The sale was led by Henri Matisse’s Bouquet pour le quatorze juillet, which climbed to $28,642,500 (est. $18/25 million). This EPA/YM YIK
NEW YORK, NY.- Tonight at Sotheby’s, the spring Evening Sale of Impressionist and Modern Art brought a total of $195,697,000, nearly reaching the high end of the presale estimate (est. $141/204 million). Forty-three works achieved prices over $1 million, ten works exceeded $5 million, four works brought prices over $10 million, and two works sold for over $15 million. The sale was 87.7% sold by lot and 92.4% sold by value. Two artist records were set: Isamu Noguchi’s Undine (Nadja) soared to $4,226,500 (est. $600/900,000) and Salvador Dalí’s Spectre du soir sur la plage totaled $5,682,500 (est. $4/6 million). The evening’s top price was achieved by Henri Matisse’s spectacular Bouquet pour le quatorze juillet, the artist’s emotional celebration of the first Bastille Day following World War I, which totaled $28,642,500 (est. $18/25 million).
“Tonight’s sale result of $195.7 million was close to the high estimate, and it was wonderful to see things moving in the right direction,” said Simon Shaw, Head of Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art Department in New York. “We saw very vigorous and spirited bidding and achieved a total that surpassed that of November and tripled the results achieved in May 2009. We are absolutely delighted with these results.”
“We witnessed a quest for quality this evening,” continued Emmanuel Di Donna, Vice Chairman of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Department Worldwide. “This was especially evident in the sale of Modigliani’s Jeanne Hébuterne au collier, believed to be the very first portrait of Modigliani’s future wife and muse; the Matisse’s Bouquet pour le quatorze juillet, a still life of considerable color and scale; and Rodin’s Penseur, a rare lifetime cast with a fully documented provenance. What was also notable was the depth of spirited bidding, illustrated by multiple bidders on many lots from clients who came from all over the world.”
Tobias Meyer, Worldwide Head of Contemporary Art and tonight’s auctioneer noted, “The activity in tonight’s salesroom showed that art is globally desired.”
The sale was led by Henri Matisse’s Bouquet pour le quatorze juillet, which climbed to $28,642,500 (est. $18/25 million). This work heralds the fresh and colorful style that would define Matisse’s career from 1919 onward, and signals the artist’s renewed sense of optimism following one of the most troubling periods of his career. Amedeo Modigliani’s beautiful Jeanne Hébuterne au collier, circa 1916-17, which had not appeared at auction in nearly 70 years, was also hotly contested in a battle and purchased by a Japanese private collector for $13,802,500 (est. $8/12 million).
Henri Matisse (1869 - 1954) Bouquet de fleurs pour le Quatorze Juillet. Oil on canvas, 116 by 89 cm. Signed Henri Matisse (lower right). Painted on July 14, 1919. Sold 28,642,500 USD to an Anonymous. photo Sotheby's
PROVENANCE: Gaston Bernheim de Villers, Paris (acquired from the artist in 1919 , thence by descent and sold: Hôtel Drouot, Paris, March 30, 1982, lot 30bis)
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
EXHIBITED: Paris, Salon d'automne, 1919
Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Henri Matisse, 1920, no. 20
Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, Henri Matisse, Exposition organisée au profit de l'Orphelinat des Arts, 1931
Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Chefs d'oeuvre de Matisse, 1958, no. 14
LITERATURE AND REFERENCES: Mario Luzi & Massimo Carrà, L'Opera di Matisse, dalla rivolta 'fauve' all'intimismo, 1904-1928, Milan, 1971, no. 306, illustrated p. 98
Guy Patrice & Michel Dauberville, Matisse, vol. 2, Paris, 1995, no. 342, illustrated p. 811 (titled Nature morte, fleurs (14 juillet 1919))
Hilary Spurling, Matisse, The Master, New York, 2005, discussed p. 228
NOTE A joyous bouquet of wildflowers dominates this glorious picture, which Matisse completed on the first Bastille Day following the Armistice ending World War I. By his own account, the painting is a symbol of the artist's unrestraint exuberance on that momentous day in 1919, when all of France celebrated its national holiday amidst the newly restored peace. When he presented this work to his dealer Bernheim-Jeune not long after it was completed, Matisse simply titled the work Le 14 juillet 1919, as the significance of that day spoke volumes about the meaning of his picture. From an artistic standpoint, the painting heralds the fresh and colorful style that would define Matisse's career thenceforward, and signals the artist's renewed sense of optimism following one of the most troubling periods of his career.
The present work marks a critical moment for Matisse, both in spirit and in style. Throughout the war years, the artist had worked against the tide of Cubism that swept through the avant-garde, committing himself to a style of painting that was grounded in form and color. His art was an antidote to the "drying-up effect of pure abstraction" that he saw consuming his peers, and he struggled to reveal the plastic beauty of form and figuration. But at the beginning of 1919, his determination was at its most strident: "Work monopolised him from the start," writes Hilary Spurling of this period. "Throughout the first months of 1919, he complained that the road lay uphill, that he was toiling like a carthorse, that his labours exhausted him and made him despair. But he had no doubt that he was on to something. 'As for telling you what it will be like,' he wrote to his wife on 9 January, 'that I couldn't say since it hasn't happened yet, but my idea is to push further and deeper into true painting.'" (H. Spurling, op. cit. p. 223).
The events that precipitated Matisse's completion of the present work were like fuel for the artist's creative fire. The war years had not been kind to Matisse, and the new age of peace following the Great War was his chance for a new start. He had spent the last three years in relative isolation from his family, setting up a studio in the Nice, where he often felt at odds with the locals. News from Paris that the Steins had sold off their collection of his best Fauve paintings in 1918 demoralized him, as did the rumor, albeit false, that Shchukin's paintings of La Danse and La Musique had been destroyed during the Bolshevik Revolution. To make matters worse, the artist's daughter Marguerite was critically ill with complications from a tracheotomy in the beginning of 1919, and Matisse found himself struggling to acclimate to these drawbacks while alone in Nice that spring. He returned to his family home in Issy-les-Moulineaux for the summer, just in time for the official victory celebrations that began in Paris in late June. "I am the happiest man in the word," he told a reporter in Paris at this time. According to his biographer Hillary Spurling, "He gloried in the flowers in his garden, painting poppies going off like fireworks and a brilliant bouquet for Bastille day on 14 July" (ibid. p. 228). This picture was his victory celebration and, for his art, a sign of good things to come. Now he was ready to break free from the doldrums of self-doubt and approach his work with a newfound sense of confidence.
"For me, the subject of a picture and its background have the same value, or, to put it more clearly, there is no principal feature, only the pattern is important. The picture is formed by the combination of surfaces, differently colored." (quoted in J. & M. Guillaud, Matisse, Rhythm and Line, New York, 1986, p. 192). These words seem to be the mantra of the present work, in which the background tapestry plays as central a role to the composition as the bouquet. Matisse harmonizes the patterning of the brocaded fabric with the branches of the gladeola sprouting out of the vase. Textiles played an integral part of Matisse's most successful compositions in oil, whether they were of still lifes or odalisques. In two other pictures from this era, Matisse's floral arrangements appear to be in consort with their surroundings in terms of the color, their shape and the expressiveness with which he renders them. While Matisse was unlike any artist of his generation in his lavishing of attention to all aspects of his composition, his radical spatial perspective and the incorporation with contrasting textures in still lifes can be likened to those of his great predecessor, Paul Cézanne.
As mentioned earlier, the first owners of the present work were Matisse's dealers, Bernheim-Jeune. It was Gaston Bernheim de Villers in particular who kept this picture in his family's private collection since its creation until it was sold at auction in France in the early 1980s. At that time, the picture made a record price for any work of art sold in France, and since then, it has been in the same private collection for over a quarter of a century.
Demand for classic Impressionist pictures remained strong, with Monet’s 1890 landscape Effet de printemps à Giverny climbing to $15,202,500 (est. $10/15 million). Also by Monet, Fin d’après-midi, Vétheuil, 1880, brought $6,242,500, exceeding its estimate of $2.8/3.5 million. The first lot of the sale, Le Jardin d’Octave Mirbeau à Dampes (Eure), 1892, by Camille Pissarro climbed to $2,658,500 (est. $1.2/1.8 million), selling to a European private collector.
