A Christie's employee poses with Paul Gauguin's "Nature morte a 'L'esperence'" at Christie's auction house in London. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor.
LONDON. A painting by Paul Gauguin, billed as the top lot at Christie's auction of modern and impressionist works in London, failed to find a buyer on Wednesday.
The tribute to the artist's friend Vincent Van Gogh, in the form of a still life with sunflowers called "Nature morte a 'L'Esperance," had been expected to fetch up to 10 million pounds ($16 million). (REUTERS).
Buyers from 20 countries converge at Christie’s as 3 works sell for over £5 million / 23 for over £1 million • Terrasse à Vernon by Pierre Bonnard sells for £7.2 million – a wThe Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale and the auction of Art of the Surreal took place this evening at Christie’s and realized £84,879,800 / $136,316,959 / €99,903,525 selling 79% by lot and 84% by value. The sales had a pre-sale estimate of £72,580,000 to £107,060,000.
Giovanna Bertazzoni, Director and Head of Impressionist and Modern Art, Christie’s London: “Strong results at this evening’s auction illustrate a solid market for both classic impressionism and the masterpieces of the avant-garde. Colour continues to draw fierce competition, from the glowing yellow of Degas’ ballerinas to the vibrant red in the Fauve Derain. In a buzzing saleroom, buyers from 20 different countries bought works at the sale with a deep pool of international bidders and more than 10 clients competing on several lots. The most intense interest was for the works which were released from private collections for the first time – nearly all of the top 10 lots had been in the same hands for a generation or more.”
Olivier Camu, International Director of Impressionist and Modern Art, Christie’s: “Since we staged the first auction dedicated to Surrealist art in 2001 we have seen the market continue to grow in stature and tonight we realized a record total for the category, and a record price for any work by Dali. This pioneering movement of 20th century art now attracts collectors from every corner of the world and from other collecting areas, in particular contemporary art. This is driving the market to new levels.”
The top price was paid for Terrasse à Vernon by Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) which realized £7,209,250 / $11,578,056 / €8,485,287 – a world record price for the artist at auction. A masterclass in colourist painting executed in 1923, it was one of only 3 works that Bonnard selected to be exhibited at the Salon d’Automne that year where it was very well received. Acquired by the family of the vendor in 1935, it had since passed by descent and was offered at auction for the first time with a pre-sale estimate of £3 million to £4 million.
Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947), Terrasse à Vernon, signed and dated 'Bonnard 23' (lower right), oil on canvas, 47¼ x 41 5/8 in. (120 x 105 cm.). Painted in 1923. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd., 2011
Estimate £3,000,000 - £4,000,000 - Price Realized £7,209,250
Provenance: Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris, by whom acquired directly from the artist in 1923.
Galerie d'Art Moderne, Lausanne.
M. Léon Delaroche, by whom acquired from the above, by 1935, and thence by descent to the present owner.
Literature: F. Jourdain, Bonnard ou les vertus de la Liberté, Geneva, 1946, no. 12 (illustrated in colour, titled 'Paysage de Vernon').
A. Terrasse, Pierre Bonnard, Paris, 1967, p. 220 (illustrated p. 121, titled 'La terrasse').
J. & H. Dauberville, Bonnard, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, vol. III, 1920-1939, Paris, 1973, no. 1185, p. 161 (illustrated p. 162).
Exh. cat., Bonnard, Centre Georges Pompidou Musée national d'art moderne, Paris, 1984, p. 110 (illustrated).
J. Russell, Bonnard, The Late Paintings, New York, 1984, p. 180 (illustrated).
M. Terrasse, Bonnard, du dessin au tableau, Paris, 1996, p. 179 (illustrated).
Exhibited: Paris, Salon d'Automne, November - December 1923.
New York, Exhibition of Paintings by Bonnard, March 1934, no. 20 (illustrated).
Notes: Painted in 1923, Terrasse à Vernon is a colourist masterclass, showing the view from Ma Roulotte, the Norman home of Pierre Bonnard. This picture, which was one of only three that Bonnard selected to be exhibited at the Salon d'Automne that year, and which was very well-received, is saturated with luscious greens, lapis and turquoise, while the ground has a sunny feel that is enhanced by the glimmer of light of the young woman watching the artist - or the viewer. The composition itself deliberately avoids classical perspective or a sense of over-central emphasis, to drag the viewer's attention, ensuring that our eye grazes across the entirety of the canvas, taking in the landscape as a whole while also enjoying such details as the blue and white stripes of the table-cloth, the red petals of the flowers or the landscape that stretches out in the background, or rather which reaches up the height of the canvas to the horizon, two thirds of the way to its top. This is a device that Bonnard used in many of his most accomplished landscapes, satisfying his innate passion for monumental canvases filled with colour - the legacy of his Nabi past.
It was in 1888 that his friend Paul Sérusier had painted a work in the company of Paul Gauguin that came to be known as Le Talisman because of its epiphanic role in the movement. In that picture, Sérusier had learnt to abandon the illusion of three-dimensional space, creating a picture surface that had a decorative quality in its own right. This, combined with the Nabis' fascination with Japanese woodcuts, had led them to create pictures focussed on the colour-structure of their picture surfaces, avoiding any illusory perspectives. While Bonnard abandoned the rigours of such techniques in the period after the turn of the century, favouring instead the increasingly sensuous colourism that is displayed to such great effect in Terrasse à Vernon, it is telling that the lessons of previous decades had remained in the way that he constructed his pictures. While this is perhaps more explicit in the interior views that allowed him to play with windows, doors and walls, as well as the contrasting pools of landscape visible through the various apertures, it is nonetheless in evidence here, not least in his use of various dynamic diagonals within the forms of the trees, the banister and the sloping terrace itself, which introduce a zig-zagging effect, revealing the pictorial scaffolding with which Bonnard has so painstakingly created this image, a concept that would echo two and a half decades later through Mark Rothko's early abstract paintings. As Bonnard had explained of his work a decade earlier, 'after drawing comes the composition, which must be balanced. A well-composed painting is half done' (Bonnard, quoted in N. Watkins, Bonnard, London, 1994, p. 134). In similar terms, Bonnard wrote in his notes:
'Show nature when it's beautiful. Everything has its moment of beauty. Beauty is the fulfillment of seeing. Seeing is fulfilled by simplicity and order. Simplicity and order are produced by dividing legible surfaces, grouping compatible colors, etc' (Bonnard, quoted in A. Terrasse, 'Bonnard's Notes,' pp. 51-70, Bonnard: The Late Paintings, ed. S.M. Newman, exh.cat., New York, 1984, p. 69).
Bonnard had purchased his house at Vernonnet, christened Ma Roulotte, or 'My Caravan', in 1912, and it remained one of the key bases for his painting campaigns until the eve of the Second World War, by which time he was increasingly spending time in the South of France at Le Cannet. The sweeping views from his house provided ample subject matter for the artist. The house's location was also close to another great master, Claude Monet, whom Bonnard often visited. The pair had a great mutual admiration.
Terrasse à Vernon relates to several of Bonnard's views from his house and indeed is prefigured in part by his picture L'été en Normandie of 1908 now in the Pushkin Museum, Moscow. However, the presence of the terrace itself links it in particular to a group of very large landscapes that were painted over the space of over two decades. It has been posited that these were a form of response to his Monet's Grandes décorations now housed in the Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris. Like Monet, whose legendary gardens at Giverny were close-by, Bonnard was taking the Norman landscape and creating epic works that were décoratif. This began with La Grande Terrasse, also known as Le jardin sauvage, of 1918, now in the Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Elements of that picture such as the table and the pool of warm light cast on the right-hand section where the woman is sitting are echoed in Terrasse à Vernon, as well as the pools of gold and lapis that comprise the countryside and river in the background. Subsequently, Bonnard revisited the view, seen from another angle that allows the house itself and the fence to enter the composition, in La Terrasse de Vernon of circa 1928, now in the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf. Another work of the same title (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), begun in 1920 but only completed in 1939, shares the descending banister, but has panned back, allowing more of the house and the terrace itself to enter the composition, which is peopled by several characters and is interrupted dramatically by a lilac-coloured tree which divides the picture-surface, recalling some of Edgar Degas' pictures of the ballet.
Terrasse à Vernon therefore forms a part of an intriguing arc within Bonnard's oeuvre, and within his engagement with his own beloved surroundings. Bonnard's friend Thadée Natanson, who was a frequent visitor to Ma Roulotte, praised these views while also linking them to the artist's sun-drenched views of the South of France:
'More than one painting or decoration derived from the terrace at La Roulotte, which Bonnard gazed out on a great deal. They are more especially a feast of greens, already enameled with these significant whites or these wonderful beiges and the cross play of the vegetation with all of its richness. Indeed at times, twists of succulent blue burst forth, festivals from which the work of Le Cannet would come. Loving studies of the foliage, each leaf... The feasts of the almost precisely rendered foreground crown the [trees in the] background, so distant and yet even more sonorous, although less detailed. These were already the harmony of melodies and bass lines, which would loudly accompany the more unexpected landscapes born of Le Cannet' (Natanson, quoted in Bonnard: The Late Paintings, ed. S.M. Newman, exh.cat., New York, 1984, p. 180).
At this evening’s auction, 3 works of art sold for over £5 million / 23 for over £1 million. Buyers (by lot / by origin) were 23% UK, 49% Europe, 23% Americas and 5% Asia and originated from 20 different countries.
Further leading highlights of the sale:
Bateaux à Collioure by André Derain (1880-1954) sold for £5,865,250 / $9,419,592 / €6,903,399 (estimate: £4 million to £6 million). Painted in 1905, this work is from a pivotal, early moment of the Fauve movement. Executed in Collioure where the artist was painting alongside his great champion Henri Matisse, it is an exceptionally vibrant work that had been in the collection of the vendor since circa 1960 and which had last been seen in public in 1965.
André Derain (1880-1954), Bateaux à Collioure, signed 'a derain' (lower left), oil on canvas, 15 1/8 x 18 1/8 in. (38.4 x 46 cm.). Painted in 1905. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd., 2011
Estimate: £4,000,000 - £6,000,000 - Price Realized £5,865,250
Provenance: Ambroise Vollard, Paris.
Anonymous Sale, Galerie Charpentier, Paris, 17 June 1960.
Acquired by the present owner circa 1960.
Literature: M. Kellermann, André Derain, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, vol. I, 1895-1914, Paris, 1992, no. 54, p. 33 (illustrated).
Exhibited: Paris, Galerie de Paris, La cage aux fauves du Salon d'automne, 1905, October - November 1965, possibly no. 21.
Notes: Bateaux à Collioure is one of the pictures that André Derain painted during his historic stay in the French coastal town of the same name, where he had gone to join his fellow artist and friend, the older Henri Matisse. There, the two worked alongside each other, blazing the trail of the movement that would, in the Salon d'Automne that was held sometime after their return to Paris later that year, be dubbed the 'Fauves.' The wildness that lent the loosely-joined movement its name is clear in the bold, brightly blazing colours of Bateaux à Collioure, with the broad areas of red and yellow making up the foreground, the lapis flecks that convey some of the shimmering water and the boats, and the green of the sky. This painting perfectly embodies Derain's statement that, 'Fauvism was for us a trial by fire... The colours became sticks of dynamite. They had to explode into light' (Derain, quoted in N. Kalitina, André Derain, Leningrad, 1976, p. 9).
