9 Pricey, Cheap, and Surprising Works at Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Sale
Rembrandt Bugatti's "Hamadryas Baboon" will likely be in record territory.
Big-ticket items by Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, and Alberto Giacometti go to the auction block this week at Sotheby’s New York, along with intriguing works by lesser-known figures like Rudolf Bauer and Rembrandt Bugatti.
Estimated to bring in as much as $367 million, the sale includes no fewer than five works by Edgar Degas, four by Giacometti, and a half-dozen each by Monet and Picasso. Some are poised to set new auction records.
Here’s our rundown of the 10 most expensive and least expensive lots at auction, along with highly subjective picks of some of the eye-catching and the unexpected items among the 69 works on offer.
Vincent van Gogh, L’Allée des Alyscamps, $40 Million
This brightly hued painting depicts a famous Roman burial ground that later became a coveted Christian burial ground, the sales catalogue points out. Sarcophagi line the tree-lined allée, where, according to Sotheby’s, prostitutes often strolled while Van Gogh and Gauguin spent time there.
Claude Monet, Nymphéas, $45 Million
Off the market for six decades, this depiction of Monet’s storied lily pond at Giverny approaches abstraction, as the artist focused in closely on the surface of the water. When the artist wanted to divert a local river to feed his new pond, he wrote to a local politician that the locals opposed the move out of pure meanness and spite because he was Parisian.
Claude Monet, Le Palais Ducal, $20 Million
As many in the art world head to Venice for the Biennale, this rendition of the ducal palace and the Grand Canal comes to market after more than five decades in private hands. Sotheby’s catalogue essay points out that the master painted it from the vantage of a gondola.
Alberto Giacometti, Femme de Venise, $12 Million
One of nine of Giacometti’s Venetian women, the sculpture comes from a period when the artist was preparing for a show at the Venice Biennale and at the Kunsthalle in Bern, says Sotheby’s. Other 1956 Femme de Venise works have brought prices as high as $15 million (last year at Christie’s London).
Vincent van Gogh, Femme dans un champ de blé, $7 million
Yes, this Impressionist canvas was painted by a 34-year-old Vincent van Gogh, better known for his more expressionistic masterpieces. In private hands since 1961, the painting measures just over a foot high. Van Gogh wrote to a friend that before moving to Paris in 1886 he didn’t even know who the Impressionists were but that he admired Degas’s nudes and Monet’s landscapes.
Pablo Picasso, Le Chat accroupi, $3 Million
Picasso, as we learn from art historian Elizabeth Cowling, “surrounded himself with a menagerie which included various dogs, a monkey, a tame mouse that lived in a drawer of his studio and, later on, a cat.”
“I adore cats that have turned wild,” Picasso said, “their hair standing on end. They hunt birds, prowl, roam the streets like demons. They cast their wild eyes at you, ready to pounce on your face.” Just like this guy!
Paul Cézanne, Cabane Provençale, $400,000
The cheapest lot in the sale is this Cézanne drawing, which will be the first item on offer Tuesday evening. It dates from the time the master spent in the south of France, and may depict either a hunting cabin, as indicated by the customary title, or, as one scholar has suggested based on aspects of the architecture, a chapel.
Rudolf Bauer, Squares, $900,000
Rudolf Bauer was for a time a favorite of Solomon Guggenheim and his principal adviser, Hilla Rebay, but has been largely forgotten in comparison to artists he exhibited with, like Paul Klee, Franz Marc, and Wassily Kandinsky. He came in for renewed attention last year as the subject of both a play and a documentary (see Rudolf Bauer’s Scandalous Career Inspires a New Play). Guggenheim, according to a letter to the artist from Rebay, “[wanted] nothing else in his bedroom” but Bauer’s works. He gave the painting to his museum in 1941, but reportedly it was later let go.
Rembrandt Bugatti, Babouin sacré Hamadryas, $300,000
Ettore Bugatti, the artist’s older brother and the founder of the eponymous automotive company, gave away this sculpture, which measures about one-and-a-half feet long, around 1914, according to Sotheby’s, and it has remained in that person’s family ever since. Another baboon sold for $2.3 million at Sotheby’s New York in 2006 on a high estimate of just $800,000, and Bugatti’s auction record stands at $2.6 million, achieved two years later at Christie’s. So if this one does well compared to the estimate, it will be in record territory. Other versions reside with museums like the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.
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