Christie’s unveils highlights from its Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale, featuring masterpieces from iconic names such as Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger, René Magritte, and more. Let’s take a look at some highlights.
Estimated at US$12m-18m, Femme dans un fauteuil (Françoise) by Pablo Picasso was painted between 29 December 1948 and 1 January 1949, bridging the old year and the new. Depicted in the painting is Picasso’s lover and companion Françoise Gilot, who was transformed into a baroque fantasia of twisting, circling, enveloping, organic forms.
Femme assise au fauteuil demonstrates Picasso’s evolving manner of painting at the very peak of this halcyon period. During the late 1940s, he inclined toward a more fluid, organic, and lyrical treatment of his subjects, especially when painting Françoise and subsequently their young children as well.
This period in Picasso’s painting entailed a pursuit of synthesis born of retrospection; the artist returned to various techniques he had developed at different times in the past and subsequently laid aside. In Femme assise au fauteuil styles seem to speak for memories; this painting, ostensibly a portrait of Françoise, may have—in the artist’s mind—brought all three Picasso’s muses together as one.
Carrying the second highest estimate is Picasso’s Buste d’homme from 1968. The gentleman that Picasso chose to portray in Buste d’homme is a member of his imaginary company of mousquetaires. Formally attired in a ruff collar and an ornate doublet, this mousquetaire is a rare exception among his comrades—instead of sitting for the painter abundantly bewigged or sporting a wide-brimmed, floppy hat, he wears instead his plumed metal helmet, beneath which he stares forth, eyes wide open.
The thirty canvases that Picasso painted during September-November 1968, including the present Buste d’homme, represent the crest of the initial wave of mousquetaires—many of them depict their subject congenially puffing on his pipe while presumably regarding the passing parade of people and daily events.
The pipe alludes to genre paintings of the 17th-century Dutch school, as well as more recent models. Picasso often depicted pipe-smoking bohemian characters during his Blue and Rose periods; the most instantly recognizable motif in certain cubist figure paintings is a pipe, and the object itself becomes emblematic of the artist’s presence in his still-life subjects.
Besides Picasso, the sale will also be led by two Magritte’s paintings. The artist’s 1959 Le Sabbat welcomes the viewer into his unique and surreal world. Magritte used objects from reality yet altering their usual associations by displacing them. Here, a painting sits on an easel, a landscape beyond it, and yet the two have little in common: the nocturnal landscape that spreads before us has, it is implied, been represented in the picture-within-a-picture by a still life, which in fact is upside down.
Magritte had first begun to explore the theme of a picture within a picture having been inspired in the 1920s by Giorgio de Chirico’s interior scenes. This concept fascinated the artist and remained one of the most insistent themes of his painting. By incorporating an image of a painting into the picture itself, Magritte heightens the ambiguity between the real image, the painted representation of it and the viewer’s interpretation of it.
Rene Magritte. Le Sabbat. Estimate: US$8m-12m
Painted in 1957, Magritte’s Le seize septembre features a monumental, immense, solitary tree. “Pushing up from the earth toward the sun,” Magritte wrote in an undated statement, “a tree is an image of a certain happiness. In contrast to the relative permanence of the giant, stalwart tree, the presence of the moon in Le seize septembre is emblematic of the fugitive, but periodic aspect also inherent in the natural order.
Rene Magritte. Le seize septembre. Estimate: US$7m-10m
The notion of the “hidden visible” guided much of Magritte’s production during the mid-1950s, generating clusters of works whose imagery may vary from one picture to the next. The present painting is chronologically the third of the four versions of Le seize septembre, painted between 1956 and 1958, and by far the largest in size.