For Derain, Fauvism had begun several years before he had come to know Matisse, who was already an established figure in the avant-garde by that time. Instead, it was when he met Maurice de Vlaminck, another young artist who was based in Chatou, the suburb of Paris that the two artists would come to celebrate in their vibrant landscapes from the banks of the River Seine. They apparently met when their train had derailed and they were forced to walk back to Chatou; the pair recognised each other from their painting forays, but only when thrown together by that minor calamity did they strike up a conversation and discover their mutual interest in pushing back the boundaries of painting. The pair began to work side by side, comparing their pictures and sharing a studio. This reached an intense peak following Derain's return from military service when, in the winter of 1904 to 1905, they created shimmering, intense, colour-drenched landscapes of Chatou.
It was around this time that Matisse, an older and more established artist who had been pursuing a similar direction separately in his own paintings such as Luxe, calme et volupté of 1904, bringing intense colour to the fore, came into close contact with Derain and Vlaminck. However, his continued interest in the Pointillisme still espoused by his friend, the Neo-Impressionist pioneer Paul Signac - who himself had visited Collioure almost two decades earlier, celebrating its light in a group of oils - marked out a difference between his own ideas and those of Vlaminck and Derain, a difference that under the influence of these younger firebrands would later come to dissolve. Matisse played an important role in encouraging Derain, who was particularly despondent after returning from his military service. It was Matisse who had picked him up, helping to send him in the direction of the joyous colours that sing out from his Fauve works such as Bateaux à Collioure.
Matisse discussed his friendship with Derain, explaining:
'I knew Derain from having met him in the studio of Eugène Carrière where he worked, and I took an interest in the serious, scrupulous work of this highly gifted artist... Derain asked me to go to see his parents to persuade them that painting was a respectable trade, contrary to what they thought. And to give more weight to my visit, I took my wife with me. To tell the truth, the painting of Derain and Vlaminck did not surprise me, for it was close to the researches I myself was pursuing. But I was moved to see that these very young men had certain convictions similar to my own' (Matisse, quoted in J. Elderfield, The 'Wild Beasts': Fauvism and Its Affinities, Oxford, New York & Toronto, 1976, p. 30).
Matisse's mention of his intervention with Derain's parents appears to have been a vital hurdle for the young artist. As the son of a prosperous middle-class shop-owner, Derain was expected to pursue a more respectable path than that of artist. However, towards the end of 1904 or the beginning of 1905 Matisse, who himself appeared so respectable and was already relatively well-known, managed to convince Derain's father that being a painter was an honourable profession in its own right. Derain's father may have been further convinced when, in February 1905, the contents of his son's studio were bought in their entirety (with the exception of one copy after Ghirlandaio which Derain insisted on keeping) by the legendary dealer Ambroise Vollard, who had been introduced to the young Fauves by Matisse. Vollard later came to be the owner of Bateaux à Collioure.
The influence of Matisse on Derain's father would come to the fore again regarding the journey to Collioure. Derain had asked Matisse to write a postcard or short letter to him, recommending that he join him in Collioure so that he could convince his parents. Matisse replied on 25 June 1905:
'I cannot insist too much in order to persuade you that a stay here is absolutely necessary for your work - you would be in the most advantageous condition and you would retrieve pecuniary benefits from the work that you do here. I am certain that if you listen to me you will find that this is why I repeat, come' (Matisse, quoted in exh. cat. André Derain: Le peintre du "trouble moderne", Paris, 1994, p. 112).
Whether it was his air of authority, the fact that he was a 'guardian figure' or the stated financial benefits that convinced his father, Derain found himself in a position to write back on 28 June that he was on his way, having encountered less resistance than he had expected from his family and even furnished with an admittedly small budget from them. The prospect of the trip, which he had earlier discussed, filled him with excitement as in many ways his ideas concerning art were divergent from those of his friend Vlaminck. While they were of a similar age, Derain's sensibility towards painting was arguably far more in tune with that of Matisse, the great colourist of the Twentieth Century.
Matisse had been in Collioure since 16 May; Derain appears to have arrived some days after his letter. There, he appears to have stayed in the Hôtel de la Gare where Matisse had himself taken rooms with his family. Matisse had also rented a room overlooking the Faubourg beach there, by the Port d'Avall, to use as a studio. On 15 July, within a short time of Derain's arrival, Mme Matisse was able to write to Jeanne Manguin, who was staying with her husband, the fellow artist Henri Manguin, in Malleribes near Saint-Tropez: 'My husband and Derain work steadily, despite the strong heat' (Mme Matisse, quoted in J. Freeman (ed.), exh. cat., The Fauve Landscape, Los Angeles, New York and London, 1990, p. 75). Derain wrote back often to his friend Vlaminck, likewise discussing the advances that he was making, side by side with Matisse, often encouraged by the older painter's work, sometimes disappointed by his continued adherence to Pointillism, rather than the broader, more intense brushstrokes that can be seen in Bateaux à Collioure and which convey such a sense of passion, relying on emotion and expression rather than the science of colours and contrasts. This divergence, as well as the impact that the intense light of the South had on Derain, can be seen in particular in his letter of 28 July to Vlaminck, in which he elucidated,
'1. A new conception of light consisting in this: the negation of shadows. Light here is very strong, shadows very faint. Every shadow is a whole world of clarity and luminosity which contrasts with sunlight: what is known as reflections.
Both of us, so far, have overlooked this, and in the future, where composition is concerned, it will make for a renewal of expression.
2. Noted, when working with Matisse, that I must eradicate everything involved by the division of tones. He goes on, but I've had my fill of it completely and hardly ever use it now. It's logical enough in a luminous, harmonious picture. But it only injures things which owe their expression to deliberate disharmonies' (Derain, letter to Vlaminck, 28 July 1905, quoted in D. Sutton, André Derain, London, 1959, p. 16).
It is in those disharmonies, those scintillating contrasts, that Bateaux à Collioure and its fellows thrive, thrusting the colour to the fore with a calculated abandon. Matisse's pictures often abandoned the Divisionism that Derain bemoaned, resulting in the fact that the proximity of their working arrangement can be traced in their paintings as well as in letters. This appears evident from comparison of Bateaux à Collioure with the palette of, for example, Matisse's Les toits de Collioure (Matinée d'été), now in the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. Both pictures share a similar red for the foreground, a similar mixture of lapis and turquoise blues for the water and a use of pink for the hills of the landscape in the background. A similar use of colours is again visible in the small portrait that Derain painted showing Matisse at a table with the beach and the sea behind him; that picture, which is in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, was one of three oil portraits that Derain made of Matisse, while the older artist reciprocated with a dashing image of the young painter which is now in the collection of the Tate Gallery, London.
Over the months that the two artists spent in Collioure before they left in September, they created a number of ravishing images of the port and its surrounding area, saturated with vivid colours. Albert Marquet, a fellow Fauve, saw their pictures and wrote to Manguin that, 'they have made stunning things' (Manguin, quoted in Freeman (ed.), op. cit., 1990, p. 79). It comes as no surprise that of the nine works that Derain showed at the famous Salon d'Automne held in Paris later that year, five showed scenes of Collioure (including two of the four pastels he showed); the oils shown included Le séchage des voiles à Collioure (Pushkin Museum, Moscow). Likewise, Matisse showed Les toits de Collioure among his other paintings. These were hung in the same room as landscapes by Vlaminck and various other Fauve artists who had been working in the South of France and Le Havre; and it was in this legendary setting that Louis Vauxcelles, spotting a sculpture by Albert Marque in the centre of Room VII, declared it to be, 'Donatello chez les fauves,' coining a name that would stick and indeed come to be embraced by the artists concerned (L. Vauxcelles, Gil Blas, 17 October 1905, reproduced in R. Labrusse & J. Munck (eds.), Matisse-Derain: La verityé du Fauvisme, Paris, 2005, p. 242).
Danseuses jupes jaunes (Deux danseuses en jaune) ,by Edgar Degas (1834-1917) realized £5,417,250 / $8,700,104 / €6,376,103 (estimate: £3 million to £5 million). A stunning pastel in exceptional condition, it had been acquired by the family of the vendor in 1899 and had since passed by descent. A highly finished work from circa 1896, it shows the artist’s favoured theme, the ballet, captured in the explosive palette that marked his works from this period.
Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Danseuses jupes jaunes (Deux danseuses en jaune), signed 'Degas' (lower right), pastel and charcoal on joined paper, 23¾ x 16 7/8 in. (60.2 x 42.4 cm.). Executed circa 1896. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd., 2011
Estimate £3,000,000 - £5,000,000 - Price Realized £5,417,250
Provenance: Galeries Durand-Ruel, Paris (no. 3942), by whom acquired directly from the artist on 15 October 1896.
Bruno and Paul Cassirer, Berlin (no. 173), by whom acquired from the above on 27 April 1899, and thence by descent to the present owner.
Literature: J. Meier-Graefe, Degas, London, 1923, pl. XCV (illustrated).
P.A. Lemoisne, Degas et son oeuvre, vol. III, Paris, 1947, no. 1282, p. 744 (illustrated p. 745).
L. Browse, Degas Dancers, London, 1949, no. 195, p. 399 (illustrated, titled 'Deux danseuses en jupes jaunes, posant sur la scene', dated 'circa 1888-90').
Exhibited: Arts Council of Great Britain, The Private Degas, 1986, no. 98 (illustrated no. 149, p. 112, dated 'circa 1895-1900').
Nottingham Castle, Museum and Art Gallery, Art in Performance, Performance in Art, May - August 1987, no. 16 (dated '1895-1900').
Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, on loan, 1983-2010 (inv. nr. LI927.1).
Notes: Danseuses jupes jaunes (Deux danseuses en jaune) is a highly-finished pastel dating from circa 1896 which shows Edgar Degas' most favoured theme, the ballet, captured in the explosive palette that marked his works from this period. Here, two dancers are shown resting against the painted theatre backdrop, one adjusting the straps and facing us, the other facing away with her hands on her back, as though stretching. This is an informal glimpse of life behind the curtain, of a world of incredible athleticism, movement and action in a rare moment of repose and respite, yet that atmosphere of informality is belied by the incredible finish of the surface, which Degas has eked out not in a mere instant, capturing an intimate moment, but instead with an incredible build-up of often hatched strokes of pastel, creating his distinctive palimpsest-like accumulation of colour. This is especially visible in the areas of shadow, for instance at the dancers' feet.
Degas himself was open about the fact that his pictures, while intended to look like snapshots showing these passing moments in the life of the ballerinas, were in fact the product of a great deal of investigation and rigorous execution. He explored the poses that he depicted at length, revisiting them again and again. By the 1890s, when Danseuses jupes jaunes (Deux danseuses en jaune) was created, he primarily used models within the confines of his studio, studying them from a variety of angles while they maintained their pose. The process of investigation is evident in a smaller pastel entitled Danseuses mauves which features essentially the same composition (Musée Faure, Aix-les-Bains).