Claude Monet (1840 - 1926), Effet de printemps à Giverny. Painted in 1890. Signed Claude Monet and dated 90 (lower left). Oil on canvas, 60 by 100 cm. Sold 15,202,500 USD to an Asian Private. photo Sotheby's
PROVENANCE: Durand-Ruel, Paris (acquired from the artist in October 1890)
Herz (acquired from the above on November 4, 1891)
Durand-Ruel, Paris (1891)
Arthur Tooth & Sons, Ltd., London (acquired from the above on May 9, 1947)
Lord Ivor Spencer Churchill, London
Mrs. Oliver Parker, London (sold: Sotheby's, London, July 9, 1958, lot 93
Arthur Tooth, Ltd., circa 1972
The Lefevre Gallery (Alex. Reid & Lefevre), London
Acquavella Galleries, New York
Private Collection, Los Angeles
EXHIBITED: Paris, Durand-Ruel, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir et Sisley, 1899, no. 30
London, Grafton Galleries, Pictures by Boudin..., 1905, no. 143
Manchester, Art Gallery, Modern French Paintings, 1907-08, no. 87
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paysages par Cl. Monet et Renoir, 1908, no. 32
Brussels, Exposition universelle, 1910, no. 33
London, Grosvenor House, Art français,1914, no. 45
The Hague & Amsterdam, Art contemporain français, 1926, no. 177
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel, Cl. Monet, 1928, no. 57
(possibly) London, Arthur Tooth & Sons, Ltd., Claude Monet, 1939, no. 17
London, Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., Cl. Monet, 1954, no. 40
New York, Acquavella Galleries, Inc., XIX & XX Century Master Paintings and Sculpture, 1998
LITERATURE AND REFERENCES: L. de Saint-Valéry, "Paysages de Cl. Monet et de Renoir," La Revue des Beaux-Arts, Paris, May 31, 1908
Lionello Venturi, Les origines des l'Impressionnisme, vol. I, Paris, 1939, p. 333
Daniel Wildenstein, Claude Monet, Biographie et Catalogue raisonné, Paris & Lausanne, 1979, vol. III, no. 1245, illustrated p. 131; discussed in letter no. 1079, p. 259
Daniel Wildenstein, Monet, Catalogue raisonné, vol. III, Cologne, 1996, no. 1245, illustrated p. 475
NOTE: Painted in 1890, Effet de printemps à Giverny is a work of superlative quality, representing the pinnacle of Monet's Impressionist style. The rich painterly surface and the artist's unbridled brushstrokes convey the unique atmosphere and the lustrous quality of light which so inspired Monet as he painted en plein air in Giverny, just a few kilometres from his home. The present work belongs to a series of canvases depicting fields of hay, oats and poppies in which the artist's rigorous application of paint, Paul Hayes Tucker suggests, indicates that Monet had become more concerned not only with overall atmospheric effects but also with emphasizing the decorative, tapestry-like qualities that painting can achieve. It therefore marks a subtle yet important turning point in Monet's style, as well as the emergence of an idea that was to dominate that artist's production over the ensuing year.
Writing about the present painting, Daniel Wildenstein observed: "The trees shown in this picture, as in all the other pictures painted by Monet, have long since disappeared. The hill on the right is the one which slopes down from Giverny towards Vernonnet. Given this orientation, we can deduce that this is a morning effect, painted in the flowery meadows of Les Essarts; the first haystacks can be seen in the distance" (D. Wildenstein, op. cit., 1996, p. 475). Indeed, the image of haystacks or grainstacks was a recurring motif in Monet's painting around this time. Monet began to work on the group of paintings that are almost universally termed Haystacks as early as 1884, depicting stacks that were subsumed into a wider environment. The major series of majestic canvases depicting grainstacks and focusing on the evanescent effects of light on them from close-to was completed between 1889 and 1891. Here, the artist has widened the scope of his composition, showing one or two isolated stacks towards the center against the backdrop of a lush landscape.
Executed at the height of Monet's Impressionism, Effet de printemps à Giverny exemplifies the artist's life-long commitment to painting en plein air, exploring the effects of weather conditions and light at different times of the day on the surrounding landscape. Painted in the plain of Les Essarts, this work depicts the green expanses not far from the artist's home in Giverny. By 1890, Monet had become financially successful enough to buy the house and a large garden at Giverny, which he had rented since 1883. This region would provide the most significant source of inspiration in the artist's oeuvre, including Monet's celebrated garden, as well as its surrounding area. The present composition is divided into three segments: the flowery meadow in the foreground, the blossoming trees in the centre, and the sky above them. Monet evidently took great joy in depicting this colorful landscape, as he painted the same view in another three compositions, exploring the effects of light at different times of the day.
As Paul Hayes Tucker observes, "The fact that these paintings depict rich and fertile fields is unusual. The fields surrounding Monet's property had frequently been the focus of his attention when he had worked in Giverny, but most often he had painted them either before any crops had begun to grow or after they had been harvested. And he usually had included members of his family, as if he needed to personalize the sites during his early years in the farming community. That Monet would focus on much narrower agrarian subjects in 1890 is significant, for he painted those fields far less frequently during the 1880s -- in fact, no more than a dozen times. When he did, he used compositional strategies that he would employ in 1890 as well. He also tended to paint views of haystacks at the same time, just as he would focus on grainstacks in the next decade. Thus when Monet returned to these subjects in 1890, he was consciously reacquainting himself not only with Giverny's sheer beauty but also with its fundamental agrarian character" (P. Hayes Tucker, Monet in the '90s, The Series Paintings (exhibition catalogue), Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1989, pp. 76-77)
In contrast with the poplar series executed around this time, in which the tall, elongated trees occupy the entire height of the canvas, in the present work the artist paid equal attention to the rich, colorful stretch of the green field in the foreground, a feature typical of the local landscape that he so admired. Writing about Monet's paintings executed in 1890, Paul Hayes Tucker observed that "he concentrated primarily on subjects round his Giverny estate that suggested the bounties of the soil and the poetry of rural light. The largest number of pictures he produced were more than a dozen views of flowing fields of hay, oats, and poppies [...], all of which are filled with the freshness of the day. Despite the lack of human figures, these pictures exude a sense of fullness" (P. Hayes Tucker, Claude Monet. Life and Art, New Haven & London, 1995, p. 139).
Discreetly painted in the present work, stacks of grain would become the subject of one of Monet's best known series over the following year. His series paintings are now among the most celebrated works of Impressionist art, and are often considered the finest compositions of the artist's oeuvre. Technically defined as variations of the same motif, usually vistas of a particular landscape, these pictures examine the subtle nuances of light and shadow, and evidence Monet's fascination with exploring the ever-changing nature of a given setting. The artist began experimenting with this pictorial treatment as early as the 1870s and 1880s, rendering a series of canvases of the cliffs of Etretat, for example, and altering the time of day and perspective of each one. As a group, these works were remarkably varied in composition and treatment, clear evidence of Monet's growing recognition that henceforth his works would generally be part of a series. The significance of the present work, in light of this context, is undisputable, for it represents one of the artist's most renowned and recognised ideas or the verge of its full fruition.
According to Paul Hayes Tucker, "Monet was to earn [his] reputation, initially at least, on the basis of his Grainstack pictures, which were likely begun in late August or early September 1890, when agrarian manuals of the time indicate local farmers would have begun cutting their fields and constructing their stacks. Just prior to this undertaking, probably sometime in late July, he started a series of pictures that depict the fields of hay, oats, and poppies around his Giverny house. While reduced in visual incident and rather simplistic compositionally, they are rigorously painted, suggesting that Monet had become more concerned with overall atmospheric effects, as he told Geffroy that summer, but also with empasizing the decorative, tapestrylike qualities that painting can achieve" (Monet in the '90s, The Series Paintings, op. cit., pp. 75-76).
Claude Monet (1840 - 1926), Fin d'après-midi, Vétheuil. Painted in 1880. Signed Claude Monet and dated 80 (lower left) Oil on canvas, 72 by 99 cm. Sold 6,242,500 USD sold to an Asian Private. photo Sotheby's
PROVENANCE: Boussod, Valadon et Cie (acquired from the artist in 1892)
Bernheim-Jeune, Paris (1899)
Wilhelm Hansen, Ordrupgaard (circa 1918)
Prince Kojiro Matsukata (1922)
Collection Irmano, Japan (circa 1928)
Fujikawa Gallery, Japan
Sale: Christie's, London, November 27, 1989, lot 8
Sale: Christie's, London, November 30, 1992, lot 8
E.V. Thaw, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
EXHIBITED: Paris, La Vie moderne, Monet, 1880, no. 13 (titled Vétheuil, fin du jour)
Paris, Galeries Georges Petit, Monet, 1924, no. 27
San Francisco, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, Inaugural Exposition of French Art, 1924-25, no. 39
Tokyo, Magasin Tokyu; Osaka, Magasin Daimaru; Fukuoka, Magasin Iwakaya, Claude Monet, 1970, no. 5
LITERATURE AND REFERENCES: Karl Madsen, Wilhelm Hansens Samling , Copenhagen, 1918, no. 93, p. 36
E. Dumonthier, "La collection W. Hansen," La Revue de l'art ancien et moderne, Paris, 1922, no. 241, p. 338
Daniel Wildenstein, Monet, Biographie et Catalogue raisonné, vol. I, Lausanne & Paris, 1974, no. 590, illustrated p. 369
Daniel Wildenstein, Claude Monet, Biographie et Catalogue raisonné, vol. V, Lausanne & Paris, 1991, no. 590, listed p. 35
Daniel Wildenstein, Claude Monet, Catalogue raisonné, vol. II, Cologne, 1996, no. 590, illustrated p. 228
David Joel, Monet at Vétheuil, 1878-1893, Prague, 2002, illustrated in color p. 41
NOTE: Panoramic views of the Seine near Vétheuil and Lavacourt featured in Monet's most accomplished canvases from the early 1880s. The scene here depicts the eastern view across the river to Vétheuil, with the church of Notre Dame in the distance. Between 1878-83, the artist lived in one of the blue-tiled houses pictured along the bank, and his proximity to the water played a key role in shaping his artistic practices during these years. Many of his pictures from this period were painted from his studio-boat, which he loaded with his painting supplies for day-long excursions along the river. It was on one of these expeditions that the artist took anchor on the Ile St-Martin la Garenne just as the sun was about to set over the water, to paint the present view.
