby's on Tuesday is also replete with amazing canvases with high estimates. One of the most beautiful of all of Monet's paintings of his water lilies, Nympheas, 1906, starts at 10m. and may double that. An entrancing 1942 Matisse of a dancer reclining against a checker-board background, a subject untouched by the war, is hoped to reach 12m. A lovely fauvist Kees van Dongen, Nude on a Chair, 1905, starts at 0.5m. and will go higher. An understated and not at all freakish Modigliani portrait of one of his favorite models, painted in 1917, has an estimate of 3.5m.- 4.5m. Giacometti, Jawlensky, Toulouse-Lautrec, Schiele, Degas, Moholy-Nagy, Picasso, Helleu and Tanguy are all well represented. Sotheby's accompanying day sale of works on paper June 20 is a delight. All the masters, particularly Miro, Picasso, Rouault and Matisse, have very reasonable estimates. THERE'S A really varied selection of 290 paintings and some prints by European masters offered at Montefiore in Tel Aviv next Wednesday, but only one work held my attention: a minimalist but poetic Chagall wash drawing from the early 1930s of a slaughterer, his knife and a cow ($45,000-$60,000), a theme often revisited by this master but rarely seen. The catalog is divided into sections dealing with various periods and styles in local painting and what they call "Judaica" as well as international drawings and prints. Note the hearts by Jim Dine.

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