Degas had an incredible ability to take a subject that seemed intensely, even scandalously, modern at the time and to instil it with timelessness. The make-believe realm of the theatre provided the perfect forum for such material, as many of the clues as to the era have been deliberately removed. This means that the scene in Danseuses jupes jaunes (Deux danseuses en jaune), while strikingly modern to the French nineteenth-century audience, could plausibly have shown dancers from decades earlier, or even a century later. Meanwhile, the dancers' poses while they stretch themselves or adjust their outfits manages to appear as an ephemeral detail, a mere transitory moment of preparation before a performance, yet is filled with mystery and even dignity. There is a timelessness to their positions that echoes the so-called Diane de Gabies, the celebrated statue of Artemis formerly attributed to Praxiteles and now considered a Hellenistic copy of one of his original bronzes which is in the Louvre, which shows the titular goddess adjusting the chiton at her shoulder. This gesture pierces the veil of mystery in both the case of the deity and of the dancers, revealing a deeply human side to their lives, something so everyday and yet so unseen by the majority of people that it adds to the intimate magic while also adhering to Degas' fascination with realism. This would similarly be explored in Degas' large celebrated painting, En attendant l'entrée en scène of circa 1899 (L 1267), now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., which shows various ballerinas stretching and adjusting their outfits, echoing the Diane de Gabies, before leaping into the public view.
The poses in En attendant l'entrée en scène appear to be linked to the photographs which Degas had of ballerinas which themselves provide a thrilling insight into the artist's varied working methods. With those glass plates, he was able to explore the poses of the dancers from either side, an effect that was visible similarly in some of the drawings that relate to Danseuses jupes jaunes (Deux danseuses en jaune). Proof of Degas' investigative process in creating the composition that he desired is furnished by the preparatory drawings in which he explored the positions of these dancers, several of which featured in the sales of the contents of his studio which followed his death. In the second sale, the second drawing in lot 144 and lot 207 were drawings of the left-hand figure alone, pictured naked and therefore without the straps that she is adjusting in the pose in the pastel image; the first of these shows her facing the other side, reflecting the pose. Meanwhile, lots 300 and 301 show both figures, although in the second image their positioning relative to each other has been shifted; this is also the case in lot 277 in the second sale. It can be seen that Degas was playing with a range of permutations of the composition. This becomes more evident by comparison with other pastels such as Trois danseuses en bleu (Décor de paysage), Danseuses jaunes and Trois danseuses of the same period (L 1277, 1278, 1279 respectively), which feature an additional dancer in the foreground. As Degas explained, despite his fascination with capturing a sense of movement in his pictures, 'There was never a less spontaneous art than mine. What I do is the outcome of reflection and the study of the great masters... Of inspiration, spontaneity, temperament... I know nothing' (Degas, quoted in G. Adriani, Degas: Pastels, Oil Sketches, Drawings, London, 1985, p. 58).
Degas' studies of the human figure, and especially of dancers, also resulted in his making small sculptures, maquettes in which he would capture the poses of some of the figures and which he often used as a form of aide-mémoire. Thus, while the position of the feet is different, the pose of the right-hand figure can be seen to have been emulated in two of his sculptures, one showing a dancer in her costume and one without it, her arched arms behind her and her hands on her kidneys as here. This allowed Degas further occasions to investigate these positions from a range of perspectives, a notion that is echoed in the different angles visible in the various drawings and in Danseuses jupes jaunes (Deux danseuses en jaune) itself. Degas' notes also reveal the lengths to which he would go in order to capture his subjects from various angles: 'Set up tiers right round the room so as to become accustomed to drawing things from below and above. Only allow things to be painted as seen in a mirror, to instil a hatred of the trompe-l'oeil' (Degas, quoted in ibid., p. 77).
This sense of deliberately avoiding trompe-l'oeil is evident in the rich saturation of colour in Danseuses jupes jaunes (Deux danseuses en jaune), where yellows and greens cover so much of the sheet. This totality owes itself in part to Degas' own fascination with the art of Japan, with the Ukiyo-e images of the so-called 'Floating World' of courtesans and actresses that had come to obsess so much of the avant-garde in France during the second half of the Nineteenth Century. In his own way, Degas was regarding the French equivalent of the world that Hiroshige and Hokusai had explored in their pictures; similarly, the raised line of perspective in Danseuses jupes jaunes (Deux danseuses en jaune) recalls Japanese prints as well as recalling the platforms that Degas mentioned in his studio; it was also a reality on stages in real life, whose angled nature allowed Degas to exploit immersive senses of perspective in his works.
As he had himself confessed, Degas was an artist who relied on observation and intense study in his works. He drew almost compulsively, recording similar scenes again and again to differing effects, often returning to similar compositions that he had explored before, adding new variations either in colour or in arrangement, hence the relationship between this work and, say, Danseuses mauves. In a sense, he was echoing the discipline of the dancers themselves, who were in constant répétition, or rehearsal. Répétition was precisely the technique that allowed Degas to reveal the world in the way that he intended; he summed up his ethos succinctly when he declared, 'The real traveller is the man who never arrives' (Degas, quoted in ibid., p. 91). By the 1890s, pastel had become his most favoured medium as it allowed him a variety of techniques and, crucially, the chance to build up complex layered colour schemes, as is evident here. Some of the constituent colours that peek through and whose combinations have been used to render various effects seem, seen one by one, a far cry from the finished effect. This is evident, for instance, in the areas of shadow and light, for instance the turquoise area by the right-hand dancer's left leg. By creating layer upon layer of streaked pastel, Degas often managed to create complex plays of colour with a great density and radiance. Degas' attention to colour effects can be seen in a more striking way by the contrast between the yellow skirts of the title and the background, be it the floor or the green of the painted landscape of the screen behind them.
This landscape is an important device within the picture, and indeed within the performative universe of Degas' dancers. One of Degas' earliest theatrical and ballet-related pictures had been La source painted in 1866-68 and now in the Brooklyn Museum, New York. In that picture, Degas had shown the ballerina Eugénie Fiocre within an elaborate landscape, with her ballet pumps discarded and her feet in a pool of water, with a horse taking a drink by her side. While this reflected the incredibly extravagant sets that were designed for the ballet La source, it also deliberately blurs the boundaries between the fictitious world of the narrative and the reality of the theatre and stage. In Danseuses jupes jaunes (Deux danseuses en jaune), by contrast, Degas has shown the floor of the stage and has underlined the artifice of the backdrop in order to heighten the viewer's awareness that this is an image of a theatrical world. Of course, the fact that Degas was creating pictures such as this within the confines of his own studio adds another perplexing level to this interplay between reality and artifice. In a way, the backdrop can be seen as a puncturing of the Impressionist tradition of landscape painting, here devoid of sensations but instead hanging, a purposefully ersatz vision; on the other hand, its very artifice heightens the sense of pictorial honesty and therefore of demystification that lies at the heart of Degas' work, which had impelled him to hope for a Salon of Realism a decade earlier and which had aligned him with the Impressionists themselves.
It is that sense of realism, of peeking behind the veil at the true nature of the world, that is emphasised in Degas' views of the world behind the scenes of the ballet, meaning that there is a parallel between his subject matter and his own artistic ethos. Here, he is stripping away the sense of formality, of performance, and is investigating the way that we view the world both through our eyes and through the interpretative medium of art, be it in the form of pictures or of ballet. Ultimately, Degas' interest is formal in the sense that he was fascinated by movement, by capturing a sense of life and motion, even through the depiction of dancers at rest. 'The dancer is nothing but a pretext for drawing,' he explained (Degas, quoted in R. Kendall (ed.), Degas by himself: drawings prints paintings writings, London, 1987, p. 311). It is a subject that allowed him to explore his own ideas while also filling his works with colour and decoration, adding a richness to the surface of pictures such as Danseuses jupes jaunes (Deux danseuses en jaune), with its colour-filled sheet. As he told the dealer Ambroise Vollard, 'they call me the dancers' painter. They do not understand that the dancer has been no more for me than an excuse to paint pretty materials and convey movements' (Degas, quoted in G. Adriani, Degas: Pastels, Oil Sketches, Drawings, London, 1985, p. 82). Perhaps he best described his fascination with these dancers, with the artifice of their performances and the elegance of their movements, in the last lines of one of his own sonnets:
'Leap, soar! you priestesses of grace,
For in you the Dance is embodied now,
Heroic and remote. From you we learn
Queens are made of distance and dyed flesh' (Degas, quoted in R. Gordon & A. Forge, Degas, London, 1988, p. 192).
The auction offered 4 works from the Art Institute of Chicago which realized a total of £10,043,400 / $16,129,702 / €11,821,081 led by Sur l’impériale traversant la Seine, an early painting executed in Paris by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) in 1901 which sold for £4,857,250 / $7,800,744 / €5,716,983 (estimate: £2 million to £3 million). Nature morte à la guitare (rideaux rouge), 1938,by Georges Braque (1882-1963) realized £3,961,250 / $6,361,768 / €4,662,391 (estimate: £3.5 million to £5.5 million); Femme au fauteuil, 1919, a striking portrait by Henri Matisse, sold for £791,650 / $1,271,390 / €931,772 (estimate: £1 million to £1.5 million); and Verre et pipe, 1919, a cubist jewel by Pablo Picasso, realized £433,250 / $695,800 / €509,935 (estimate: £450,000 to £650,000).
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Sur l'impériale traversant la Seine, signed 'Picasso' (lower right), oil on cardboard, 19 1/8 x 25 3/8 in. (50 x 65 cm.). Painted in 1901. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd., 2011
Estimate £2,000,000 - £3,000,000 - Price Realized £4,857,250
Sold by the Art Institute of Chicago
Provenance: Howard Young, New York.
Mr & Mrs Lewis Larned Coburn, Chicago.
Bequeathed by the above to The Art Institute of Chicago in 1933.
Literature: 'French Masterpieces that One Day Will Belong to Art Institute', in The Chicago Daily News, June 1931, p. 14 (illustrated).
The Art Institute of Chicago, ed., A Brief Illustrated Guide to the Collections, Chicago, 1935, p. 30.
A.H. Barr, Jr., Picasso, Fifty Years of his Art, New York, 1946, pp. 19-20 (illustrated).
W.S. Lieberman, Picasso, Blue and Rose Periods, New York, 1955, pl. 7.
P. Pool, 'The Picasso Exhibition: The Most Important Four Rooms', in The Burlington Magazine, September 1960, p. 387.
The Art Institute of Chicago, ed., Paintings in the Art Institute of Chicago: A Catalogue of the Picture Collection, Chicago, 1961, no. 33.448, p. 356.
P. Daix, G. Boudaille & J. Rosselet, Picasso, The Blue and Rose Periods, a Catalogue Raisonné, 1900-1906, Neuchâtel, 1966, no. V.61, p. 182 (illustrated, titled 'On the Upper Deck (Omnibus)').
A. Blunt, 'Putting Picasso in His Place', in The New York Review of Books, March 1968, p. 12.
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Supplément aux années 1892-1902, vol. 21, Paris, 1969, no. 168 (illustrated pl. 67).
S. Grung, Supplement to Paintings in The Art Institute of Chicago: A Catalogue of the Picture Collection, Chicago, 1971, p. 86.
L. Steinberg, 'The Philosophical Brothel, Part 1', in Artnews, 71:5, September 1972, pp. 22-23, 26 & 28 (illustrated fig. 15).
A.J. Speyer & C.G. Donnell, Twentieth Century European Painting, Chicago, 1980, no. 3C8, p. 62.