Describing this picture in his study of the artist's paintings of Vétheuil, David Joel places us in the very spot in which the artist most probably depicted the present scene: "Fin d'après-midi, Vétheuil, is catalogued as a view from the riverbank upstream of Lavacourt, but in reality it is painted from the east bank of the Ile Saint-Martin. 'Les Tourelles' is to the left of the picture, the church dead centre, and between the two is a steam paddle-tug puffing white smoke over the top of Monet's house. On the shore of the island on which Monet's house can be seen, in the distance, two hayricks and the farm buildings of Ile Saint-Martin. In the right foreground, quite close to the painter, is a small island which has long since been dredged away, for it would have seriously impeded barge traffic going down river to Vernon. The painting is dominantly warm, red and pink, contrasting with blue reflections for the sky and blue-tiled roofs of the village of Vétheuil, whilst the hills and farmland are yellow-green" (D. Joel, op. cit., pp. 98-99).
Monet's paintings from Vétheuil evidence a critical development in the evolu
tion of his style, when he was willing to strike out from the now-established techniques of his early Impressionist style that he had perfected while living in Argenteuil in the 1870s. Many of these canvases strike a balance between the naturalist-realist origins of Impressionism and the bold experimentation in capturing the changing light of day that became an important element in the "series" paintings of the late 1880s. The present work, for example, is one of several views of this particular area of the Seine, but rendered with a crisp, golden light of the late afternoon.
With regard to the artist's technique in the 1880s, Andrew Forge has written, "Colour which he now learned to use with an unprecedented purity offers and infinitely subtle and flexible alternative to the traditional massing of light and shade. Systems of interlocking blues and oranges, for example, of lilacs and lemons will carry the eye across the whole surface of the canvas and these colour structures, each marvelously turned to the particulars of light will be augmented by a vast range of accents of comma, slash, dot, flake, each attuned economically to its object that the eye is continually at work in its reading," (A. Forge, Claude Monet (exhibition catalogue), New York, 1976).
Camille Pissarro (1831 - 1903), Le Jardin d'Octave Mirbeau à Damps (Eure). Painted in 1892. Signed C. Pissarro and dated 1892 (lower left) Oil on canvas, 65.5 by 54.5 cm. Sold 2,658,500 USD.
PROVENANCE: Octave Mirbeau, Damps (acquired from the artist and sold: Hôtel Drouot, Paris, February 24, 1919, lot 31)
Collection Hauser, United Kingdom
Private Collection, Paris (by descent from the above and until at least 1995)
Stoppenbach & Delestre, Ltd, London (acquired from the above)
Anderson Galleries, Beverly Hills (on consignment)
Acquired from the above by the present owner
EXHIBITED: Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel, 4e Exposition particulière Camille Pissarro, 1893, no. 31, illustrated in the catalogue
London, Stoppenbach & Delestre, Ltd., French 19th and 20th Century Paintings and Works on Paper, 2002, no. 13
LITERATURE AND REFERENCES: Ludovic Rodo-Pissarro & Lionello Venturi, Camille Pissarro, son art, son oeuvre, Catalogue raisonné, Paris, 1939, vol. I, no. 806, catalogued p. 194; vol. II, no. 806, illustrated pl. 166
Joachim Pissarro & Claire Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, Pissarro, Critical Catalogue of Paintings, vol. III, no. 953, illustrated in color p. 624
NOTE: Pissarro's richly colorful depiction of the garden is one of four oils completed while the artist was a guest at the home of the writer Octave Mirbeau in September 1892. Three of the paintings from his two-week stay depict Mirbeau's lush grounds in Les Damps, near Pont-de-l'Arche, while a fourth captures the greater landscape in its full splendor during the last weeks of summer. The present work is perhaps the most glorious depiction of the bright foliage and flowers in full bloom, and is the most intimate view of the four canvases. The artist was exceedingly pleased with the results of this artistic venture, and expressed his gratitude in a letter to Mirbeau shortly after his visit: "You spoiled me royally during my stay at Les Damps, spoiled me far too much, and I don't know how to thank Mme Mirbeau for going to such trouble" (quoted in J. Pissarro & C. Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, op. cit., p. 624). This was the first and last time that the artist would ever be invited to paint at Mirbeau's, as the two men had a falling-out the following summer.
Although he had initially intended to send this canvas, along with the three others, to Durand-Ruel in Paris, Pissarro decided to give the present picture to Mirbeau in a gesture of gratitude for his hospitality. The following March, the picture, along with its companion canvases, was featured in an exhibition at Durand-Ruel's gallery.
Sculpture was highly sought after this evening. Auguste Rodin’s iconic Le Penseur (conceived 1880-81) totaled $11,842,500 (est. $4/6 million) after a lengthy three-way battle. A cast of the same size, date and foundry is in the Musée Rodin, Paris. Isamu Noguchi’s sensual Undine (Nadja) far exceeded its estimate, selling for $4,226,500 (est. $600/900,000) and achieving a world auction record for the artist after being hotly pursued by at least seven bidders.
Auguste Rodin (1840 - 1917), Le Penseur. Taille de la Porte dit "moyen modèle". Conceived 1880-81 and cast between November 1916 and May 1917. Inscribed with the signature A. Rodin, with the foundry mark A. Rudier Fondeur Paris; stamped with the signature on the interior. Bronze, 71.2 cm. Sold 11,842,500 USD to an Anonymous. photo Sotheby's
This work will be included in the forthcoming Catalogue Critique de l'oeuvre sculpté d'Auguste Rodin being currently prepared by Galerie Brame & Lorenceau under the direction of Jérôme Le Blay under the archive number 2009-2577B.
PROVENANCE: Galerie Haussmann (Gustave Danthon), Paris (acquired from the artist; commissioned in November 1916 and delivered in May 1917)
Emile Chouanard, Paris (purchased on March 17, 1917, thence by descent and sold: Baron Ribeyre & Associés, Paris, June 17, 2009, lot 133)
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
EXHIBITED: Paris, Galerie Haussmann, Rodin Exposition, 1917
LITERATURE AND REFERENCES: Georges Grappe, Catalogue du Musée Rodin, Paris, 1929, nos. 167-69, illustrations of the example at the Musée Rodin pp. 73-74
Henri Martinie, Auguste Rodin, Paris, 1949, no. 19, illustration of another cast
Albert E. Elsen, Rodin, New York, 1963, illustrations of other casts pp. 25, 52 & 53
Ionel Jianou and Cécile Goldscheider, Rodin, Paris, 1967, edition catalogued p. 88; illustration of another cast pl. 11
John L. Tancock, The Sculpture of Auguste Rodin, Philadelphia, 1976, edition catalogued and illustrations of other casts pp. 111-20
Albert E. Elsen (ed.), Rodin Rediscovered, Washington, 1981, illustration of the clay p. 67
Albert E. Elsen, The Gates of Hell by Auguste Rodin, Stanford, 1985, figs. 50 & 60, illustrations of the clay model pp. 56 & 71
Antoinette le Normand-Romain, ed., The Bronzes of Rodin, Catalogue of works in the Musée Rodin, vol. II, Paris, 2007, illustration of another cast p. 585
NOTE: Perhaps the most celebrated sculpture of all time, Rodin's Penseur was conceived in 1880-81 to crown his monumental Gates of Hell. The figure was first intended to represent Dante, surrounded by the characters of his Divine Comedy, but soon took on an independent life. "Thin and ascetic in his straight gown", Rodin wrote later, "my Dante would have been meaningless once divorced from the overall work. Guided by my initial inspiration, I conceived another "thinker", a nude, crouching on a rock, his feet tense. Fists tucked under his chin, he muses. Fertile thoughts grow slowly in his mind. He is no longer a dreamer. He is a creator" (quoted in R. Masson & V. Mattiussi, Rodin, Paris, 2004, p. 38). Transcending Dante's narrative, the Penseur became a universal symbol of reflection and creative genius which has ever since retained its hold on the popular imagination.
Rodin's greatest sculpture bridges antiquity, the Renaissance and modernity. Le Penseur belongs to the group of major sculptures inspired by Michelangelo, whose art deeply affected Rodin when he first visited Italy in 1875. The figure was discussed by the artist shortly before his death, when he described his desire to personify the act of thinking: "Nature gives me my model, life and thought; the nostrils breathe, the heart beats, the lungs inhale, the being thinks and feels, has pains and joys, ambitions, passions, emotions... What makes my Thinker think is that he thinks not only with his brain, with his knitted brow, his distended nostrils and compressed lips, but with every muscle of his arms, back and legs, with his clenched fist and gripping toes" (quoted in Saturday Night, Toronto, December 1, 1917).
Rodin conceived Le Penseur to be the apex, both structurally and philosophically, of his humanist Gates of Hell. As Camille Mauclair noted in 1898, "All the sculptural radiance ends in this ideal center. This prophetic statue can carry in itself the attributes of the author of the Divine Comedy, but it is still more completely the representation of Penseur. Freed of clothing that would have made it a slave to a fixed time, it is nothing more than the image of the reflection of man on things human. It is the perpetual dreamer who perceives the future in the facts of the past, without abstracting himself from the noisy life around him and in which he participates..." (C. Mauclair, "L'Art de M. Rodin", La Revue des Revues, June 18, 1898). From at least 1888, when the sculpture was first exhibited in Copenhagen, Rodin considered Le Penseur to be an autonomous composition. The following year it was shown in Paris, with the original title Dante revised to read Le penseur: le poète.
