London Auctions Preview, Part 1: Sotheby’s June 21 Impressionist & Modern Sale
Amedeo Modigliani “Jeanne Hébuterne (au foulard),” 1919, oil on canvas, 36 1/4 x 21 1/4 in., Estimate Upon Request, Courtesy Sotheby's / © Getty Images 2016

Amedeo Modigliani
“Jeanne Hébuterne (au foulard),” 1919, oil on canvas, 36 1/4 x 21 1/4 in., Estimate Upon Request, Courtesy Sotheby’s / © Getty Images 2016

Predicting the prospects for London’s June sales is difficult, to say the least. As Francis Outred, European head of postwar and contemporary art at Christie’s, puts it, “In these times when the market is retracted, it is still stronger than people think it is. The fact that there’s less material on the market might mean some higher prices and surprises.”

If that relatively positive spin is to be believed, the trepidation of potential sellers is a symptom of a nervous market.

Alex Branczik, the newly promoted European head of contemporary art for Sotheby’s, says, “My own message is, even if there’s uncertainty in markets outside art, there’s absolutely demand here, and we’re curating our sale mindfully but also confidently.”

With that kind of caution flag fluttering in the wind, Hugues Joffre, chairman for the UK and Europe at Phillips, says, “I see it as a hiccup based not on the art market but on world issues in general, which makes discretionary sellers tentative about this moment to sell.” However, Joffre is quick to add, “there’s still a ton of money out there waiting to come into the market.”

In the days leading up to the sales, we’ll be previewing the works in each that have piqued particular interest. Here are some to look for on June 21 at Sotheby’s evening Impressionist & Modern sale. (Data in graphs is based on hammer prices as reported by the BLOUIN ART SALES INDEX.)

A genuinely rare-to-market Cubist masterpiece headlines the Sotheby’s auction. Pablo Picasso’s stunning “Femme Assise,” 1909, captures the fragmented beauty of his lover Fernande Olivier, with whom he spent a revolutionary summer in Spain’s rugged and remote Horta de Ebro. Last sold at Sotheby’s London in 1973 for £340,000 and harbored in a private collection since then, the picture carries an unpublished estimate in excess of £30 million.

The sale also contains another portrait of a beloved muse. Amedeo Modigliani’s “Jeanne Hébuterne (au folard)” is a tender depiction of the woman with whom the artist shared the last few years of his life. showing her clothed in a dress set off with a red scarf. The finest of its kind to come to the market in a decade, according to Helena Newman, global co-head of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Department, the painting is expected bring more than £28 million.

Alfred Sisley’s “Les bords du Loing,” 1892, “has all the attributes,” says James Mackie, deputy head of the Impressionist and modern department at Sotheby’s London. “Collectors are seeking a classic Impressionist work, and that motivates people to bid.” The lush and breezy summer landscape was last seen at auction in 1977, when it was acquired by the current consignor, a Scandinavian collector. It carries an estimate of £1 million to £1.5 million ($1.5-2.2 million).

A stark contrast to Sisley’s sunny painting is presented by Edvard Munch’s 1895 “The Scream,” a richly inked lithograph without a drop of color. Held by descendants of the family that acquired it from the artist in 1900, it is pegged at a modest £800,000 to £1.2 million ($1.2-1.7 million). Not to be confused with the pastel on board from the same year that sold to Leon Black at Sotheby’s New York in May 2012 for a record $119.9 million, this impression is believed to be one of 30 that the artist produced. Another impression sold at Sotheby’s New York in November 2014 for $2,405,000.

Also keenly anticipated is Alberto Giacometti’s “Portrait de Diego,” 1925, an early oil-on-board depiction of his brother that the artist kept until his death, in 1966, when it passed to the sitter. It is estimated at £500,000 to £700,000 ($720,000 -1 million).

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A stark contrast to Sisley’s sunny painting is presented by Edvard Munch’s 1895 “The Scream,” a richly inked lithograph without a drop of color. Held by descendants of the family that acquired it from the artist in 1900, it is pegged at a modest £800,000 to £1.2 million ($1.2-1.7 million). Not to be confused with the pastel on board from the same year that sold to Leon Black at Sotheby’s New York in May 2012 for a record $119.9 million, this impression is believed to be one of 30 that the artist produced. Another impression sold at Sotheby’s New York in November 2014 for $2,405,000.

Also keenly anticipated is Alberto Giacometti’s “Portrait de Diego,” 1925, an early oil-on-board depiction of his brother that the artist kept until his death, in 1966, when it passed to the sitter. It is estimated at £500,000 to £700,000 ($720,000 -1 million).

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Among the Surrealist offerings in the sale is Francis Picabia’s bubble-gum pink composition “Couple amoureux,” 1924-27, from the artist’s “Monsters” cycle of paintings. The brilliantly colored work, depicting figures with fantastical facial features, evokes Old Master paintings and ancient frescoes and is estimated at £700,000 to £900,000 ($1-1.3 million).

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In a somewhat similar yet later Surrealist vein, Max Ernst’s densely layered grattage and frottage concoction “Dimanche après-midi sur les Champs Elysées,” 1958, presents a rather abstract and totemlike couple. The female wears a scarlet cloak draped over one shoulder in seemingly royal fashion, while the comparatively bulky male dominates the composition. The painting, long owned by Ernst’s wife, the artist Dorothea Tanning, is estimated at £300,000 to £400,000 ($433 -577,000). It last sold at Christie’s London in February 2012 for £541,250 ($855,000).

Another Surrealist highlight, René Magritte’s gouache on paper “La belle hérétique,” 1963 or 1964 — depicting a coffin bent into the shape of a chair and perched à la Humpty Dumpty on a low brick wall running along a country lane, is estimated at £800,000 to £1.2 million ($1.2–1.7 million). Magritte gouaches are in serious demand, and the large format and highly finished look of this example have further ramped up expectations.

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Graphs by Meghana Reddy; source: Blouin Art Sales Index

 

 

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