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The sitting room of Titi von Fürstenberg’s home, featuring Picasso’s La Lettre (La Réponse), painted on 16 April 1923, hanging above the fireplace. © 2019 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

NEW YORK, NY.- On May 13, Christie’s will present a dedicated selection of 11 works from A Family Vision: The Collection of H.S.H. Princess “Titi” von Fürstenberg in its Evening Sale of Impressionist and Modern Art. Incorporating a sweeping representation of 20th Century Art, the collection encompasses more than 30 works ranges from Pablo Picasso to Mark Rothko and Andre Derain to Lucio Fontana. Further works will be offered in the Day Sale of Impressionist and Modern Art on May 14, the Morning Sale of Post-War and Contemporary Art on May 16, and in a Paris sale of African Art in October 2019. The personal collection of H.S.H. Princess “Titi” von Fürstenberg reflects her international worldview and passion for culture. During her lifetime, she acquired numerous important examples by some of the greatest names in art history. It was a collection founded not only on Titi’s astute connoisseurship, but her expansive curiosity. Nearly a dozen years after Titi’s death in 2006, the collection serves as a reminder of her tremendous generosity of spirit and an inspiration to future generations of aesthetics and philanthropists. 

Adrien Meyer, Co-Chairman, Impressionist and Modern Art, remarked: “HSH Princess “Titi” von Fürstenberg was a passionate collector of the “contemporary art” of her time. Her collection was tirelessly put together with great flair in the 1950’s and ranged from a monumental Rothko to a rare 1956 Dubuffet collage painting, from Ernst to Fontana. It was anchored by a magnificent neoclassical Picasso portrait of Olga (La Lettre (La Reponse)), which had been acquired by her mother Sarah “Sadie” Campbell in 1943 directly from Paul Rosenberg. This collection will appear on the market for the first time as a highlight of the Spring sales allowing Christie’s to pay tribute to Princess Fürstenberg’s remarkable eye.” 

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H.S.H. Princess Cecil Amelia ‘Titi’ von Fürstenberg née Blaffer.

A distinguished member of the international beau monde, Princess Cecil Amelia von Fürstenberg personified the lively spirit of her native Texas with an effortless continental flair. Across her nearly ninety years, “Titi,” as she was called, was celebrated for her signature charm, élan, and unwavering commitment to furthering her family’s distinguished record of collecting and philanthropy. Cecil Amelia Blaffer was born in Houston in 1919, the descendent of two of Texas’s most prominent families. Titi’s father, Robert Lee Blaffer, was a founder of Humble Oil, which is now Exxon Mobile; her maternal grandfather, William Thomas Campbell, was among the founders of The Texas Company known today as Texaco. The Blaffer family’s philanthropic and cultural efforts made a lasting impact across the state of Texas. Titi’s mother, Sarah “Sadie” Campbell, was one of the state’s most ardent supporters of the arts and a noted connoisseur. Following her marriage to R.L. Blaffer, Sadie devoted much of her energies to building an extensive private collection of Old Master, Impressionist and Modern pictures—a passion that she passed on to her daughter. 

 

In 1975, Titi married Prince Tassilo von Fürstenberg. At the von Fürstenberg’s residences in Europe, the Bahamas and the United States, Titi earned a reputation as a consummate hostess. She was especially dedicated to philanthropy, providing significant financial donations and personal leadership to institutions including the Houston Symphony Orchestra; the Houston Grand Opera; the Wagner Opera Festival in Bayreuth, Germany; the American Cathedral in Paris and St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, among many others. Titi both preserved and expanded her family’s notable history of philanthropy, folding her own charitable foundation into her mother’s Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, where she served as a trustee for nearly four decades.  

Titi’s personal collection reflects her international worldview and passion for culture. During her lifetime, she acquired numerous important examples by some of the greatest names in art history, including Pablo Picasso, Mark Rothko, Fernand Léger, Lucio Fontana, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. It was a collection founded not only on Titi’s astute connoisseurship, but her expansive curiosity with works from Europe, America, India, and Africa. Nearly a dozen years after Titi’s death in 2006, the collection serves as a reminder of her tremendous generosity of spirit and an inspiration to future generations of aesthetics and philanthropists. 

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Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), La Lettre (La Réponse), painted on 16 April 1923. Oil on canvas. 39½ x 31⅞ in (100.3 x 81 cm). Estimate upon request. © Christie's Images Ltd 2019 © 2019 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Leading the sale is Pablo Picasso’s Le Lettre (La Réponse), 1923 (estimate upon request), one of a trio of portraits of his wife, the Russian-born ballerina Olga Khokhlova, which was completed in the early months of 1923.

Picasso and Olga had first met in Rome in February 1917 — she was rehearsing for Serge Diaghilev’s premiere production of the ballet Parade; he was designing costumes and the set for the production. They married the following year and took an apartment in Paris on the fashionable rue la Boétie.

Thereafter, Olga assumed a variety of guises in her husband’s art. Often, he transformed her into a Greco-Roman goddess, her body and features exaggerated to mythological proportions; elsewhere, she is portrayed as an Italianate Madonna, a Spanish matron in a lace mantilla, or most tenderly, a new mother, in scenes inspired by the birth of their sole child — a son, Paulo — in 1921.

In La Lettre (La Réponse) Olga has paused in a moment of reverie, pen in hand and inkwell before her on the desk; her private thoughts are a mystery to us, and probably to Picasso as well, but she shares them here with some unknown confidante. The tactile sensuality of her blue dress contrasts with her ethereal beauty and distant, dignified mien, which seems to mask an inner sadness.