The present work is an exceptionally rare lifetime cast in the original format of Rodin's clay model. Created at the end of his life, it bears a beautifully modulated patina that was probably applied by the artist's designated patineur, Jean-François Limet. The bronze was made during World War I at the Alexis Rudier Foundry using the sand casting method employed at this period due to working conditions created by the War. Its first owner was Emile Chouanard, whose collection of Rodin's work included casts of Eve and Le Baiser. Le Penseur was the undisputed trophy of his collection of the artist's bronzes and remained in Chouanard's family for over ninety years. It was first shown in the Rodin exhibition organized by Gustave Danthon at the Galerie Haussmann, Paris, in November 1917 – an exhibition whose vernissage Rodin had been due to attend, but passed away that month.
A cast of the same size, date and foundry is in the Musée Rodin, Paris. Other lifetimes casts are in the collections of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; the Nationalgalerie, Berlin and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Isamu Noguchi (1904 - 1988), Undine (Nadja). Conceived in 1926 and cast in 1927. This work is unique. Inscribed with the signature Isamu and with the date 1927 and stamped with the foundry mark Roman Bronze Works N.Y. Bronze, 195 cm. Sold 4,226,500 USD.
This work will be included in the forthcoming Catalogue raisonné on the work of Isamu Noguchi currently in preparation by the Noguchi Museum.
PROVENANCE: Fisher Estate
Sale: Samuel T. Freeman & Co., Philadelphia May 20, 2007, lot 103
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
EXHIBITED: New York, Grand Central Art Galleries, 1927
Long Island City, The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, The Full Figure and Portraiture, 1926-1941, 2008, illustrated
LITERATURE AND REFERENCES: Sam Hunter & Isamu Noguchi, Isamu Noguchi, New York, n.d., illustration of the plaster p. 33
Nancy Grove & Diane Botnick, The Sculpture of Isamu Noguchi, 1924-1979, A Catalogue, New York & London, 1980, no. 23B, catalogued p. 4
Bruce Altschuler, Noguchi, New York, 1994, illustration of the artist with the plaster p. 13
Valerie J. Fletcher, Isamu Noguchi, Master Sculptor (exhibition catalogue), Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. & Whitney Museum of American Art, 2004, illustration of the artist with the plaster p. 20
Masayo Duus, The Life of Isamu Noguchi, Journey without Borders, Princeton, 2004, illustrated p. 106.
NOTE: A stunning example of feminine physical beauty at its finest, Undine (Nadja) is one of the first figural sculptures by the American sculptor Isamu Noguchi, who is known primarily for his post-war abstractions. Cast at the Roman Art Foundry in Queens in 1927, the present sculpture is the only bronze to have been made from the artist's original 1926 plaster form, which has since been destroyed. One of a kind, this unique bronze has been largely unknown for nearly a century and sheds new light on the young sculptor's talents in the months before beginning his apprenticeship with Brancusi at the end of the 1920s.
Undine was probably modeled after a Russian dancer named Nadja Nikolaiova, who was known in the 1920s for her interpretation of the dance called "The Serpent." It has been alleged that Nadja and Noguchi were lovers, and the undeniable sensuality of the present work makes this story all the more plausible. While this sculpture was created around the same time as Harriet Whitney Frishmuth's strikingly similar Crest of the Wave, Noguchi clearly surpassed his colleague's efforts in capturing the erotic potential of his model.
Noguchi's subject here is a romantic figure of Western lore called an undine, an immortal water spirit known to inhabit waterfalls or woodland ponds. Similar to mermaids or sirens, these beautiful nymphs had both romantic and sinister aspects to their character. According to popular interpretations from 19th century literature, an undine's only chance for attaining a soul was to seduce a man and bear his child. Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué, Maurice Ravel and Goethe had brought this tragic creature to life with their various interpretations of the story, but none of them capture her seductive appeal with the same compelling force as Noguchi has in this glorious rendition in bronze.
Picasso’s Femme au grand chapeau, buste, 1965, was among the stars of the evening, bringing $9,322,500 (est. $8/12 million). The picture was inspired by Jacqueline Roque, the last love of his life, whom he married in 1961. It belonged to the collector Patricia Kennedy Lawford (1924-2006), daughter of Joseph and Rose Kennedy and sister to President John F. Kennedy. Picasso’s 1961 iron sculpture entitled Tête de femme rose to $3,666,500 (est. $1.8/2.5 million) and his oil on paper Buste de femme, 1940, totaled $1,594,500 (est. $1.5/2 million).
Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973), Femme au grand chapeau. Buste, Painted on May 31, 1965. Signed Picasso (upper right);dated 31.5.65 II on the reverse. Oil on canvas, 92 by 73 cm. Sold 9,322,500 USD.
PROVENANCE: Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris (acquired from the artist)
Kootz Gallery, New York (probably on consignment from the above)
Patricia Kennedy Lawford, New York (acquired from the above)
LITERATURE AND REFERENCES: Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, vol. 25, Paris, 1972, no. 143, illustrated pl. 81
The Picasso Project, ed., Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawing and Sculpture, The Sixties II, 1964-1967, San Francisco, 2002, no. 65-250, illustrated
Lucien Clergue, The Intimate Picasso, Louis Stern Fine Arts, Los Angeles, 2009, photograph of the artist posing with this picture pl. 17
NOTE: Picasso's art was closely related to his personal life, and the women depicted in his paintings were always influenced by Picasso's female companions at the time. In Femme au grand chapeau. Buste, the female figure is inspired by Jacqueline, the last love of his life, whom Picasso married in 1961. Although it is not a direct likeness of Jacqueline, with its large eyes and sharp profile, the seated figure bears the features with which Picasso usually portrayed his wife. The essence of Jacqueline, who never posed as his model, is always present in his portraits of the period. As evidenced by vitality of the present picture, Picasso's waning sexual potency is countered by his power of vision and creativity, by the swift, confident application of paint, and the remarkably bold free-flowing treatment of color. The love that Picasso felt for his wife is reflected in the passionate vitality and excitement radiating from the present work.
The relationship and synergy between the artist and model was one of profound complexity, 'the more Picasso painted this theme, the more he pushed the artist-model relationship towards its ultimate conclusion: the artist embraces his model, cancelling out the barrier of the canvas and transforming the artist-model relationship into a man-woman relationship. Painting is an act of love, according to Gert Schiff, and John Richardson speaks of 'sex as metaphor for art, and art as a metaphor for sex' (Marie-Laure Bernadac, 'Picasso 1953-1972: Painting as Model', in Late Picasso (exhibition catalogue), Tate Gallery, London, 1988, p. 77).
In his discussion of Picasso's late works, David Sylvester links them to his early masterpiece, Demoiselles d'Avignon, both distinguished by the 'raw vitality' which they have as their central underlying theme: "The resemblance of figures in the Demoiselles and in late Picasso to masked tribal dancers is as crucial as their scale in giving them a threatening force. It is irrelevant whether or not particular faces or bodies are based on particular tribal models: what matters is the air these personages have of coming from a world more primitive, possibly more cannibalistic and certainly more elemental than ours. Despite the rich assortment of allusions to paintings in the Renaissance tradition, the treatment of space rejects that tradition in favour of an earlier one, the flat unperspectival space of, say, medieval Catalan frescoes... At twenty five, Picasso's raw vitality was already being enriched by the beginnings of an encyclopaedic awareness of art; at ninety, his encyclopaedic awareness of art was still being enlivened by a raw vitality" (David Sylvester, ibid., p. 144).
The present work belonged to the collector Patricia Kennedy Lawford (1924-2006), the sixth of nine children of Joseph and Rose Kennedy and sister to the 35th president of the United States. Once married to the actor Peter Lawford, she was known for her love of international travel and for her sophistication, which led her to acquiring this impressive picture. According to her son Christopher, Mrs. Lawford visited Picasso at his studio in the late 1960s, where she first saw the present work among all of his paintings on view. She immediately fell in love with the picture and arranged to purchase it through his dealer Kahnweiler at the Galerie Louise Leiris. Given the Kootz label on the reverse of the painting, it is most likely that Leiris shipped the picture to Kootz in New York for delivery to Mrs. Lawford, who kept it in her private collection for the rest of her life.
Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973), Tête de femme. Executed in 1961. Painted and cut-out sheet iron, 38.5 cm. sold 3,666,500 USD.
This work will be included in the Catalogue Raisonné of the sculptures of Pablo Picasso in preparation by Diana Widmaier Picasso.
PROVENANCE: Estate of the artist
Marina Picasso (by descent from the above in 1973)
Galerie Jan Krugier, Geneva (acquired from the above circa 2004)
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
EXHIBITED: Paris, Petit Palais, Picasso, 1966
Berlin, Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz & Düsseldorf, Kunsthalle, Ausstellung Picasso Plastiken, 1983-84, no. 616.2, illustrated in the catalogue
Geneva, Galerie Jan Krugier, Ditescheim & Cie. & New York, Jan Krugier Gallery, Pablo Picasso Metamorphoses, Oeuvres 1898 à 1973, de la collection Marina Picasso, 2001-02, no. 100, illustrated in color in the catalogue
Bern, Kunstmuseum, Picasso und die Schweiz, 2001-02, no. 162, illustrated in color in the catalogue
Vienna, Albertina Museum, Goya bis Picasso, Meisterwerke der Sammlung Jan Krugier und Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski, 2004-05, no. 162, illustrated p. 371
LITERATURE AND REFERENCES: Roland Penrose, The Sculpture of Picasso, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1967, no. 169, illustrated p. 191
Werner Spies, Picasso - Das Plastische Werk, Berlin & Düsseldorf, 1983-84, no. 616.2a, illustrated p. 368
Werner Spies, Picasso, The Sculptures, Stuttgart, 2002, no. 616.2a, illustrated p. 389
Picasso Project, ed., Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture, The Sixties I, 1960-1963, San Francisco, 2002, no. 61-318, illustrated p. 206
NOTE: The medium of sculpture allowed Picasso greater freedom in manipulating his images. For the present work, Picasso applies one of his signature line drawings of Jacqueline's facial features to a three-dimensional image by rendering it on a piece of cut and folded sheet metal. Since his collaboration with the sculptor Julio Gonzalez in the early 1930s, Picasso had gained a level of comfortability with soldering and manipulating various metals. When he created the present work in 1961, his limits with this medium knew no boundaries, and what he could not do himself he often entrusted to skilled metal workers to carry out the more technical details. Picasso himself said: "I would like to paint the object in such a way that an engineer could execute them after my paintings." The present work bears the marks of Picasso's unmistakable brushwork, which render the recognizable features of Jacqueline.