J. Palau i Fabre, Picasso, Life and Work of The Early Years 1881-1907, Oxford, 1981, no. 616, p. 241 (illustrated p. 240, titled 'On the Upper Deck').
L. Steinberg, 'The Philosophical Brothel', in exh. cat, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, vol. 2, Musée Picasso, Paris, 1988, pp. 326-327 (illlustrated fig. III.4).
L. Steinberg, 'The Philosophical Brothel', in October, Spring 1988, pp. 22-23 (illustrated fig. 16).
C. Geelhaar, Picasso: Wegbereiter und Förderer seines Aufstiegs 1899-1939, Zurich, 1993, pp. 20 & 237 (illustrated figs. 9 & 266).
The Picasso Project, ed., Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture: Turn of the Century, 1900-1901, Barcelona, Madrid and Paris, San Francisco, 2010, no. 1901-260, p. 181 (illustrated).
W. Anderson, Picasso's Brothel: Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, New York, 2002, pp. 91-93 (illustrated fig. 49).
Exhibited: Paris, Berthe Weill Gallery, November - December 1902.
Chicago, The Art Institute, The Mrs. L.L. Coburn Collection: Modern Paintings and Watercolors (Auspices of the Antiquarian Society of the Art Institute of Chicago), April - October 1932, no. 27, pp. 20 & 46 (illustrated).
Chicago, The Art Institute, A Century of Progress, Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture, June - November 1933, no. 403, p. 56.
Chicago, The Art Institute, A Century of Progress, Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture, June - November 1934, no. 359, p. 53.
New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., Views of Paris, January 1939, no. 46 (illustrated p. 25, titled 'Sur le pont').
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Picasso, Forty Years of his Art, November 1939 - January 1940, no. 9, p. 25 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Chicago, The Art Institute, February - March 1940; Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, April - May 1940.
Denver, Art Museum, A Retrospective Exhibition of Paintings, Drawings, Sculpture and Prints by Picasso, April - May 1945.
New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., Picasso before 1907, October - November 1947, no. 4 (illustrated).
Dallas, Museum of Fine Arts, The Winterbotham Collection of European Paintings, October - November 1949.
Omaha, Nebraska, Joslyn Memorial Art Museum, Twentieth Anniversary Exhibition, The Beginnings of Modern Painting: France 1800-1910, October - November, 1951.
Chicago, The Art Institute, Gallery of Art Interpretation: Presenting the Art Institute's Picassos, September - December 1955.
London, The Tate Gallery, Picasso, July - September 1960, no. 10, p. 15 (illustrated pl. 4f).
Chicago, The Art Institute, Picasso in Chicago, February - March 1968, no. 4 (illustrated).
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Picasso Retrospective, May - September 1980, p. 39 (illustrated).
Washington, D.C., The National Gallery of Art, Picasso: The Early Years 1892-1906, March - July 1997, no. 53, pp. 152 & 355 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, September 1997 - January 1998.
Notes: Sur l'impériale traversant la Seine was painted in Paris in 1901 during a frenzied period of artistic exploration and innovation by Pablo Picasso, who was on the brink of making a name for himself in the French capital. This picture, which has been widely published and exhibited, often under the title On the Upper Deck, shows a group of passengers sitting upstairs on one of the impériales, or two-tiered, omnibuses which were still such a common sight on the streets of Paris for over a decade after it was painted. Although in 1960 Roland Penrose had described the scene as showing a boat, misled by the presence of the water, Pierre Daix appears to have discussed the picture with the artist himself: 'Picasso himself specified that it is the top deck of a horse-drawn bus, going over a bridge of the Seine' (P. Daix, G. Boudaille & J. Rosselet, op. cit, p. 182). The head of the driver is visible at the front, or top, his back facing the viewer or the artist; the bridge abut to be crossed appears blocked by the vehicle itself as it approaches its crossing. Daix also pointed out that this work may be the same which, under the title The Omnibus, was recorded as being sold by Berthe Weill for 180 francs.
Of the various people in Sur l'impériale traversant la Seine, several of them are shown wearing straw hats and light tops suited to the time of year: Picasso arrived in Paris in early June 1901 for his second trip to the city which he would soon make his home and where he would retain a studio for decades. He had hurried back from Spain because, through the efforts of his friend and dealer Pere Mañach, he had been offered the chance of an exhibition at the gallery of Ambroise Vollard that was to take place from late June to mid-July. He was to share this exhibition with another Spanish artist, the older Francisco Gonzales de Iturrino, whose portrait Picasso painted, as is shown in a photograph from the period that captures the young artist in his studio with Mañach and Torres Fuster. Picasso had been travelling through Spain for much of the first half of 1901, but returned to Paris with gusto and enthusiasm; despite already having a clutch of pictures, he was invigorated by his plunge back into cosmopolitan life in this hub of the arts and proceeded to show his incredible versatility, capturing every aspect of the city's ebb and flow, focussing especially on the demi monde. In this way, he became the archetypal reincarnation of Charles Baudelaire's 'painter of modern life,' revealing life on the streets of the French capital in its many facets, wandering, a fl<->aneur, through the city and capturing the ephemeral scenes such as this view of the top floor of an omnibus as it approaches the Seine to cross it. Looking at Sur l'impériale traversant la Seine, one realises the aptness of Baudelaire's words:
'The crowd is his element, as the air is that of birds and water of fishes. His passion and his profession are to become one flesh with the crowd. For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite' (Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life, trans. J. Mayne, New York, 1964, p. 9).
This fleeting scene of a group of passers-by and passengers perfectly demonstrates that aspect of life; it is a mark of Picasso's incredible energy and hunger for subject matter during this time that the works that he ultimately displayed at Vollard's included scenes from the street, from the cabarets, from the race courses, landscapes and still life images. In some of the earlier works that he painted on his return to Paris such as Le quatorze juillet, now in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York and Marchande de fleurs dans la rue in the Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow, Picasso depicted the scenes with similar bold brushstrokes to those so in evidence in this painting. Here, the activity on the river itself has been captured with areas of bold colour that appear to prefigure the Fauve landscapes that Maurice de Vlaminck and André Derain would paint further along the river at Chatou a few years later. While some of the palette recalls the city paintings of the veteran Impressionist Camille Pissarro, who was working along the Seine during the early part of the Twentieth Century, the intimacy and informality of the view recalls instead the pictures of the Nabi, Pierre Bonnard, as do the flashes of colour both on the Seine and articulating the structure of the omnibus and the clothing of its passengers. It is this quality that prompted the legendary curator Alfred H. Barr, Jr to select this work to comment on Picasso's style on his arrival in Paris: 'Throughout much of 1901 he painted lustily with the rich palette and impressionist brushwork of On the Upper Deck' (A.H. Barr, Jr., Picasso: Fifty Years of his Art, exh. cat., New York, 1966, p. 19).
Picasso's passion for Paris was remarked at the time in several reviews, most of them favourable and telling of the promise that this young Spanish artist clearly had. The sheer, wondrous variety of subjects that Picasso had rendered in his exhibition, and which also ran throughout his oeuvre at the time, would lead Gustave Coquiot to eulogise in terms that are equally applicable to Sur l'impériale traversant la Seine:
'This very young Spanish painter, who has been here for only a short time, is wildly enamoured of modern life. It is easy to imagine him - wide awake, with a searching eye, keen to record everything happening in the street, all the adventures of life. He does not need to contemplate his subject-matter for long; so it is that we see him covering his canvas quickly, as if in a fury, impatient at the slowness of his hand, which holds long brushes laden with colour.
'Here, then, we have an artist who has created a new harmony of light colours, making use of striking yellows, reds, greens and blues. We can see at once that P.R. Picasso wants to see everything and say everything. All too often an artist attracted by just two or three aspects of our times is described as portraying Modern Life, but P.R. Picasso deserves this description more than anybody else. From our own time he has taken prostitutes, country scenes, interiors, workers and so on, and we can be sure that tomorrow he will offer us everything else that he has not been able to attain up to now' (G. Coquiot, quoted in J. Palau i Fabre, Picasso: Life and Work of the Early Years 1881-1907, trans. K. Lyons, Oxford, 1981, p. 514).
Georges Braque (1882-1963), Nature morte à la guitare (rideaux rouge), signed and dated 'G.Braque 38' (lower left), oil and sand on canvas, 32 x 39 3/8 in. (81 x 100 cm.). Painted in 1938. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd., 2011
Estimate £3,500,000 - £5,500,000 - Price Realized £3,961,250
Sold by the Art Institute of Chicago
Provenance: Paul Rosenberg & Co., London and New York, by whom acquired directly from the artist in 1938.
Mr and Mrs Albert D. Lasker, New York, by whom acquired from the above in January 1947.
A gift from the above to The Art Institute of Chicago in 1959.
Literature: W. Brockway & A. Frankfurter, The Albert D. Lasker Collection: Renoir to Matisse, New York, 1957, pp. 77-78 (illustrated, titled 'Fruits and Guitar').
The Art Institute of Chicago Quarterly, vol. 53/54, February 1960, pp. 12-13 (illustrated, titled 'Fruits and Guitar').
Galerie Maeght, ed., Catalogue de l'oeuvre de Georges Braque: Peintures 1936-1941, Paris, 1961, p. 34 (illustrated).
The Art Institute of Chicago, ed., Paintings in the Art Institute of Chicago: A Catalogue of the Picture Collection, Chicago, 1961, p. 58 (titled 'Fruits and Guitar').
A.J. Speyer, 'Twentieth-Century European Paintings and Sculpture', in Apollo, vol. LXXXIV, September 1966, p. 225 (titled 'Guitar and Fruits').
C.C. Cunningham, J. Maxon & A. Carini, 'Instituto de Arte de Chicago', in El Mundo de los Museos, Buenos Aires, 1967, no. 57, pp. 14 & 71 (titled 'Frutas y guitarra').
A. Miyagawa, L'Art du Monde: Braque/Leger 18, Tokyo, 1968, p. 105, pl. 26 (titled 'Fruits and guitare').
S. Grung, Supplement to Paintings in The Art Institute of Chicago: A Catalogue of the Picture Collection, Chicago, 1971, p. 58A.
A.J. Speyer & C.G. Donnell, Twentieth-Century European Paintings, Chicago, 1980, no. 1B11, pp. 33-34 (titled 'Fruits and Guitar').
Exhibited: London, Rosenberg and Helft, Recent Works of Braque, June - July 1938, no. 19 (titled 'Nature Morte, Fruits, Guitare').
Dallas, Museum of Fine Arts, An Exhibition of Sixty-Nine Paintings from the Collection of Mrs. Albert D. Lasker, March 1953, no. 7 (illustrated, titled 'Fruits and Guitar').
San Francisco, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, An Exhibition of Sixty-Seven Paintings From the Collection of Mrs. Albert D. Lasker For the Benefit of The American Cancer Society, In Memory of Albert D. Lasker, March - April 1954, no. 10 (illustrated, titled 'Fruits and Guitar').
New York, Paul Rosenberg & Co., Braque: An American Tribute, April - May 1964, no. 33 (illustrated, titled 'Fruit and Mandolin').
