A trio of Neo-Impressionist paintings by Camille Pissarro and Paul Signac, estimated at £13.6m, will be offered at Impressionist, Modern & Surrealist Art at Sotheby’s London on 4 February. These three paintings were among the artworks looted by the Nazis during World War II and were recently returned to the heirs of their rightful owner.
Camille Pissarro’s Gelée blanche, jeune paysanne faisant du feu
Paul Signac’s La Corne d’Or. Matin
These masterpieces belonged to Gaston Lévy, a notable Jewish-French art collector who lived in Paris in the 1920s and 30s. Lévy was friends with many great artists at that time including Paul Signac, Bernheim-Jeune, Paul Durand-Ruel, and Ambroise Vollard. He assembled a remarkable collection of paintings, sculptures and works on paper.
Lévy was particularly engaged with the work of Paul Signac. He and his family spent holidays with the artist and Lévy also sponsored his project to paint 107 ports in France during a one year journey. Over the course of his collecting career, Lévy owned 44 oils and countless watercolours by the artist.
After the German invasion, Lévy realised that as a Jew he was at risk and he moved a good part of his collection to the Château des Bouffards before fleeing to exile in Tunis. His art collection was dispersed under the Nazi occupation.
The Monuments Men collected paintings and works of art
These three paintings to be auctioned at Sotheby’s include two Signac paintings, La Corne d’Or. Matin and Quai de Clichy. Temps gris, and a Pissarro’s Gelée blanche, jeune paysanne faisant du feu. Research by the Lévy’s heirs and by the Musées de France showed that Gelée blanche, jeune paysanne faisant du feu and La Corne d’Or. Matin were lost to Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, a Nazi organization dedicated to appropriating looted cultural property, in Paris in October 1940 and were recovered by the Monuments Men at the end of the Second World War. These two artworks have recently been returned by the French government to Lévy’s heirs in 2018 from the Musée d’Orsay.
Whereas Signac’s Quai de Clichy. Temps gris was lost from Château des Bouffards and entered the collection of the dealer Hilderbrand Gurlitt. Gurlitt purchased paintings in Nazi-occupied France, many of them stolen from their original owners, for Hitler's planned Führermuseum and for himself.
Gurlitt’s personal collection of over 1,500 items include masterpieces by Monet, Cézanne, Gauguin, Matisse etc, as well as the present Signac’s painting. The previously unknown collection was brought to public attention in 2013 following the confiscation from the possession of his son Cornelius Gurlitt. This work was recently restituted to the Lévy family by the estate of Cornelius Gurlitt.
Gelée blanche, jeune paysanne faisant du feu
These three paintings will be leading Sotheby’s Impressionist, Modern & Surrealist Art in London. Carrying the highest estimate is Pissarro’s Gelée blanche, jeune paysanne faisant du feu, estimated at £8m-12m. Pissarro was the first of the original founding members of the Impressionist group to understand and respond to the younger generation of artists who were beginning to push the techniques of Impressionism in new directions.
Le Boulevard de Montmartre, Matinée de Printemps
Painted in 1888 at the peak of the artist’s engagement with Neo-Impressionism, Gelée blanche, jeune paysanne faisant du feu is one of Pissarro’s great masterpieces. The subject is a cold winter’s morning, the low sun casts shadows across the meadow and in these shadows the night’s frost lingers; against this backdrop a young woman and a child build a fire, the smoke rising with a heat that shimmers and eddies across the frozen landscape.
Pissarro auction record was set in 2014 by his 1897 Le Boulevard de Montmartre, Matinée de Printemps, which fetched £19.68m at Sotheby’s London.
La Corne d’Or. Matin
Quai de Clichy. Temps gris
Paul Signac’s La Corne d’Or. Matin carries the second highest estimate of the sale at £5m-7m. It was created by the artist in 1907 when he first travelled to Istanbul and was immediately struck by both the grandeur and history of the place. Quai de Clichy. Temps gris created by Signac in 1887 is valued at £600,000-800,000. It shows Signac at the height of his pointillist style and dates from the key moment not only in Signac’s art, but also in the development of the Neo-Impressionist movement.
Le Port au soleil couchant, Opus 236
Signac’s auction record was set by his 1892 Le Port au soleil couchant, Opus 236 which sold for £19.5m last February.
Camille Pissarro (1830-1903). Gelée blanche, jeune paysanne faisant du feu
Created in: 188
Size: 92.8 x 92.5 cm
Estimate: £8,000,000 - 12,000,000
Paul Signac (1863-1935). La Corne d’Or. Matin
Created in: 1907
Size: 73 x 92 cm
Estimate: £5,000,000 - 7,000,000
Paul Signac (1863-1935). Quai de Clichy. Temps gris
Created in: 1887
Size: 46 x 65.5 cm
Estimate: £600,000 - 800,000
Auction house: Sotheby’s London
Sale: Impressionist, Modern & Surrealist Art Evening Sale
Sale date: 4 February 2020