Picasso's rendering of the head for the present work marks the evolution of his folded sheet-metal sculptures since he first developed the technique in 1954, with a series of Sylvette heads. Werner Spies describes Picasso's process for that particular series, and his description applies readily to the present work: "The sheet metal used in these pieces is thin and the cutout forms are folded. The surface of the metal remains smooth and is not, as in the works of the second phase, supplemented with soldered-on, relief-like metal strips. In the second phase, painting sometimes yields to this relief-like application of metal, used as a graphic means. A series of sketches shows how Picasso developed these works: here, the fields of vision that open themselves up to successive perception are first of all projected onto a plane. The possibilities for viewing are exactly predetermined. [The head] first presents itself in an overall view, the projecting and receding folds lending the form a slight sense of movement. Yet since painting itself, above all in the central areas, produces spatial effects, the sculptural situation is obscured. The folded sheet-metal form begins to exert a sculptural effect when we divide it up into planes of action and take each of the form surfaces as a separate visual point of departure" (Werner Spies, op. cit., p. 291).
Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973), Buste de femme. Painted on June 10, 1940. Signed Picasso and dated 10/6/40 (upper left). Oil on paper laid down on canvas, 64 by 46cm. Sold 1,594,500 USD.
PROVENANCE: Galleria La Medusa, Rome
Stanley John Allen (sold: Sotheby's, New York, May 20, 1982, lot 250)
Kurt DelBanco, New York (acquired at the above sale)
Galeria Elvira Gonzalez, Madrid
Galerie Beyeler, Basel
EXHIBITED: Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Picasso -- Der Maler und seine Modelle, 1986, no. 30
LITERATURE AND REFERENCES: Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Oeuvres de 1939 et 1940, Paris, 1959, vol. X, no. 532, illustrated pl. 154 (noting a later signature)
The Picasso Project, ed., Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture. Europe at War, 1939-1940, San Francisco, 1998, no. 40-437, illustrated p. 206
NOTE: Picasso's war-time depictions of Dora Maar are among the most famous of his oeuvre and have come to symbolize the collective emotions of that era. Daringly abstract, these pictures have a certain tragic beauty and power of presence that few other portraits in Picasso's vast repertoire were able to achieve. The present work, completed in the early summer of 1940 at the artist's studio in Royan, is one of his more powerful compositions.
Dora Maar's relationship with Picasso is one of the most dramatic love stories in the history of 20th century art. Picasso met Maar, the Surrealist photographer, in the autumn of 1935 and became enchanted by the young woman's powerful sense of self and commanding presence. In the eight years that followed, Maar was Picasso's principal model and the subject of some of his most iconic portraits. For nearly a decade their partnership was one of intellectual exchange and intense passion, and Maar's influence on Picasso over these years resulted in some of his most exciting portraits of his long career.
Picasso's many portraits of Maar, including the present painting, were highly stylized and imaginative but did not entirely eliminate her identifiable features. Her flaring nostrils and dark eyes betray her fiery personality, yet the startling reorganization of her face evidences the great liberties the artist took in manipulating her image. In the years that followed the completion of this compelling picture, Picasso's relationship with Maar would become increasingly strained. Maar's strong-willed personality and her penchant for the dramatic, which had initially amused the artist, grew to infuriate him. The present work, painted at the height of this time, is a testament to the energy and emotion inspired by this extraordinary woman.
Kees van Dongen’s Jeune fille au chapeau fleuri, painted 1907-09, achieved $4,002,500 (est. $4.5/6.5 million). As is characteristic of his best Fauvist work, van Dongen makes use of sharp tonal, shifts, such as the bright clusters of flowers that contrast beautifully against her stark wardrobe. Also by can Dongen, Femme au chapeau de roses, circa 1910-1911, totaled $3,778,500(est. $2/3 million).
Kees van Dongen (1877 - 1968), Jeune fille au chapeau fleuri. Painted in 1907-09. Signed van Dongen (center right) Oil on canvas, 96.5 by 77.5 cm. Sold 4,002,500 USD.
This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné being prepared by Jacques Chalom des Cordes under the sponsorship of the Wildenstein Institute.
PROVENANCE: Baron Robert de Domecy, Château de Domecy, Sermizelles
Jean & Michel de Domecy (acquired by descent from the above)
Private Collection (acquired from the above between 1960 and 1964)
EXHIBITED: Paris, Salon d'Automne, 1910, no. 329
LITERATURE AND REFERENCES: Jean Melas Kyriazi, Van Dongen et le Fauvisme, Lausanne & Paris, 1971, discussed p. 116
NOTE: Van Dongen was one of the most sought-after portraitists in high society France, and his portrait of the young model identified as Jeanne de Domecy exemplifies his talents in this area. As is characteristic of his best Fauvist portraits, van Dongen makes use of sharp color contrasts and creates shadow with tonal graditions of hue. For example, the bright cluster of flowers that adorns her hat and the lush bouquet that she holds in her lap beautifully contrast against the starkness of her wardrobe. Painted when the girl was about ten years old, van Dongen presents the young Jeanne in a frontal pose that suits the candid demeanor and curiosity of a typical pre-adolescent.
Van Dongen's bold use of color in his portraits came as a response to Matisse's groundbreaking paintings, such as Madame Matisse, now considered to be one the Fauves' pivotal works, which scandalized Parisian critics at the Salon d'Automne of 1905. The success of Matisse's work lies in its apparent contradiction between the wild, unrestrained handling of pigment and the apparently bourgeois subject. Van Dongen carries out a similar achievement in the present picture, only raising the stakes by using a child as his conduit for his unorthodox aesthetic expression.
It is interesting to consider that, when he painted the present work, van Dongen was the father of a girl around the same age as Jeanne. Perhaps for this reason he knew how to pose his young model to best capture the slight self-consciousness and naivité that we detect in this picture. Seated before what appears to be Montmartre's church of Saint Pierre in the background, the young model possesses none of the animation or flirtation exhibited in van Dongen's portraits of young women. To further the point, Jeanne wears the same flowered hat and black ribbon necklace as the models in some of the artist's most overly sensual pictures -- a fact that perhaps adds another dimension to this depiction of Jeanne on the verge of womanhood.
Jeanne de Domecy was the daughter of Baron Robert de Domecy (1867-1946), who commissioned the present portrait from the artist. Domecy owned a large chateau in Sermizelles, where he commissioned the artist Odilon Redon to create 15 decorative panels, which are now in the collection of the Louvre. Domecy also commissioned portraits of his wife and daughter from Redon, two of which are in the collections of the Musée d'Orsay and the Getty Museum in California. The present oil remained in the Domecy family collection until the 1960s.
Kees van Dongen (1877 - 1968), Femme au chapeau de roses, Painted circa 1910-11. Signed van Dongen (upper right). Oil on canvas, 100 by 81 cm. Sold 3,778,500 USD.
This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné being prepared by Jacques Chalom des Cordes under the sponsorship of the Wildenstein Institute.
PROVENANCE Bernheim-Jeune, Paris (acquired from the artist on June 22, 1911)
Alphonse Kann, St. Germain-en-Laye
(probably) J. Michael Stewart, London (by inheritance from the above)
Dr. P. Rykens, Surrey (probably acquired from the above)
Clifford & John Rykens, London (by descent from the above and sold: Sotheby's, London, June 28, 1972, lot 88)
O'Hana Gallery, London (acquired at the above sale)
Howard Young Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the family of the present owners
EXHIBITED: The Hague, Gemeentemuseum, Collectie Dr. P. Rykens, 1960, no. 59
NOTE: The poised young woman in La Femme au chapeau de roses is a striking example of Kees van Dongen's work from the important period immediately following his involvement with the Fauves. The plunging lace neckline of the sitter's black dress and the flowers garnishing her wide-brimmed hat exemplify the daring stylization for which the artist was renowned. This picture is a prime example of the type of feminine beauty demanded by van Dongen's elite clientele, who clamored to sit for the artist in the years leading up to World War I. By the 1920s, these elegant portraits became some of the most coveted status symbols among the grandes dames of Paris.
The identity of the model of this work remains unknown, as van Dongen's primary focus was on his painterly expression rather than on anatomical accuracy or descriptive value. Given her wardrobe and the elegant strands of beads that drape her neck, the model is clearly a fashionable member of the bourgeoisie. The artist sought to portray his own interpretation of his ruby-lipped sitter, capturing the essence of her demure sexuality. In other paintings from around the same time, van Dongen often presented his models wearing nothing but a festooned hat, and this accessory was somewhat of a fetish object in his compositions from this period.