Notes: Painted in 1938, Nature morte à la guitare (rideaux rouge) dates from a crucial period when Georges Braque began to create elaborate still life and interior compositions that were filled with a new vitality, in part due to the more ambitious scale of the motifs depicted. In the case of Nature morte à la guitare (rideaux rouge), this is evident in the fact that the table - the guéridon, that icon of late Cubism - is viewed from a distance that incorporates the various elements, be it the fruit, the crockery, the musical instrument or indeed the curtains themselves within the view. Rather than showing a clutch of objects in close-up, this gives a richer sense of the fabric of the interior in Braque's own world, plunging the viewer into his universe.
Nature morte à la guitare (rideaux rouge) dates from a brief window towards the end of the 1930s when Braque had developed this wider sense of a view for his still life and interior compositions, yet before the forceful yet menacing entrance that the vanitas was to make in his pictures only a year later. In this picture, Braque has continued to explore the fluid, post-Cubist lyricism that marked out his pictures after the First World War, allowing the various forms to sing with an intensity that is heightened by various areas of rich colour. This was itself a relative innovation in his works, which had often focussed on an organic and earthen palette. Now, by contrast, he was creating pictures with red curtains, pink tablecloths and so forth, adding an extra dimension of vitality.
Having learnt to paint with his friends Emile Othon Friesz and Raoul Dufy in Le Havre, where he had been brought up, Braque had soon moved away from the Fauve idiom that those artists embraced and instead had become, alongside Picasso, one of the true founders of Cubism. During the last years of the first decade and the beginning of the second decade of the Twentieth Century, the two artists had considered themselves to be the Wright Brothers of painting, pioneers bravely breaking down the hitherto accepted boundaries of their discipline. This teamwork had essentially come to an end at the outbreak of the First World War; while Picasso, as a Spanish national, was not obliged to join up and fight and therefore had several years of relatively tranquil artistic exploration ahead of him, Braque was called up and was wounded, even losing his sight briefly due to the head injury he received in 1915 at Carency.
When he returned to civilian life, Braque brought a new clarity to his pictures, and the highly analytical Cubism that he had pioneered alongside Picasso was tempered increasingly with a new sensuality. While retaining an interest in the architecture of his compositions, Braque began to loosen them, to create paintings that appealed more openly to the senses. Earlier in their careers, Picasso and Braque had developed what they referred to as the 'armpit test', whereby they attempted to see if their paintings could convey the smell of the models depicted, and this added sensory information was something that both artists explored in a more overt manner in their later works. After the end of the First World War, this was a dimension that was to take increasing prominence in Braque's work. He sought to convey not the appearance of his subject, but its reality, and in so doing to introduce it as a concept into the mind of the viewer. 'I want an object to lose its usual function,' he explained. 'It is only art which can give it a universal character' (Braque, quoted in M. Gieure, G. Braque, London, 1956, p. 67).
This resulted in the increasingly fluid evolution of the compositional rigidity of his early works, as they featured an increasingly rhythmic and supine line, banishing the struts and scaffolding of high Cubism. This development would reach a new peak in the late 1930s in pictures such as Nature morte à la guitare (rideaux rouge), where the curves of the fruit, the jug and even the guitar are all the more emphasised by their contrast with the criss-crossing of the tablecloth and the jutting angularity of the wooden panelling shown in the background. Likewise, there is a sense of transparency in this painting, of forms superimposed, one upon the other, sometimes to the exclusion of the underlying one. This grants the picture a palimpsest-like character, adding to the notion of time passing which many critics felt was an integral part of Cubism, a means of depicting objects in four dimensions within the two dimensions of the canvas. There is a feeling of flux, of change, and therefore of a certain timelessness in this picture in the arcing forms that snake their way through the composition, hinting at layers of extra information, of a depth and density of truth in this still life.
Braque has added both to that density and to the eloquent sense of playful freedom in Nature morte à la guitare (rideaux rouge) with the vigorous, self-apparent brushwork with which he has painted so much of the picture. The substantiality of his brushwork is made all the more vivid by the artist's use of sand within the composition and within his oil paints; this was a technique that he had had introduced during his early Cubist days to add more weight to the oil areas of his pictures, and which he continued to use throughout his career, often allowing him to build up the picture surface, to grant it an added sensual component and to allow it to blur all the more the boundaries between picture and viewer, and indeed to introduce that sense of the tactile that was so crucial to him.
That use of an element from the real world to thicken and add extra texture to his picture appears to reveal Braque in part making reference to his earlier works in Nature morte à la guitare (rideaux rouge), a notion that is emphasised by several stylistic devices that recall some of the more ludic still life compositions of Braque and indeed of his former fellow pioneer Picasso during the early 1910s. The check of the tablecloth, combed brushwork giving a trompe-l'oeil sense of some of the woodwork, the embroidered border of the blue area on the table and the fictive patterning in the background all resonate with the almost shorthand techniques of those earlier pictures, as do the curlicue forms of the table legs. Meanwhile, the transparency of the bottle in the background may owe something to that third Musketeer of Cubism, Juan Gris, who was unparalleled in his depiction of glass in his pictures of the period.
The composition of Nature morte à la guitare (rideaux rouge) recalls the paintings of a guéridon in front of a window that had been such a staple of Picasso's post-Cubist work after the First World War. At the same time, the presence of the window and the curtains within the context of this interior view recalls the example of one of the other great pioneers of Twentieth Century painting, Henri Matisse. While the dominant red of the curtains in the background evokes such pictures by Matisse as L'atelier rouge of 1911, now in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the presence of the window was a motif that recurred throughout his career. In this way, Braque appears to be making reference to both his own art historical past, and to that of his fellow travellers in the great trailblazing avant garde of the modern era. He has managed to blend the Cubism with which he and Picasso had made their name with some of the colourism of Matisse, yet has done so in such a way that these various references all combine to create something new. The fact that Braque has panned back, as it were, focussing not on a small and tight composition of objects but instead on an entire section of a room, plunges the viewer into the artist's milieu. This world of fruit, wine and music has been vividly captured in a domestic interior that relates to the Atelier and tablecloth pictures that Braque was painting during the late 1930s, such as La nappe rose in the Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, Virginia, of 1933, the work of the same title in the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid from 1938 or L'atelier in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, of 1939. Comparison with these works shows Nature morte à la guitare (rideaux rouge) as part of an arc, a series of depictions in which Braque was dragging the viewer's eye to more and more of the canvas, rather than focussing on a central composition. In this way, he was achieving a new totality in his vision.
It is a tribute to the quality of Nature morte à la guitare (rideaux rouge) that it was acquired by Albert Davis Lasker, who is considered one of the fathers of modern advertising, having towered over the industry that he had helped to create during the first half of the Twentieth Century. Having initially worked as a journalist, and even founded his own successful newspaper, as a child, he was found a position in a Chicago advertising agency by his father, who did not approve of his interest in newspapers. This launched Lasker on a meteoric rise: he was a full partner of the company he had joined, Lord & Thomas, while still in his early 20s and revolutionised the industry. Lasker managed to combine his business interests with philanthropy and education, and the Lasker Foundation and the Lasker Prize that bear his name that bear his name and which he founded continue to promote medical science in particular. The tradition of collecting was continued by his daughter, who married Sidney F. Brody; their own collection was sold at Christie's New York in November 2010 to worldwide press attention and included Picasso's 1932 Nude, Green Leaves and Bust which achieved the world record price for a work of art when it reached a price of $106,482,500.
Henri Matisse (1869-1954), Femme au fauteuil, signed 'Henri Matisse' (lower right), oil on canvas, 19¼ x 17¼ in. (48.9 x 43.8 cm.). Painted in 1919. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd., 2011
Estimate £1,000,000 - £1,500,000 - Price Realized £791,650
Sold by the Art Institute of Chicago
Provenance: Alfred Thornton, London, by 1926.
B.H. Brandon-Davis, London, by the early 1930s.
Arthur Tooth & Sons, Ltd., London, by whom acquired from the above, by June 1933.
Charles H. and Mary F.S. Worcester, Chicago, by whom acquired from the above in September 1935.
Bequeathed by the above to The Art Institute of Chicago in 1947.
Literature: D.C. Rich, Catalogue of the Charles H. and Mary F.S. Worcester Collection of Paintings, Sculpture and Drawings, Chicago, 1938, no. 92, p. 83 (illustrated pl. 51, titled 'The Green Sash').
A.H. Barr, Jr., Matisse: His Art and His Public, New York, 1951, p. 558 (titled 'The Green Sash').
R. Escholier, Matisse: A Portrait of the Artist and the Man, London, 1960, pp. 9 & 13 (illustrated pl. 21, titled 'La ceinture verte').
R. Escholier, Matisse: From the Life, London, 1960, p. 13 (illustrated pl. 21, titled 'La ceinture verte').
Art Institute of Chicago, ed., Paintings in the Art Institute of Chicago: A Catalogue of the Picture Collection, Chicago, 1961, p. 305 (titled 'The Green Sash').
K. Okamoto, 'Bonnard/Matisse', in L'Art du monde 16, Tokyo, 1968, no. 53 (illustrated, titled 'La ceinture verte').
M. Carrà, L'opera di Matisse, dalla rivolta 'fauve' all'intimismo, 1904-1928, Milan, 1971, no. 299, p. 99 (illustrated p. 98, titled 'La sciarpa verde').
A.J. Speyer & C.G. Donnell, Twentieth-Century European Paintings, Chicago, 1980, no. 2F10, p. 55 (titled 'The Green Sash').
C.C. Bock, 'Woman before an Aquarium and Woman on a Rose Divan: Matisse in the Helen Birch Barlett Memorial Collection', in Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 12, vol. 2, Chicago, 1986, no. 2, pp. 201, 204 & 218 (illustrated fig. 3, titled 'The Green Sash').
J. Guichard-Meili, Matisse, Paris, 1986, p. 129 (titled 'L'écharpe verte').
J. & M. Guillaud, Matisse: Rhythm and Line, New York, 1987, pp. 150 & 154 (illustrated fig. 152, titled 'L'écharpe verte').
G.P. & M. Dauberville, Matisse, vol. II, Paris, 1995, no. 337, p. 805 (illustrated).
Exhibited: Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Exposition Henri-Matisse, October - November 1920, no. 25 (titled 'Femme au voile vert').
London, The National Gallery, Opening Exhibition of the Modern Foreign Gallery, June - October 1926, p. 5 (titled 'Girl in a Green Sash').
London, Arthur Tooth & Sons, Ltd., Peintures, dessins, gravures: Henri Matisse, June - July 1933, no. 12 (titled 'La ceinture verte').
Toledo, Museum of Art, Contemporary Movements in European Painting November - December 1938, no. 67 (illustrated, titled 'The Green Sash').
Chicago, Arts Club, Exhibition of Paintings by Henri Matisse, March - April 1939, no. 13 (titled 'The Green Sash').
St. Petersburg, Florida, Museum of Fine Arts, Inaugural Exhibition, February - March 1965, no. 79 (illustrated, titled 'The Green Sash').
New York, Acquavella Galleries, Henri Matisse (Lenox Hill Hospital Benefit), November - December 1973, no. 19 (illustrated, titled 'L'écharpe verte, The Green Sash').
Tokyo, Isetan Museum of Art, Henri Matisse, October - November 1987; this exhibition later travelled to Yamaguchi, Municipal Museum, November - December 1987; Osaka, Daimaru Museum of Modern Art, January 1988; Hokkaido, Prefectural Museum of Modern Art, February 1988.