By the time Picasso painted La Lettre (La Réponse), intimations of unease had become evident in their relationship. The change in Picasso’s attitude toward his wife is reflected in his portraits from this period, where Olga is not an object of heated erotic desire, but rather of coolly detached pride and admiration — tinged, in La Lettre (La Réponse), with a certain nostalgic tenderness.

 

This canvas was one of 16 pictures by Picasso to feature in a landmark exhibition in New York and Chicago—the artist’s first solo showing in America—during the winter of 1923-1924. The impresario of the exhibition was the dealer Paul Rosenberg, who had represented Picasso since 1918. 

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André Derain (1880-1954), Les voiles rouges, 1906. Oil on canvas. 30 x 39½ in (81.3 x 100.2 cm). Estimate: $4,000,000-6,000,000© Christie's Images Ltd 2019 © 2019 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

Also highlighting the selection is Andre Derain’s Les Voiles Rouges, 1906. In the spring of 1906, André Derain embarked on an important painting campaign to London, the results were a radical reimagining of the cityscape, a unique series of paintings filled with bold passages of bright, saturated colour that transformed the familiar landmarks of the English capital into Fauvist visions. The portion of the river Themes illustrated in Les Voiles Rouges is featured in just one other London composition, the atmospheric Effets de soleil sur l’eau, in which the shimmering, dancing play of light on the river is captured in a dazzling mosaic of vibrant greens and golds. Considered together, both Les Voiles Rouges and Effets de soleil sur l’eau represent a clear departure from the bustling atmosphere of Derain’s paintings of the river as it winds its way through the city. Executed in thick layers of wide, slab-like touches of colour, Les Voiles Rouges reflects the bold experimental approach of Derain’s technique during this period, in which, Derain shunned the extreme rigour and analytical precision of the Neo-Impressionist’s pointillism in favour of a more intuitive brushstroke.  

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Emil Nolde (1857-1956), Herbstmeer XVII, 1911. Oil on canvas. 29 x 34⅝ in (73.6 x 89.9 cm). Estimate: $1,800,000-2,500,000. © Christie's Images Ltd 2019 © Nolde Stiftung Seebüll.

Emil Nolde’s Herbstmeer XVII is part of a sequence of 20 seascapes — Herbstmeer I-XIX, plus one unnumbered example — that he painted on the island of Als during two consecutive autumn campaigns in 1910 and 1911. Eight of these are now in museum collections, five have been lost or destroyed, and seven remain in private hands.

For Nolde, the eternal proximity of the ocean, in all its elemental and indomitable force, held a mystical, almost pantheistic significance. Working from a wooden hut that he erected directly on the beach, with an unobstructed view over the churning ocean, the artist came as close as he ever would in this series to non-representational art.

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Mark Rothko (1903-1970), No. 16/No. 12 (Mauve Intersection), 1949. Oil on canvas, 58 x 64 in (148.6 x 163.8 cm). Estimate: $2,000,000-3,000,000© Christie's Images Ltd 2019 © 2019 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Also offered from The Collection of H.S.H. Princess ‘Titi’ von Fürstenberg  is Mark Rothko’s No.16/No.12 (Mauve Intersection), an early example of the enigmatic and colourful floating planes of colour that would come to distinguish the artist’s entire oeuvre.

One of the most accomplished of his ‘Multiforms’, this evocative painting marks the moment when Rothko finally began to relinquish the figurative paintings that had proliferated during the early part of his career, and condense the enigmatic shapes into forms that would become his main and enduring artistic expression.

Before being acquired by Titi von Fürstenberg, No.16/No.12 (Mauve Intersection) was part of the internationally important collection of Rothko’s paintings at The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., for more than a decade between 1957 and 1971.

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Max Ernst (1891-1976), A la nage, 1950. Oil on canvas. 28 x 36 in (71.1 x 92.1 cm). Estimate: $700,000-1,000,000© Christie's Images Ltd 2019 © 2019 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

The work of another of the 20th century’s great art theorists is represented by A la nage  by Max Ernst, painted in 1950 — the year in which the artist first returned to Paris after spending the war years in the United States.

Divided into three distinct, horizontal planes, the composition is immediately reminiscent of a landscape. In the upper third of the painting, the gently undulating forms appear like the mountains near the remote town of Sedona, Arizona, where Ernst and his wife Dorothea Tanning had been living since 1946. A verdant green plane, filled with the fantastical patterns created with Ernst’s decalcomania technique, serves as the central register of the canvas, while the terracotta-coloured lower section could read as the space below the earth’s surface.

A single, strange, flattened anthropomorphic figure presides over this otherworldly scene. Most likely the ‘swimmer’ of the title, this form recalls Ernst’s abiding interest in the theme of swimming that had existed throughout his career. 

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Jean (Hans) Arp (1886-1966), Entitée ailée, conceived in 1961. Polished black granite. Height: 39¼ in (101 cm). Estimate: $1,800,000-2,500,000© Christie's Images Ltd 2019 © 2019 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Just over a decade after Ernst painted A la nage, Jean Arp — who together with Ernst and Alfred Grünwald had established the Cologne Dada group in 1920 — conceived of Entitée ailée. The undulating form, entirely smooth and restricted to essential features only, was carved from black granite in 1963, and acquired by Titi von Fürstenberg three years later.

Anchored in a taut, rounded mass that evokes the hips of a feminine torso or the bulb of a flowering plant, the sculpture tapers sensuously at mid-section before swelling outward once again. The flowing contours terminate at the top in two burgeoning buds that paraphrase the shape of a head and a raised shoulder — or lifted wing.