Another highlight of the sale is Fernand Léger’s La femme et l’enfant, estimated at US$8m-12m, which will mark the painting’s first time at auction. La femme et l’enfant is a key work in the series of female figure paintings that Fernand Léger created in early 1921, a strategic campaign that culminated by the end of that year in a pair of masterworks Le petit déjeuner and Le grand déjeuner. The paintings of one and several characters from 1921 signalled a turning point in the evolution of Léger's work in the years following the end of the First World War. The woman and child presented here, is the largest of the two paintings depicting a mother and young child and bears the designation of the artist “Définitif” on the back.
In the present La femme et l’enfant, Léger highlighted the fundamental human relationship of a woman caring for her offspring. This theme held special resonance for viewers at that time. An ovular-shaped plant in the background symbolizes reproductive fertility. The woman is attired in tricolor blue, white, and red—she is emblematic of La France. The child, especially if male, had become a key to future national prosperity.
Highlights from Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). Femme dans un fauteuil (Françoise)
Lot no.: 23A
Painted 29 December 1948-1 January 1949
Size: 100.3 x 81.3 cm
- Galerie Louise Leiris (Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler), Paris (acquired from the artist, 1949).
- Schoneman Galleries, New York (acquired from the above, 1956).
- A.B. Martin, Glenhead, New York (by 1957).
- Phyllis B. Lambert, Montreal (1959 and until at least 1964).
- Sári Heller Gallery Ltd., Beverly Hills (1972).
- Burt Kleiner, California.
- Private collection (acquired from the above and then by descent); sale, Sotheby's, New York, 10 May 2000, lot 28.
- Acquired at the above sale by the present owners.
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). Buste d’homme
Lot no.: 8A
Painted on 12 October 1968
Size: 130 x 80.9 cm
- Galerie Louise Leiris (Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler), Paris.
- Anon. sale, Sotheby’s, London, 28 June 1988, lot 73.
- Stanley J. Seeger, New York (acquired at the above sale); sale, Sotheby’s, New York, 4 November 1993, lot 477.
- Acquavella Galleries, Inc., New York (acquired at the above sale).
- Acquired from the above by the late owner, 1995.
René Magritte (1898-1967). Le Sabbat
Lot no.: 6A
Painted in February 1959
Size: 50 x 60.7 cm
- Alexander Iolas, New York (acquired from the artist, by March 1959).
- Patrick O'Higgins, New York (acquired from the above and until at least 1964).
- Mayor Gallery, London.
- Anon. sale, Sotheby & Co., London, 2 December 1970, lot 57.
- Galleria Medea, Milan.
- Private collection (acquired from the above).
- Galleria La Bussola, Turin (by 1986).
- Private collection, Italy.
- Private collection (acquired from the above); sale, Christie’s, London, 18 June 2007, lot 63.
- Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Fernand Léger (1881-1955). La femme et l’enfant
Lot no.: 19A
Painted in March 1921
Size: 91.8 x 65 cm
- Galerie de l'Effort Moderne (Léonce Rosenberg), Paris (acquired from the artist, 4 April 1921).
- Paul Rosenberg, Paris and Tours (acquired from the above, circa June 1925).
- Confiscated from the above following the Nazi occupation of France in May 1940.
- Restituted to Paul Rosenberg after 1945.
- The New Gallery, Inc. (Eugene V. Thaw), New York (circa 1959).
- Paul Kantor, Beverly Hills.
- Mr. and Mrs. Eugene V. Klein, Beverly Hills (by 1964).
- Lionel Prejger, Paris.
- Acquired from the above by the family of the present owners, 1971.
René Magritte (1898-1967). Le seize septembre
Lot no.: 16A
Painted in 1957
Size: 162 x 130.2 cm
- Alexandre Iolas, New York (acquired from the artist, 1957).
- Jean and Dominique de Menil, Houston (acquired from the above, by December 1960).
- Private collection, Brussels (acquired from the above, 1978).
- Private collection, California.
- Private collection, United States (acquired from the above, 1986).
- Acquired from the above by the late owner, 2015.
Auction house: Christie’s New York
Sale: Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale
Sale date: 11 November 2019 | 7pm
Lots offered: 61