Notes: Henri Matisse painted Femme au fauteuil in 1919. This picture dates from the period when Nice, in the South of France was beginning to exert its pull and fascination upon him; he would increasingly make his home during the coming decades. Femme au fauteuil shows a woman sitting in elegant, billowing clothes in a chair, a pool of radiance within the composition, all the more so because of the browns that dominate the background. This reveals Matisse's engagement with the light of the South, which had drawn him there and which came to have such a transformative effect on his paintings and drawings. Already in Femme au fauteuil, painted only a couple of years after his first visit to Nice, the outlines that Matisse had formerly used to thrust colours into bolder relief have been dissolved in order to give a subtler sense of colour and, crucially, a more modulated sense of volume and space.
Comparison with several of Matisse's other pictures of this period reveals that the model for Femme au fauteuil appears to be Antoinette Arnoud; those pictures often share the same gaze that is shown here, the dark eyes fixed on the artist and therefore engaging the viewer, and indeed one picture of the same title from the same year shows her in an almost identical pose in the same chair, decorated with its criss-cross yellow pattern, but instead wearing an open chiffon blouse and a skirt wrapped around her. Antoinette had been working as a model for several artists at the time that she first came to pose for Matisse the previous year; her combination of elegance and beauty made the svelte nineteen year-old a perfect match for him, and she remained a key figure in his art for two fruitful years before she found another, higher-paying job elsewhere. Hilary Spurling has suggested that Renoir, for whom she also posed, may have seen her aptness and recommended her to the younger painter. Spurling writes that she was, 'pale, slender and supple with a quintessentially urban, indoor chic and the kind of responsive intelligence Matisse required at this point from a model' (H. Spurling, Matisse the Master: A Life of Henri Matisse: The Conquest of Colour, 1909-1954, London, 2005, p. 223).
Antoinette began to sit regularly, not least serving as a substitute for Matisse's daughter Marguerite, whose ill health meant that she was elsewhere and unable to sit. Antoinette's collaboration with Matisse - which would pave the way for his fruitful working relationships with a string of later models including Henriette Darricarrère and, later, Lydia Delektorskaya - resulted in a string of important drawings and paintings that included images of her with a plumed hat made by the artist himself; Antoinette appears in such pictures as Femme vêtue à l'orientale in the Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow, La liseuse distraite in the Tate, London, Les plumes blanches in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and Grand intérieur, Nice in the Art Institute of Chicago.
Antoinette's intelligence as a model catalysed Matisse's continued artistic explorations: 'At the end of this first postwar season in Nice, he told the Scandinavian critic Ragnar Hoppe that he was trying to reconquer ground he had been forced to give up for the sake of simplicity and concentration. Now he hoped to find a way or retaining clarity, concision and force without sacrificing volume, spatial depth, the individual character and texture of fur, feathers, fluff, fabric or flowers' (ibid., p. 225). That sense of clarity, which is clear in Femme au fauteuil, marks a stark contrast to many of Matisse's works from the previous few years, which often involved planes of colour and faces composed of geometric forms, for instance his 1917 portrait of Auguste Pellerin now in the Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, or his picture of a piano lesson from the previous year. In Femme au fauteuil, that stylisation has been banished in favour of a more easily, and enjoyably, legible picture; however, the artist has not forsaken his investigations. Instead, he has used more naturalistic devices in order to capture the sense of space within the room, in part through the presence of the sitter and in part through the modulation of forms and colour with which she is composed, an effect that is heightened by the contrast with the broad planes of colour of the background.
In this way, Matisse's paintings from this period can be seen as a parallel development to the Neo-Classicism that was becoming increasingly prominent in the works of his great artistic rival Pablo Picasso. Over recent years, several exhibitions have been dedicated to investigating the resonances that the work of the two artists had upon each other; however, the first joint exhibition of their works had been organised in 1918, only the year before Femme au fauteuil was painted, in the gallery of the dealer Paul Guillaume. As has been shown through the juxtaposition of many of the works of both artists from throughout their careers, both artists spent most of the first half of the Twentieth Century painfully aware of the various advances and stylistic developments being pioneered or embraced by the other. Looking back on his days in the Bateau Lavoir, Picasso would tell Pierre Daix: 'You have got to be able to picture side by side everything Matisse and I were doing at that time. No one has ever looked at Matisse's painting more carefully than I; and no one has looked at mine more carefully than he' (Picasso, quoted in J. Golding, 'Introduction', pp. 13-24, Cowling et al. (ed.), Matisse Picasso, exh. cat., London, 2002, p. 13).
This appears to have remained the case at the end of the First World War, when both artists reached a stage at which they were able to synthesise their desires to capture ideas of space, form and emotion within pictorial form in a clear, open manner, as is evident in Femme au fauteuil. Indeed, Picasso was focussing in particular on his wife, Olga Khokhlova, in his works of this period, often showing her seated in poses reminiscent of Femme au fauteuil. In their shared quest forr clarity, both artists were able to prefigure the Rappel à l'ordre that would come to characterise so much of the avant garde during the the 1920s. It is a mark of the success that Matisse had in this that viewers at the time believed that the women he was painting were his mistresses, that he was depicting a world of hedonism and sensuality in which he indulged; instead, these were models, confections, scenes redolent of that sensuousness yet which had been created without the compromise of the artist himself. Indeed, Matisse's devotion to his artistic investigations during this time led to a period of near self-denial: he was ensconced within his room in the Hôtel Méditerranée, referring to himself as the 'hermit of the promenade des Anglais' (Matisse, quoted in ibid., p. 226). Interestingly, despite the Southern feel to many of his pictures of Antoinette, their sensuality and their treatment of the winter light, several appear to have been painted, or at least completed, at his home in Issy-les-Moulineaux, in the outskirts of Paris, where he spent the summer. These works nevertheless display the influence of the South and the advances that he had made there, conjuring that rarefied atmosphere of sensuality.
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Verre et pipe, signed and dated 'Picasso 19' (lower right), oil on canvas, 10½ x 8½ in. (27 x 22 cm.). Painted in 1919. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd., 2011
Estimate £450,000 - £650,000 - Price Realized £433,250
Sold by the Art Institute of Chicago
Provenance: Lord & Taylor, New York.
Mima de Manziarly Porter, Chicago and New York, by whom acquired from the above in April 1928.
Bequeathed by the above to The Art Institute of Chicago in 1989.
Literature: C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Oeuvres de 1917 à 1919, vol. 3, Paris, 1949, no. 280 (illustrated pl. 96).
W. Judkins, Fluctuant Representation in Synthetic Cubism: Picasso, Braque, Gris, 1910-1920, New York, 1976, pp. 222 & 438 (illustrated).
Art Institute of Chicago, ed., Annual Report, 1988-1989, pl. 10.
The Picasso Project, ed., Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture: From Cubism to Neoclassicism, 1917-1919, San Francisco, 1995, no. 19-014, p. 173 (illustrated).
J. Palau i Fabre, Picasso: Dels Ballets al Drama (1917-1926), Barcelona, 1999, no. 350, pp. 122 & 496 (illustrated, titled 'Steamed Glass and Pipe').
M. Fitzgerald & J.M. Boddewyn, Picasso and American Art, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2006, p. 335.
Exhibited: New York, Lord & Taylor, April 1928.
Santa Paula, California, Citizens State Bank of Santa Paula, March 1956.
Notes: Painted in 1919, Verre et pipe dates from the period when Pablo Picasso was truly in the ascendant, in a dominant position in the art world, the trailblazing pioneer of the Blue Period, the Rose Period and Cubism. It is to Cubism that Verre et pipe relates, yet the picture has an openness, a playfulness and a freedom that characterises this period in the wake of the First World War, when Picasso was creating both his Neo-Classical works while also continuing to explore his Cubist idiom. These dual strands can be seen in one of his studies from the same year which shows a guitar, glass and bottle rendered in a Cubist manner above a smooth, monumental hand. As can be seen in both that work and Verre et pipe, Picasso's Cubism had lost some of its theoretical edge and instead had become more accessible and more lyrical. This is clear in this painting in the curlicues and decorations of the 'frame' that Picasso has created within the composition of Verre et pipe, which wittily create a picture-within-a-picture while also hinting at the increasing influence that Picasso's involvement with set design for Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes - the subject of an impressive recent exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London - was having on his work during this time.
Picasso had already been painting and drawing in his Neo-Classical style, often referred to as Ingresque, for a couple of years by the time he created Verre et pipe, yet that shift is often seen to relate to the general Rappel à l'ordre that held so much of the Parisian avant garde in its sway in the wake of the chaos and bloodshed of the First World War. An age of beauty, reason, peace and harmony was promoted in various ways by a range of artists in the years following that conflict, be it in Picasso's references to a classical world of Mediterranean tranquillity or the Purism espoused by Le Corbusier, Amedée Ozenfant and even Fernand Léger; indeed, Picasso himself would not remain immune to the influence of those developments. However, the rigid lines of Purism had in fact been prefigured in Picasso's own so-called 'crystal cubism' which had been created during the two years preceding Verre et pipe. In this picture, that crystalline aspect has been banished in favour of the ogee-like forms that articulate the glass in particular within the more planar composition of geometric areas of colour within the central part of the picture; and that crisp rationality is further dispelled by the framing device.
Picasso often played with the idea of the frame-within-a-frame, sometimes even including a painted label within the composition of his pictures, a form of supplementary signature as is the case of his 1914 still life of a bottle of Bass and a pipe, recently included in the exhibition dedicated to the artist's 1932 retrospective at the Zurich Kunsthaus; it was a device that he would revisit often, especially in the two decades leading up to the Second World War, often using it, as here, to juxtapose and contrast two artistic styles. In Verre et pipe, he has created a mock-Baroque surrounding for the Cubist composition, which itself recalls in the form of the glass the artist's pictures from 1914, when he stayed in the South of France near Georges Braque - the period when both artists began to play with the frame concept - as well as the more recent Guéridon paintings that he created in 1919. In a sense, then, Verre et pipe appears to be a still life of a still life, a picture of one of Picasso's own earlier pictures, now enshrined within the more grandiose setting of its expensive-looking faux frame.
While this juxtaposition can be seen in one way to echo Picasso's own life after Christmas 1918, when he moved with his wife, the ballerina Olga Khokhlova, to a large apartment at 23, rue la Boétie on the Right Bank in Paris, far from the artists' milieus and instead within the territory of many of the more exclusive dealers. There, amidst the more bourgeois trappings of the interior that Olga had created for their new home, Picasso's Cubist pictures hung, creating an atmosphere that is echoed through the composition of Verre et pipe. At the same time, the concept of trompe-l'oeil that Picasso is invoking is clearly and gleefully punctured by the sheer painterliness of the frame, bringing the viewer's attention emphatically to the fact that this is not a sliver of reality, but is very much a subjective representation of the world. Picasso's Verre et pipe is a manifesto in the way that painting works, an apt standard to be raised by this great pioneer, who at this point had become one of the most famous figures of the avant garde in the world. Picasso is deliberately banishing the suspension of disbelief in order to allow us to enjoy the fact that this is a picture. Verre et pipe is about seeing, and about painting.