Van Dongen started his career as an illustrator in his native Rotterdam but moved to Paris in 1897. It was then that Félix Fénéon introduced him to artists associated with the avant-garde journal La Revue blanche, including Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard. His politically-oriented drawings, executed in a notational style with vibrant colors, anticipated Fauvism. Van Dongen became known as a painter in 1905 when he showed at the Salon d'Automne alongside Henri Matisse, André Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck. These artists would be dubbed "Les Fauves" or "Wild Beasts" for their unstudied handling of paint and daring use of color. As John Elderfield has noted, van Dongen's stylistic progression seemingly passed through "a Neo-Impressionist phase. By 1905 he had found his way into a loose impromptu style analogous to the mixed-technique Fauvism of the Matisse circle, especially in his paintings of nudes. But the main direction of his art was fast becoming geared to the representation of subjects different from those of the other Fauves" (John Elderfield, The "Wild Beasts": Fauvism and Its Affinities, New York, 1976, p. 66). Indeed, van Dongen soon moved away from the heightened color palette and demi-monde subjects he favored in the first decade of the twentieth century, turning instead to portraits of stylish Parisian society women executed in rich, deep tones.
Another influence on van Dongen's portraits of this period was the work of Pablo Picasso, who knew the artist at the Bateau-Lavoir during the first decade of the 20th century. One can see the similarities in Picasso's early café pictures, completed at the turn of the century in Paris, and the fashionable portraits that dominated van Dongen's production nearly a decade later. But with these later pictures, it is as if van Dongen has sanitized Picasso's absinthe-drinking women of night and re-presented them here with a certain respectability that would appeal to the upper echelons of society.
By the time he completed the present work, the artist's dealers in Paris Bernheim-Jeune, Ambroise Vollard, Antoine Druet, and Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (who devoted his very first exhibition to van Dongen), recognized the potential of subjects like the present one and staged solo shows of the artist's work that brought him considerable success. Indeed, his paintings of elegant Parisiennes such as this would earn him a place as a chronicler of the period.
The present work was once in the esteemed collection of the great French patron of the arts, Alphonse Kann. It was most likely sold by Kann's relation in the United Kingdom to a Dutch collector living in the United Kingdom, whose heirs sold the picture at auction in 1972. Soon after that sale, the picture was acquired by the family of the present owners, who have kept it in their private collection until now.
Sotheby's would like to thank the heirs of Alphonse Kann for their kind assistance in researching the provenance of this lot.
Among the Expressionist highlights of the evening was Lyonel Feininger’s spectacular Der rote Geiger (The Red Fiddler) of 1934, which came directly from the collection of the family of the artist and achieved a total price of $7,362,500 (est. $5/7 million). This picture marks the first time the fiddler appeared in Feininger’s oils, and it is also the only oil painting completed by the artist outside of his studio while visiting the Baltic village of Deep during his summer holidays in the 1930s. Wassily Kandinsky’s resonant meditation on the celestial beauty of circles Vertiefte Regung (Deepened Impulse) brought a total of $5,682,500 (est. $4.5/6.5 million) and had been in private hands for over seventy years. Another Kandinsky painting, Kühle (Fraícheur), beat the top estimate when it sold for $1,594,500 against an $800,000/1.2 million estimate.
Lyonel Feininger (1871 - 1956), Der rote Geiger (The Red Fiddler). Painted in 1934. Signed Feininger and dated 34 (upper right) Oil on canvas, 100 by 81 cm. Sold 7,362,500 USD.
Achim Moeller has confirmed the authenticity of this work and has assisted with the catalogue entry. The painting will be included in the second volume of his forthcoming Catalogue Raisonné.
PROVENANCE: T. Lux Feininger (a gift of the artist)
Acquired by descent from the above
EXHIBITED: Oakland, Mills College Art Gallery; San Francisco; Santa Barbara; Los Angeles Art Association; Seattle & Portland, 2nd Feininger Exhibition. 35 New Paintings, 130 Drawings and Prints by Lyonel Feininger, 1937, no. 4
Andover, Addison Gallery of American Art, Lyonel Feininger, 1938, no. 14
Wellesley, The Art Museum of Wellesley College, Exhibition of Paintings by Lyonel Feininger, 1940, no. 5
New York, The Museum of Modern Art; Poughkeepsie, Vassar College; Boston Symphony Orchestra Hall; Amherst College; San Francisco Museum of Art; St. Louis, City Art Museum; St. Paul, St. Paul Gallery and Art School; Fort Worth Museum Art Association; Buffalo, Albright Art Gallery; Tulsa, Philbrook Art Center; Louisville, J.B. Speed Memorial Museum; Feininger, Hartley, 1944, illustrated in the catalogue
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Displaced Paintings: Refugees from Nazi Germany, 1948, no. 10
New York, The Museum of Modern Art; Musical Themes, 1952, no. 6
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Minneapolis Institute of Arts; Buffalo, Albright Knox Art Gallery; Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Lyonel Feininger. Memorial Exhibition 1959-1961, 1959-60, no. 47
York, City Art Gallery; London, Arts Counsel Gallery, Lyonel Feininger, Memorial Exhibition, 1960, no. 24
Hamburg, Kunsverein; Essen, Museum Folkwang; Baden-Baden; Stadtliche Kunsthalle, Lyonel Feininger 1871-1956, Gedachnisausstellung, 1961, no. 48, illustrated in the catalogue
Cambridge, Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University Art Museums, 20th Century Germanic Art from Private Collections in Greater Boston, 1961 (not in the catalogue)
Dallas Museum for Contemporary Art, Lyonel Feininger, A Retrospective, 1963, no. 32
New York, Willard Gallery, Feininger: Oils and Watercolors 1906-1955, 1964
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Lyonel Feininger, 1968, no. 6
New York, Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, Lyonel Feininger, 1969, no. 43, illustrated in color in the catalogue
Munich, Haus der Kunst & Zürich, Kunsthaus, Die Dreissinger Jahre, 1973, no. 139, illustrated in color in the catalogue
Munich, Haus der Kunst; Essen, Museum Folkwang; Zürich, Kunsthaus, Die dreissiger Jahre -- Schauplatz Deutschland, 1977, no. 136
Hamburg, Kunsthalle, Lyonel Feininger. Menschenbilder -- Eine unbekannte Welt, 2003-04, no. 119, illustrated in color in the catalogue
Tokyo Shimbun; Kanagawa, The Yokosuka Museum of Art; Nagoya, The Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art, & Sendai, Miyagi Museum of Art, Lyonel Feininger Retrospective, 2008, no. 99, illustrated in color in the catalogue
LITERATURE AND REFERENCES: T. Lux Feininger, "Feininger Lyonel and Lux: Two Painters," Chrysalis, vol. 9, no. 9-10, Boston, 1956, illustrated in on the cover
Hans Hess, Lyonel Feininger, New York, 1961, no. 359, illustrated in color p. 133
Klaus Gallwitz, ed., Exposition 73: Ausstellungen in Deutschland, Dortmund, 1973, illustrated in color p.123
Roland März, Lyonel Feininger, Welt der Kunst, Berlin, 1981, illustrated in color p. 22
Ulrich Luckhardt, Lyonel Feininger, Munich, 1989, no. 48, illustrated in color p. 145
Dieter Forte, Das Muster, Frankfurt am Main, 1992, illustrated in color on the cover
Felicitas Tobien, Lyonel Feininger, Kirchdorf/Inn, 1995, illustrated in color p. 93
Roland März, ed., Lyonel Feininger. Von Gelmeroda nach Manhattan: Retrospektive der Gemälde (exhibition catalogue), Nationalgalerie Berlin, 1998, illustrated in color p.336
Hans Schulz-Vanselow, Lyonel Feininger und Pommern, Kiel, 1999, no. 132, illustrated in color p.256
NOTE: The spectacular Der rote Geiger (The Red Fiddler) is one of his final, seminal oils and definitively the most self-referential composition of Feininger's career. Feininger's idea for this 1934 painting originated from a nearly identical gouache and two closely related drawings that he completed over two decades earlier, at the height of his involvement with the German Expressionist groups Brücke and Blaue Reiter. Over the intervening years his professional accomplishments multiplied, as did his exposure at the Bauhaus to new and challenging artistic trends. His return to the subject of the fiddler after two decades is not surprising: Feininger was the son of a concert violinist and was particularly adept himself at playing the instrument. But the fact that he chose to resurrect his alter-ego, just as his art was coming under siege by the Nazis, is a powerful display of his artistic vigor. Painted in Germany on the brink of the defining crisis of the 20th century, Der rote Geiger goes well beyond depicting Feininger's passion for another art form. The crimson-frocked fiddler performs against an architectural backdrop emblazoned in gold and ochre, just as the Emperor Nero is fabled to have done during the burning of Rome. This painting marks the first appearance in Feininger's painting of the fiddler, a character that has since become symbolic of defiance in the face of crushing opposition.
The career that led up to Feininger's completion of this picture, at the age of 63, are was truly impressive. Following his success with the German Expressionists, Feininger was appointed by Walter Gropius as the head of printmaking at the Bauhaus upon the school's inception in 1919. When the Bauhaus moved to Dessau in 1926, Gropius permitted Feininger the privileged status of an artist-in-residence, excusing him of any teaching responsibilities so that he could concentrate on his painting. A year prior to that, Feininger had formed the highly influential artistic group known as the Blue Four, along with Kandinsky, Jawlensky and Klee. It was around this time that the artist began spending his summer vacation along the Baltic in the village of Deep, where he passed his days building model boats with his three sons. During the summer of 1934 Feininger painted the present work, which was the only oil that he ever completed outside of his studio.