This artistic process, with the artist provocatively showing his own hand in this flagrant way, is a parallel to the deliberate staginess that Picasso introduced into his sets for the Ballets Russes. While the costumes that Picasso designed for Diaghilev showed an increasing classicism during the years at the end of the First World War and following it, perhaps revealing the influence that the presence of Olga is deemed to have had on his stylistic development, the sets that he created often retained the stylisation and simplification of his later Cubistic works, while the stage for Pulcinella, created the year after Verre et pipe, included painted areas continuing the interior of the theatre, meaning that there was a theatre-within-a-theatre. Picasso's involvement with the Ballets Russes during this time led to his being exposed not only to increasingly high levels of society, but also to many of the great international avant garde figures, be it the Bohemians in London, where he moved for several months to create the sets for Tricorne in 1919, or the composer Igor Stravinsky.
Art of the Surreal
Since 2001, Christie’s have dedicated a section of the February evening sale in London to surrealist art. This evening’s auction of Art of the Surrealrealized £22,999,250 / $36,936,795 / €27,070,117 (included in the sale totals above). The top price was paid for by L’aimant (The Magnet) by René Magritte (1898-1967) which sold for £4,745,250 / $7,620,872 / €5,585,159 (estimate: £3.5 million to £5.5 million)
René Magritte (1898-1967), L'aimant, signed 'Magritte' (lower right); signed, titled and dated '"L'AIMANT" MAGRITTE 1941' (on the reverse), oil on canvas, 51¼ x 35¼ in. (130.5 x 89.5 cm.). Painted in 1941. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd., 2011
Estimate £3,500,000 - £5,500,000 - Price Realized £4,745,250
Provenance: Private Collection, Brussels, by whom acquired from the artist in 1941; sale, Sotheby's, New York, 21 May 1981, lot 570.
Private Collection, New York.
Private collection, Switzerland, by whom acquired from the above.
Literature: Letter from R. Magritte to L Scutenaire, (early November 1941).
Letter from R. Magritte to P. Eluard, 4 December 1941.
P. Waldberg, René Magritte, Brussels, 1965, p. 82 (illustrated). D. Sylvester & S. Whitfield, René Magritte, Catalogue raisonné, Oil paintings and objects. 1931-1948, vol. II, London, 1993, no. 493, p. 291 (illustrated).
Notes: [TEXT FOR FIRST PAGE WITH CATALOGUING:]
'Valentine Paridant who came here one evening has found a title for the picture of the woman with the curtain: "MIRAGE", but I have found something a little better, I think, and it is almost definitive that I am going to call it "L'AIMANT". What do you think?' (Magritte, letter to Paul Scutenaire, November 1941, quoted in D. Sylvester (ed.), S. Whitfield & M. Raeburn, op. cit., p. 291).
L'aimant plunges the viewer into the enigmatic and mysterious universe of René Magritte. This painting, which dates from 1941, shows a woman standing by a curtain and a rock with an expansive seascape behind her. The woman is naked, and her form is perfectly echoed in the folds of the plush curtain against which she is standing, her eyes seemingly closed in contemplation. This is an image filled with beauty, and that beauty is underscored by the woman's repeated form. L'aimant - the title means 'The Magnet' yet has an overtone that refers to the French word aimer, to love - joins the canon of pictures such as La magie noire of 1945 in which the Belgian Surrealist explored and celebrated female beauty, female mystery and the female form.
While the presence of that silhouette within the hanging material in L'aimant is on the one hand surreal, it also hints at a dimension of reason, a realm with rules that add to the harmony of existence. Even the presence of this beautiful woman above the stretching seascape, in some undefined, wood-floored space, hints at an almost Mediterranean world of sensuality and beauty, Magritte introducing us to a place of harmony - albeit harmonies to which we are not entirely accustomed.
L'aimant was painted during an intriguing period in Magritte's life and career. In January of the same year that it was painted, he wrote to his friend and patron Claude Spaak saying,
'All my latest pictures are leading me toward the simplified painting that I have long wanted to achieve, it is in short the ever more rigorous search for what, in my view, is the essential element in art; purity and precision in the image of mystery which becomes decisive through being shorn of everything incidental or accidental' (Magritte, quoted in D. Sylvester (ed.), S. Whitfield & M. Raeburn, René Magritte Catalogue Raisonné, Vol.II, London, 1993, p. 288).
Certainly that restraint is evident in the pared-back composition of L'aimant, which contains only a few elements, resulting in an incredible clarity. The juxtapositions of the various textures - flesh, stone, wood, water, textile - are thrust to the foreground, as too is the echo in the curtains of the woman's body. Meanwhile, the fact that the woman is leaning on a rough pedestal of stone implies that she may be some form of Galatea, a simulacrum of womanhood carved from stone within the Magrittean vision, just as Pygmalion had managed two millennia earlier. This introduces an intriguing interplay of fictive levels of representation that involves the viewer in a deliberately unsolvable intellectual riddle.
There is an iconic simplicity in the composition of L'aimant, with its deliberately restrained number of elements, that would be retained in many of Magritte's greatest pictures for the rest of his life. It is intriguing, considering this clarity, that Magritte painted L'aimant during the early years of the Occupation, when Belgium was under the control of the National Socialists during the Second World War. During that time, Magritte, perhaps counter-intuitively, began to create pictures that often sang with beauty and with humour, culminating in his pastiches of Renoir and the Impressionists two years later. In this way, his works can be seen as an echo of Claude Monet during the First World War and Henri Matisse in the South of France during the Second, keeping a beacon of hope alive during a period of despair, rather than expressing the torments of the age as so many of their contemporaries did. However, in a letter that Magritte wrote to the poet Paul Eluard in December 1941, in which he discussed L'aimant, he appears to imply that he was creating this clear beauty in his paintings not in order to bring hope, but rather to highlight the deficiencies of the prosaic world of conflict that surrounded him. The difference between the air of mysterious order and logic in the magical realm of L'aimant, where a body is mimicked in the material of a plush curtain, and the world of rations and bombings that surrounded it was all the greater, a fact that perhaps would open the minds of the viewers to the infinite poetic possibilities of existence:
'My fit of exhaustion is almost over (it will never completely go, I think) and for some time I have been working with interest. Doubtless I had to find a way of producing what was bothering me: pictures in which "the bright side" of life would be the area to be exploited. By this I mean the whole traditional range of charming things, women, flowers, birds, trees, the atmosphere of happiness, etc. And if I have managed to bring fresh air into my painting, it is through the fairly powerful charm which is now substituted in my paintings for the disturbing poetry that I once struggled to achieve.
'Generally speaking, pleasure cancels out a whole series of worries that I want increasingly to disregard...
'"The magnet" is a female nude with long, blonde hair leaning against a rock, next to a curtain. The folds of the curtain beside the woman faithfully copy the shape of her body.
'If these things must have an additional justification, although their charm is enough to render it unnecessary, I would say that the power of these pictures is that they make us sharply aware of all the imperfections of everyday life' (Magritte, quoted in D. Sylvester (ed.), S. Whitfield & M. Raeburn, op. cit., pp. 290-91).
Magritte had clearly been influenced by the prospect of war before its outbreak, and this is often considered to have been reflected in the tone of some of his paintings, especially Le drapeau noir, now in the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh. In that work, dark, various pieces of menacing apparatus were pictured over a darkened landscape, hinting at the aerial bombardment which was to come to afflict so much of the world and which had already been witnessed in Spain during its Civil War. Similarly, Magritte began Le mal du pays ('Homesickness'), showing a winged man looking forlornly across a fog-bound cityscape from a bridge, a lion sitting behind him, in 1939 at the outbreak of war; it was completed the same year that he painted L'aimant.
Magritte had conceived of Le mal du pays two days before German forces invaded Poland, giving a vivid hint at the atmosphere of foreboding which had cast such a shadow across Europe and which forms such a contrast with the bright, light and sensual atmosphere of L'aimant. Magritte himself would come to be affected by the War. On the eve of the Occupation, he had fled Belgium, heading instead to Carcassonne, where a number of his colleagues and contemporaries also stayed or at least passed through on their way to exile farther afield. This may have been part of Magritte's intentions: certainly at the beginning he was concerned about the attitude the occupying forces in Germany would take to some of his earlier political proclamations. Edward James, the legendary British patron of the Surrealists who was responsible for the creation of so many of Magritte's and also Salvador Dalí's masterpieces, even offered the Belgian artist funds in order to allow him to reach Lisbon and fly from there to London. There, he would have been able to live in relative comfort and freedom in one of James' houses. However, in part because of his concern for his wife Georgette, who remained in Belgium, and in part because of the unexpectedly fast fall and capitulation of France, Magritte decided to return home (in fact at one point he was so desperate to go that he even left on a bicycle with a dozen boiled eggs, hoping to carry out the journey under his own steam; he returned exhausted later the same day).
On his return, Magritte appears not to have found the troubles with the authorities that he had feared, and managed to work in relative tranquillity during the Occupation, continuing to create his idiosyncratic images and to explore new aspects of the mysterious dimension from which they emerge. Several exhibitions of his works took place during the Occupation, and he was also able to assist in the creation of the first monographs dedicated to his work, which also allowed their greater dissemination. Ultimately, Magritte's desire to create works that brought joy, rather than underscoring the woeful deficiencies of the present, led the already warm beauty of L'aimant to blossom into the positive (though by many of his supporters, who felt it was a betrayal, reviled) ecstasy of his Renoir period.
Etude pour `Le miel est plus doux que le sang’, 1926-27, a landmark work and one of the first Surreal paintings executed by Salvador Dalí (1904-1989), realized £4,073,250 / $6,541,640 / €4,794,215, a world record price for the artist at auction (estimate: £2 million to £3 million).
Salvador Dalí (1904-1989), Etude pour 'Le miel est plus doux que le sang', signed and dated 'Salvador Dalí 1926' (lower right); titled 'Etude pour "Le miel est plus douce que la sang [sic]"' (lower left), oil on panel, 14 7/8 x 18 1/8 in. (37.7 x 46.1 cm.). Painted in 1926-27. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd., 2011
Estimate £2,000,000 - £3,000,000 - Price Realized £4,073,250
Provenance: Joë Bousquet, Carcassonne.
Galerie Rive Gauche, Paris, by 1956.
Jacques Ulmann, Paris, by whom acquired in the late 1950s, probably from the above, and thence by descent.
Literature: T. Ogura & R. Descharnes & S. Dalí, Dalí, Tokyo, 1974, p. 97.
S. Dalí, Le Mythe tragique de l'Angélus de Millet: interprétation "paranoïaque-critique", Paris, 1978, p. 167 (illustrated).
R. Descharnes & S. Terayama, Dalí, Tokyo, 1978, pl. 22 (illustrated).
R. Santos Torroella, Le miel es más dulce que la sangre: las épocas lorquiana y freudiana de Salvador Dalí, Barcelona, 1984, p. 107.
R. Descharnes, Salvador Dalí, The work, The man, New York, 1984, p. 76 (illustrated, dated '1926').
T. Okada, Dalí, Shueisha, 1986, p. 16.
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (ed.), Louisiana Revy, Humlebaek, 1989, p. 10.
Exh. cat., Los Dalís de Dalí: colección del Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid,Centro Cultural Arte Contemporáneo, México, 1990, p. 18.
A. Reynolds Morse, Dalí's animal crackers, St. Petersburg, 1993, p. 79 (illustrated).
R. Descharnes & G. Néret, Salvador Dalí, 1904-1989, vol. II, Cologne, 1994, no. 263, p. 747 (illustrated vol. I, p. 120, dated '1926').
M. di Capua, Dalí, Paris, 1994, p. 81.
G. Néret, Salvador Dalí, 1904-1989, Cologne, 1996, p. 17.
Exh. cat., Realismo mágico: Franz Roh y la pintura europea, 1917-1936, Centro Julio Gonzales, Valencia, 1997, p. 57 (illustrated).
A. Sánchez Vidal, Salvador Dalí, Madrid, 1999, pp. 12-13 (illustrated).
V. Charles, Salvador Dalí, Bournemouth, 1999, pp. 42-43.
O. Tusquets, Dalí y otros amigos, Barcelona, 2003, pl. XIV.
R. Hughes, Dalí, Amsterdam, 2003, p. 56.
R. Santos Torroella, El Primer Dalí, 1918-1929: catálogo razonado, Valencia, 2005, p. 330.
M. Luna & T. Matas, Dalí i els altres secrets, Figueras, 2006, p. 8.
Exhibited: Knokke-le-Zoute, Casino Communal, Salvador Dalí, July - September 1956, no. 1 (illustrated p. 20, dated '1926').
Paris, Galerie André-François Petit, Salvador Dalí, Oeuvres anciennes, December 1970, no. 3 (illustrated).
Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie, Salvador Dalí, 1904-1989, May - July 1989, no. 51 (illustrated p. 59, dated '1926'); this exhibition later travelled to Zurich, Kunsthaus, August - October 1989.
Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Salvador Dalí, December 1989 - March 1990, no. 11.
London, Hayward Gallery, Salvador Dalí: the early years, March - May 1994, no. 96 (illustrated p. 169, dated '1927'); this exhibition later travelled to New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, June - September 1994, and to Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofìa, October 1994 - January 1995, no. 130.
Vienna, Kunsthalle, Das grausame Spiel: Surrealismus in Spanien, May - July 1995, no. 38 (illustrated p. 103, dated '1926').
Verona, Palazzo Forti, Dalí, Miró, Picasso e il surrealismo Spagnolo, July - October 1995, p. 87 (illustrated, dated '1926').
Venezia, Palazzo Grassi, Dalí, La retrospettiva del centenario, September 2004 - January 2005, no. 53 (illustrated p. 91); this exhibition later travelled to Philadelphia, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, February - May 2005.
London, Tate Modern, Dalí & Film, June - September 2007, no. 2 (illustrated p. 15, dated '1927'); this exhibition later travelled to Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, October 2007 - January 2008, to St Petersburg, Salvador Dalí Museum, February - June 2008, and to New York, Museum of Modern Art, June - September 2008.
Notes: One of the very first of Dalí's Surreal paintings, Study for Honey is Sweeter than Blood is a landmark work that, along with Little Ashes (Museo Nacional Reina Sofia, Madrid) and Apparatus and Hand (Salvador Dalí Museum, St Petersburg, Florida) represents Dalí's first mature articulation of the neurotic dream-like imagery for which he is best known. A fully completed study for the painting that was arguably Dalí's most ambitious, complex and successful work to date - the now lost painting of 1927 Honey is Sweeter than Blood believed to be destroyed - this painting represents a fusion of important influences and the first pictorial rendering of several key and recurring Dalínean motifs. An apparent beach scene reminiscent also of the Empurdan plains where so many of Dalí's hallucinatory dream-like paintings would be set, here, motifs of rotting donkeys, 'tender amputations', sleeping heads, decapitated corpses, constructivist gadgets, needles casting long de Chirico-esque shadows, varicose veins and levitating breasts, all combine to form a manic and fascinating landscape of fetishistic mystery and imagination.
The painting was made at a time, when the twenty-three-year-old Dalí, having already worked through the influence of Picasso and De Chirico, was now enthralled with the creative and poetic potential offered by Surrealism, especially automatism, and was fast assimilating the influences of the movement's painters; Miró, Ernst and Tanguy. Dalí's paintings Honey is Sweeter than Blood and Apparatus and Hand - two works that owed most to this new combination of influences - were the two paintings he chose to represent his new direction at the 1927 Autumn Salon in Barcelona where their bizarre and disturbing imagery duly caused a scandal. In a defensive article that Dalí wrote at this time published in the October issue of L'Amic de les Arts, he acknowledged the role of the subconscious on his work and admitted admiring the work of Miró and Tanguy. He wrote that he had indeed been experimenting with an automatism in the creation of these works, but nevertheless sought to assert his distance at this time from Surrealism. Reliant on spontaneous subconscious impulse he declared that his work was positioned in an essentially 'new orbit, equidistant from Cubism and Surrealism on the one hand and a primitive art such as Brueghel's on the other' (Salvador Dalí, 'Letter to José Maira Junoy', quoted in I. Gibson, The Shameful Life of Salvador Dalí, London, 1997, p. 162). Indeed, the inclusion of a reproduction of Breughel's famous painting from the Prado, The Triumph of Death in the same issue of L'Amic de les Arts in which Dalí published his defence and an illustration of his painting Honey is Sweeter than Blood appeared gives a strong hint that Dalí recognised a visual correlation between these two works.
Aside from Parisian Surrealism and Brueghel however, the primary, overriding and determining influence on both Honey is Sweeter than Blood and Study for Honey is Sweeter than Blood was that of Dalí's closest friend and confidant at this time, the poet Frederico Garcia Lorca. Lorca had spent the month of July with Dalí in Cadaqués and it was he who gave these works their original title of 'The Wood of Gadgets' while also seeming to have inspired their later title writing to Dalí about the headless female corpse that appears in both paintings that, 'the dissected woman is the most beautiful poem about blood you can create' (Frederico Garcia Lorca, letter to Dalí quoted in F. Fanés Salvador Dalí: The Construction of the Image 1925-1930 , London, 2007, p. 67).
The phrase 'honey is sweeter than blood' is one that seems to have haunted Dalí at this time. It crops up in numerous instances in his life, its most notable appearance perhaps being in his book The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí where as Dawn Ades has pointed out, Dalí describes the solitary pleasure of masturbation as 'sweeter than honey' while Lorca is said to have regarded sexual intercourse as a fearful 'jungle of blood' (D. Ades, Dalí, The Centenary Retrospective, London, 2005, p. 90). Fear of sex and the female along with the guilt, pleasure and addiction of masturbation are constant themes running through much of Dalí's work of this period culminating in his 1929 paintings The Lugubrious Game and The Great Masturbator. Here, in Study for Honey is Sweeter than Blood such fetishistic motifs appear to be being born on the grey sandy beach-like plain cutting across the picture plain after the mutilation of a female corpse. It is Lorca's face too that appears in this work as a decapitated double-sided head split in two and dissecting its mysterious diagonal borderline of sea-bed/plain and sea/sky.
At the heart of Lorca's influence on these paintings however, stands his and Dalí's shared obsession with Saint Sebastian. Already having informed much of Dalí's work, the poet and the painter had developed a kind of coded language of association about the Saint, both recognising a part of themselves and each other in the story of this agonised martyr. Here, the cold, geometric machine-like needles or eye tacks puncturing the skin-like surface of the plain echo the nature of Sebastian's martyrdom, while the split head seems to indicate a notion of a one-person duality in the form of Dalí and Lorca. In the final painting Dalí's own visage appears on the head lying near the headless female corpse, while here, the sleeping head simultaneously bordering land and sky seems to anticipate the later soft sleeping heads able to transcend different realms and realities that Dalí frequently depicted in his work of the late 1920s and early '30s. The veins and blood vessels visible in the top half of this head are echoed elsewhere in the picture on other truncated limbs, sprouting like a forest and also in what appears to be a small shoal of red fish swimming in the sky-like sea. This predisposition towards diagrammatic tree-like veins appears, like most the elements of this painting, in different but extended form in Apparatus and Hand and are derived from Dalí's fascination with an illustration in an advertisement for a cure for varicose veins. With their coral-like forms, they also echo the use of red coral as a symbol of Christ's blood in much Spanish religious painting.
Continuing the pervasive theme of a painful collusion between cold hard-edged mechanical form and soft, blood giving flesh, the central image of this picture is a decapitated female corpse with truncated arms and legs pouring blood into the soil which elsewhere seems to sprout into vein-like trees. This, along with the fetishistic image of a pair of disembodied breasts, perhaps another symbol of martyrdom referring to that of Saint Agatha, is also seemingly attacked by metallic needles and shown floating in the sky, while the arms of the corpse are seemingly depicted in a dual state of growth and decay on the beach. Reminiscent of a number of 'headless women' created by Max Ernst at this time, the mutilation of the female nude is a clear anti-art act and symbol, but also one celebrated here as an apparent source of life-blood and creativity. Nearby and in direct contrast, lies another anti-art symbol: one of the quintessential Dalínean images of putrefaction: the rotting donkey.
Perhaps most familiar now from its appearance in Dalí and Buñuel's shocking first feature film Le Chien andalou, the image of the rotting donkey carcass surrounded by flies was a staple of many of Dalí's pictures in the 1920s. A symbol of horror and repulsion and of the ugliness of reality with which avant-garde artists wished to challenge the complacency and bourgeois values of the traditional society they abhorred, the rotting donkey invokes a rich seam of satire known as 'the putrefact', that, as Dawn Ades has pointed out, was 'mined in numerous drawings by the group in the Residencia de Estudiantes in Madrid which included Dalí, Lorca and Pepin Bello who was credited with inventing the term... The origin of the 'putrefying' donkey itself lies in a sentimental tale by the 'arch putrefact' as Dalí called him, the poet Juan Ramon Jimenez (whose) Platero y Yo recounts the life and death of a beloved donkey' (ibid, p. 92). Here, as it was to appear in numerous other Dalí works, the artist has depicted this donkey decomposing into the soil of the painting surrounded by flies - another hard and horrifying anti-artistic symbol of the dark, nightmarish side of life, not usually associated with fine art.
As Dalí was also at pains to point out in an article he wrote about these works in 1928 however, all this horror takes place not in the real world, but within the magical realm of the picture plane. 'We can verify,' he wrote, 'that the decapitated figures live their perfect, organic life, they rest in the shadow of the bloodiest vegetation without getting bloodstained, and they go on stretching out naked on the sharpest, spikiest surfaces of very special marble, without risk of death' (Salvador Dalí, 'Nous limits de la pintura', 1928, quoted in Feliz Fanés Salvador Dalí: The Construction of the Image 1925-1930, London, 2007, p. 67).
He also goes on to point out that, within this poetical realm, like that of the subconscious, such haunting and powerful images exist autonomously and for their own sake. 'Do we still have to recall' he asks, 'that the life of creatures populating the surface of canvases and the world of poetry obeys conditions of life different from creatures populating the surface of the earth? That plastic and poetic physiology is not the physiology of living beings? That the plastic or poetic of life of a painting or of a poem obeys other laws than those of the circulation of the blood? That in the plastic or poetic world, a decapitated figure is not a figure without a head?' (Salvador Dalí, quoted in ibid., p. 67).