Der rote Geiger is a composite of images from his past and the spindly figure of the fiddler, who makes his grand debut in this oil. Feininger's composition calls to mind some of the early paintings by Marc Chagall, in which the fiddler also played a prominent role in the artist's painterly reminiscence of his hometown in Vitebsk. Here, though, Feininger's fiddler strikes a highly stylized pose against a backdrop of urban European apartment buildings, with his bow positioned dramatically against the instrument. Alongside him are a prostitute luring her bespectacled client and a dark figure with a cane, all shadowy figures who recede into the architecture. Because Feininger began his career as a draftsman, there is a distinct influence of caricature in many of his paintings. His figural compositions are often populated by many of the same characters that featured in his published drawings, including Jesuits, city workers, lonely children and prostitutes. But in these grander oil compositions, Feininger groups all of these characters together, creating a dynamic ensemble for the sake of the pictorial narrative. As Luckhardt notes, "His red coat differentiates him from his surroundings; like a brilliant cut-out he stands in the composition, unrelated to the background – the rows of Parisian houses with their windows, the three figures. Neither the red of his coat nor the clear blue of the violin he places have any counterpart elsewhere in the painting. Isolation could not be more clearly shown – the loneliness of the creative individual who persists in giving unmistakable expression to his existence, even when no one in the vicinity is taking any notice. The Red Fiddler is Feininger's plea in the battle for the freedom he had long since lost; it stands as an image of the person of the artist" (Ulrich Luckhardt, op. cit., p. 144).
Through the pictorial devices of perspective and figural distortions, as well as eccentricities of color, the artist transforms the scene into a world where the strange and the familiar are inextricably linked. In his monograph about the artist, Hans Hess explores Feininger's artistic process, "Feininger had no theory of painting; he had that sense for contemporary reality that makes a painter an artist of his time. His thought was as much involved in his work as were his eyes. He was trying to obtain clarity, and he analyzed his own work, but he was not working in accordance with a theory, either his own or borrowed. The laws he obeyed were the laws of the picture as it revealed its structure, the laws of nature as he transposed them into his art. He did not impose a law of his invention; he transposed the laws that he observed. He revealed patterns; he did not invent them" (Hans Hess, op.cit., p. 68).
Feininger renders the surrounding environs with a network of overlapping geometric shapes that vary in degrees of opacity: solid earth-tones for the architecture and transparent shades of green, brown and gold for the sky. The aesthetic is similar to that of the Cubists but the effect here is much more legible; the edifices are abstracted but without compromising the solidity of their structure. Feininger repeats this interlacing of geometric forms in the sky, but uses transparent colors that dissolve the shapes into air. This technique, which the artist called "dual sky," heightens the dimensionality of the negative space while maintaining the ethereal quality of the sky. At the tops of the roofs he uses sharp, intersecting lines, indicative of his skills as a graphic artist, which aid in uniting the architecture with its surrounding space. The harmonious interplay of solids and voids in this picture can indeed be likened to the terse elegance and refinement of a Baroque prelude or fugue; for it was Feininger himself to once wrote, "Bach's spirit is contained in my painting also, and finds its expression there in a different form."
Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), Vertiefte regung (Deepened Impulse). Painted in February 1928. Signed with the monogram and dated 28 (lower left); signed with the monogram, titled, inscribed with the measurements 76 x 100, dated 1928, and numbered 424 on the reverse. Oil on canvas, 100 by 76 cm. Sold 5,682,500 USD.
PROVENANCE: Otto Ralfs, Braunschweig (acquired from the artist)
S. Hale, Mexico City (acquired in December 1931)
Private Collection, New York (acquired from the above)
Acquired by descent from the above
EXHIBITED: Düsseldorf, Deutsche Kunstausstellung, 1928, no. 477
LITERATURE AND REFERENCES: Artist's Handlist IV, no. 424
Will Grohmann, Wassily Kandinsky, Life and Work, New York, 1958, no. 424, catalogued p. 337; no. 284, illustrated p. 373
Hans K. Roethel & Jean K. Benjamin, Kandinsky, Catalogue raisonné of the Oil Paintings, Volume Two, 1916-1944, Ithaca, 1984, no. 867, illustrated p. 801
NOTE: Vertiefte Regung (Deepened Impulse) is Kandinsky's resonant meditation on the celestial beauty of circles. Painted in 1928 while he taught at the Bauhaus design school in Dessau, the picture embodies the aesthetic principles that Kandinsky promoted to his students. Circles dominated his most meaningful compositions of this intellectually sophisticated period of his career, and he expounded upon their incomparable aesthetic values in his writing. In response to why this form was so significant in his art, he could readily enumerate the reasons. The circle, he believed, was "1. the most modest form, but asserts itself unconditionally, 2. a precise but inexhaustible variable, 3. simultaneously stable and unstable. 4. simultaneously loud and soft, 5, a single tension that carries countless tensions within it. The circle is the synthesis of the greatest oppositions" (quoted in J. Hahl-Koch, Kandinsky, Brussels, 1993, pp. 284-85).
Vertiefte Regung (Deepened Impulse) carries on the artistic philosophies that the artist professed so passionately in his 1911 treatise, Concerning the Spiritual in Art. Kandinsky was interested in Eastern mysticism and Theosophy, and his ideas about art its resonant connection to the soul were integral to his practice. While his descriptive language may be bombastic, his resulting canvases were no less visually spectacular: "Technically, every work of art comes into being in the same way as the cosmos — by means of catastrophes, which ultimately create out of the cacophony of the various instruments that symphony we call the music of the spheres. The creation of the work of art is the creation of the world."
It is this cataclysmic force and great symphony of color that Kandinsky has brought to the fore in the present painting. At the heart of the composition is a great explosion into darkness, rendered with an abrupt transition from the primarily white background into the effervescent blue and blackness of the center. It is as if the artist is attempting to "annihilate" the background, ripping it open to reveal infinity beyond the canvas and creating a pictorial "black hole." The circles appear to be floating in space, like stars eclipsing and colliding with one another in their perpetual motion through the cosmos.
Both the present composition and Several Circles, in the collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, are clear manifestations of Kandinsky's documented fascination with astronomy. Writing about the Guggenheim picture, Jelena Hahl-Koch has pointed out, "There is a strong association with planets and stars in this and all the pictures of circles, especially those painted on dark backgrounds. The links between artistic creation and the "creation of the world," bound by the laws of nature, come easily to mind" (J. Hahl-Koch, op. cit., p. 284). Hahl-Koch tells us that in the early 20th century, the artist and Gabriele Münter would often invite an astronomer friend to their home on clear nights to guide them through the starry sky with a telescope. The artist's instruction in astronomy proved highly influential to his compositions, particularly those he did at the Bauhaus, where the harmony and interplay of circles was his favorite motif.
The first owner of this painting was Otto Ralfs (1892-1955), a businessman and art collector based in Braunschweig. Ralfs was instrumental in supporting the careers of several emerging artists, including the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, and founded the Kandinsky Gesellschaft and Klee Gesellschaft in 1925. These organizations ensured that each artist receive a monthly stipend from contributing private collectors in Germany and Switzerland. In exchange, the collectors were eligible for discounts on works of art and received a drawing or painting as a New Year's gift. Like so many of his generation, Ralfs went bankrupt in the 1930s and sold his collection. According to Vivian Endicott Barnett, Ralfs sold Vertiefte Regung to a private collector in Mexico City with the assistance of Rivera, who had wanted to purchase the painting for himself but was unable to afford it. The Braunschweig collector and dealer Galka Scheyer was also Mexico in the autumn of 1931, and she probably facilitated the transaction for her friends Kandinsky and Ralfs. Since that time, Vertiefte Regung has remained in private hands.
Among the Surrealist works achieving strong prices tonight was Salvador Dalí’s Spectre du soir sur la plage from 1935 which sold for $5,682,500 against a $4/6 million estimate to set a new record for the artist at auction. Joan Miró’s 1973 Personnages dans un paysage sold for $3,442,500 against a $3/4 million estimate and Peinture (Le Cheval de Cirque), also by Miró, exceeded the $1.5/2 million estimate to sell for $2,658,500.
Salvador Dalí (1904 - 1989), Spectre du soir sur la plage. Painted in 1935. Signed Gala Salvador Dalí and dated 1935 (lower right) Oil on canvas, 50 by 61 cm. Sold 5,682,500 USD.
PROVENANCE: Private Collection, Europe (gift from the artist circa 1935 and thence by descent)
Private Collection, Connecticut (acquired from the above)
Acquired from the above by the present owner
EXHIBITED: Frankfurt-am-Main, Städtische Galerie und Städelsche Kunstinstitut, Salvador Dalí, 1974, no. 8
Roslyn Harbor, Nassau County Museum, Surrealism: Dreams on Canvas, 2007
LITERATURE AND REFERENCES: Robert Descharnes & Gilles Néret, Salvador Dalí, L'Oeuvre peint, Cologne, 1994, vol. I, no. 495, illustrated p. 220; vol. II catalogued p. 753 (as dating from 1934 and with the measurements 65 by 54 cm)
Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Salvador Dalí Catalogue raisonné of Paintings [1910-1939], Figueres, 2006, no. 360 (with the measurements 54 by 65 cm)
NOTE: Dalí's windswept landscape of distant figures on a desolate beach conveys a vulnerability and menacing solitude that characterizes the artist's most poignant compositions. The painting is awash in a haze of topaz and sapphire that form the great expanse of the sandy beach and the brilliant blue sky of the Mediterranean. The setting here is the beach at Rosas on the Costa Brava, not far from Figueres. It was here that Dalí spent many summers as a child, and his recollections of this formative period were portrayed in many of his most haunting Surrealist compositions. Painted during the most important period of his career in 1935, Spectre du soir sur la plage exemplifies Dalí's genius for representing the potency of people, places and events long forgotten.
This picture belongs to a series of beach depictions that Dalí completed in the mid-1930s. In some of these compositions, his cousin Carolinetta appears as an apparition in the distance. The precision with which Dalí renders these figures as miniature details of a sweeping vista call to mind the great landscape paintings of the European old masters, whom Dalí greatly admired. The melancholic setting of the deserted Spanish beach was a scene to which he would return time and time again over the years, and would be the setting for some of his most paranoid artistic visions, including his epic Soft Construction with Boiled Beans, painted one year after the present work.
In 1934, Dalí delivered a lecture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York that outlined the major themes and preoccupations in his pictures of the time: "To understand an aesthetic picture, training in appreciation is necessary, cultural and intellectual preparation. For Surrealism the only requisite is a receptive and intuitive human being [...] The subconscious has a symbolic language that is truly a universal language for it does not depend on education or culture or intelligence but speaks with the vocabulary of the great vital constants, sexual instinct, sense of death, physical notion of the enigma of space these vital constants are universally echoed in every human being" (quoted in Salvador Dalí (exhibition catalogue), The Tate Gallery, London, 1908, pp. 15-16).
As was the case for his most important Surrealist compositions of the 1930s and afterwards, Dalí signed the present composition using a combined version of his own name and that of his lover Gala. The first appearance of the double-signature seems to be 1931, coinciding with the time immediately after Dalí's disinheritance by his father (in December 1930). By the time he painted the present work, Dalí's life and persona had become so intertwined with that of his companion that he no longer regarded his artistic production as independant from her influence.
Joan Miró (1893 - 1983), Personnages dans un paysage. Painted on July 26, 1973. Signed Miró (center right); titled and signed upside down MIRO on the reverse; dated in pencil on the stretcher 26/VII/73. Oil on canvas, 89 by 116 cm. Sold 3,442,500 USD.
PROVENANCE: Estate of the artist
Private Collection, Spain
Acquired from the above in 2007
LITERATURE AND REFERENCES: Jacques Dupin and Ariane Lelong-Mainaud, Joan Miró, Catalogue raisonné, Paintings, Volume 1969-1975, Paris, 2003, no. 1488, illustrated in color p. 119
NOTE: Miró's impressive Personnages dans un paysage, painted in the last decade of the artist's life, is an exceptional example of abstraction at its most daring. Although no figurative elements of a traditional landscape are visible, the artist only evokes the properties of this genre through the mossy green, sky blue and sunny yellow of his palette. His brushy application of color is offset by the opaque blots of paint that richly imbue the composition. When he painted this work in 1973, Miró was primarily concerned with reducing his pictorial language to its barest essentials. "Through this rarefaction and seeming lack of prudence," explains his biographer Jacques Dupin, "the canvas' pictorial energy was in fact magnified, and his painting strikingly reaffirmed. This process also seemed like a breath of fresh air, or an ecstatic present from which new signs, colors, and the full freedom of gesture surged forth. By limiting the colors of his palette, Miró's enduring themes yielded works of various sizes, proportions rhythms, and resonances" (J. Dupin, Miró, Barcelona, 1993, p. 337-38).
The frenetic expressivenes of the artist's brushwork here calls to mind the works of Willem De Kooning completed around the same time. After his trip to New York in 1947, Miró became acquainted with the art of the Abstract Expressionists and was fascinated by their new techniques and their aesthetic agenda. As the artist later recalled, the experience of seeing canvases of the Abstract Expressionists was like "a blow to the solar plexus." Several young painters, including Jackson Pollock, were crediting Miró as their inspiration for their wild, paint-splattered canvases. In the years that followed he created works that responded to the enthusiasm of this younger generation of American painters and the spontaneity of their art. It was also under their influence that he started painting on a large scale, such as in the present work. The paintings he created from the early 1950s onwards are a fascinating response to these new trends of abstraction, while at the same time showing Miró's allegiance to his own artistic pursuits.
By the time he completed the present work in 1973, Miró's composition had gained a level of expressive freedom and exuberance that evidenced his confidence in his craft. Images of women, stars, birds and moons were omnipresent in his pictures to the point that these elements became memes for the artist's own identity. Jacques Dupin elaborated on the semiotic importance of the figuration in these late paintings, "[t]he sign itself was no longer the image's double, it was rather reality assimilated then spat out by the painter, a reality he had incorporated then liberated, like air or light. The importance of the theme now depended on its manner of appearing or disappearing, and the few figures Miró still endlessly named and inscribed in his works are the natural go-between and guarantor of the reality of his universe. It would perhaps be more fruitful to give an account of those figures that have disappeared than of the survivors" (ibid. pp. 339-40).
This extraordinarly colorful composition remained in Miró's collection until the end of his life and was kept by his heirs. As was the case for most of these late works, the artist completed the picture in his studio in Palma de Mallorca, where the warm Mediterranean sunlight and invigorating sea air enlivened his desire to paint bold and exuberant oils.
Joan Miró (1893 - 1983), Peinture (Le cheval de cirque). Painted in 1927. Signed Miró and dated 1927 (lower center); Signed Joan Miró and dated 1927 on the reverse. Oil on canvas, 99 by 130 cm. Sold 2,658,500 USD.
PROVENANCE: Kootz Gallery, New York
Perls Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above on September 16, 1963
EXHIBITED: The Minneapolis Institute of Art (on loan circa 1960s)
LITERATURE AND REFERENCES: Jacques Dupin, Miró, Paris, 1961, no. 213, illustrated p. 501
Jacques Dupin and Ariane Lelong-Mainaud, Joan Miró, catalogue raisonné. Paintings, vol. I, Paris, 1999, no. 240, illustrated p. 182
NOTE: The present work is one from a series of thirteen canvases, executed between 1925 and 1927, which explore the theme of the circus horse. The circus provided ample material for a generation of artists working in Paris during the first quarter of the 20th century. Among the many examples are the saltimbanques of Picasso, the whimsical wire sculptures by Calder, and the many soulful clowns of Chagall and Rouault. For Miró, however, the Circus was not a source of character types or a framework for psychological investigations, but rather a spectacle of movement and color that would accommodate his artistic explorations. Jacques Dupin has written on this subject as follows:
"One of Miró's major obsessions from the very earliest paintings on had been circular and spiral movement, the tension that arises between a center or a fixed axis and something revolving around it... The image of a man at the center of a ring, whose long whip makes the horses move around it, accurately portrays this metaphysical fable and the organization of forces it describes. This theme helped the artist to liberate himself from his obsession. He produces a series of variations on this theme, of such freedom and daring that in some of them it is impossible to identify horse, man or whip... The ringmaster is at the center, swinging on the base supplied by a half circle. He is connected with the horse by the sinuous black line of a whip: a flexible white arabesque repeats the motif of the whip. Certain canvases on this theme stress the simple contrast between the horse – light, mobile, airy, white (the color of dreams), with a tiny head and long limber legs – and the man, who is almost never personified, represented by no more than his indispensable attributes, namely immobility and centrality. He is often summed up as a powerful black quadrangle at the center of the canvas, with or without the immense uncoiled arabesque of the whip shooting out from it" (Jacques Dupin, Miró, New York, 1993, p. 128).
In some works from the series, such as the composition in the Musée d'Ixelles, Brussels (Dupin, no. 234), the horse is clearly drawn as a complete form with a long giraffe-like neck, flowing mane and outstretched legs. In paintings such as the work with the subtitle, The Lasso (Dupin, no. 233), the deep-blue ground is simply inscribed with flowing black lines, like flat ribbons lashing and turning through the air, to indicate the movement of the ringmaster's whip. Throughout the iterations of this theme, certain elements take precedence over others. In some paintings, the corporal presence of the figures is clearly indicated, while in other paintings the artist only allows traces of movement to represent the scene, like shadows on a wall. For the present work, the artist has reduced the horse and the elements of the circus to lines and the most elemental forms.
Miró's contemporaries marvelled at Surrealist paintings from the late 1920s, and noted that artist's extremely sparing rendering could result in extraordinarily powerful works. in 1959, Alberto Giacometti recalled Miró's pictures from this era, noting "For me, it was the greatest liberation. Anything lighter, more airy, more detached, I had never seen. In a way, it was absolutely perfect. Miró could not put down a dot without it being in just the right place. He was so much a painter, through and through, that he could just leave three blobs of colour on the canvas and it became a painting, that was a painting" (quoted in Joan Miro, 1917-1934 (exhibition catalogue), Centre Pompidou, 2004, p. 212).
For over forty years, the present work belonged to the Detroit collectors Josephine and Walter Buhl Ford II, who were heirs to the great American automotive legacy pioneered by Henry Ford at the beginning of the 20th century. Rarely exhibited, this is the first time that the picture will be on display to the public in four decades.