Apollo Magazine (UK)
A Théo van Rysselberghe tennis scene once owned by Toulouse-Lautrec is likely to be a big draw in Paris. Work by Georgia O’Keeffe as well as some of her personal effects come up for sale in New York, while January in that city saw outsider and folk art tr
Susan Moore previews auctions in New York and Paris and reviews January’s sales of Americana
Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, Juan Hamilton: Passage’ is an unexpected treat tucked into an empty slot in the saleroom calendar of Sotheby’s New York. Hamilton, an artist and potter, had first met the 85-year-old Georgia O’Keeffe at her secluded Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, when he was 27, and ended up inheriting most of her estate. After lawsuits brought by O’Keeffe’s relatives, he retained the ranch and more than two dozen works of art by her, Stieglitz and others, plus numerous personal effects. These, with some of Hamilton’s own works, will go under the hammer on 5 March.
It is an intimate, eloquent offering. A striking Stieglitz photograph is one of a series of studies of his wife’s hands. Georgia O’Keeffe – Hand and Wheel, in which her bracelet mirrors the chrome of the spare tire of her Ford V-8, is one of three known examples and the only one remaining in private ownership (estimate $300,000–$500,000). Here, too, is a first edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses inscribed by Marsden Hartley, a group of wobbly stoneware pots that O’Keeffe threw alongside Hamilton and, perhaps most affecting, some 20 pigment jars labelled in her own hand (estimate $20,000–$30,000).
The star lot, however, is the much exhibited and reproduced Nature Forms – Gaspé of 1932 (Fig. 1). With Stieglitz’s niece, ‘Little Georgia’, O’Keeffe had travelled up to Canada to explore new places to paint and discovered the rugged, unspoiled Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec. In this smallish canvas she has captured the essence of this dramatic coast with its swirling eddies of wind, churning surf, dark rocks and velvety green moss, reducing and transforming their forms into a series of rhythmically repeating organic shapes. The painting is less a landscape than an evocation of the inherent dynamism and sublime majesty of the natural world. Estimate $4m–$6m.
Due to the spread of coronavirus, Art Basel Hong Kong has been cancelled and various auctions postponed not only in Hong Kong but also in New York. While the gallery event Asia Week New York will continue as planned from 12–19 March, most – but not all – of Sotheby’s and Christie’s Asian art sales have been rescheduled for May or June. Maintaining its 18 March slot at Christie’s is the live sale of ‘A Lasting Engagement: The Jane and Kito de Boer Collection’, while the rest of the collection of more than 150 works of Indian art is offered in an online sale (13–20 March).
Perhaps the most idiosyncratic artist represented is the reclusive Ganesh Pyne (1937–2013), who lived the life of an ascetic until M.F. Husain outed him as the best painter in India. Pyne developed a distinctive ‘poetic surrealism’, creating imagery at once fantastical, dark, mystical and melancholic. His imagination was fired by the Bengali folktales and epics recounted by his Hindu grandmother, and tinged by his shocking childhood encounter with bodies heaped on a cart during the Calcutta Killings of 1946. While he worked in watercolour and gouache, most haunting are the tempera works made by slowly building up and then burnishing multiple layers of translucent colour. His output – like his paintings – was small. Among the cross-section offered here is the ethereal The Animal ($100,000–$150,000) and Relics ($80,000–$120,000), both from 1972.
In London on 18 March, meanwhile, Sotheby’s will offer the contents of 44 Fitzwilliam Square, a Georgian townhouse in Dublin lovingly restored by the late property developer Patrick Kelly. As one might expect, Irish works of art dominate. Of note among the furniture, for instance, is a pair of George II giltwood-and-gilt-gesso pier glasses supplied to the Winter family in around 1740 (£20,000–£30,000). No fewer than five paintings by Jack B. Yeats take a bow, including the late, expressionistic The Showground Revisited of 1950, its central, solitary figure conjured up by boldly coloured impasto brushstrokes.
The sole (quasi) abstract piece, given pride of place in Kelly’s drawing room, is an exceptional William Scott, Deep Blues (£300,000–£500,000). After admiring the scale and audacity of the Abstract Expressionist paintings that he saw in New York in 1953, Scott became more ambitious in his painting – this canvas is almost 2m wide – but also austerely minimalist, employing a repertoire of humble domestic items to explore the balance between form and void within the tradition of European still-life painting. For all the artist’s dour Presbyterian background, however, the azure blue is positively sensual.
The minimalist sculpture of Jean (Hans) Arp – in fact, the whole range of the artist’s diverse artistic output – is reflected in the Greta Stroeh Collection, offered by Christie’s Paris on 26 March. A close friend of the artist’s second wife, Stroeh had helped Marguerite Arp archive and promote her husband’s work, a project that led to the creation of the Arp Foundation in 1977. Included are sculpture, wood reliefs, works on paper and of paper – as a Dadaist, the artist made ‘anti-art’ collages by dropping torn scraps onto large sheets and sticking them down where they fell. In 1930, he began to expand into biomorphic sculpture, again aiming to eliminate the conscious mind from the creative process. His first experiments produced organic, undulating forms suggestive of the female nude. Conceived in plaster in 1931, Torso was cast in bronze in an edition of six in 1976 (€300,000–€500,000; Fig. 2).
As part of the city’s Drawing Week, on 27 March Sotheby’s Paris will unveil a conté crayon drawing by Paul Signac occasionally exhibited or published but never before seen on the market. Femme Cousant is a study for one of the artist’s first Neo-Impressionist paintings, Les modistes, of 1885–86. Here the milliner sits stitching a hat, a pair of scissors on the table before her – they were omitted for the painting but added instead were a pair of spectacles. This drawing owes much to the artist’s friend and ally, Seurat, who used conté crayon and heavily textured ‘Ingres’ paper and no contour outlines to build up his figures through a wide range of tones. Signac referred to them as ‘poems of light’. Estimate €150,000–€200,000.
After seeing La Grande Jatte at the eighth Impressionist exhibition in Paris in 1886, and meeting Seurat and Signac, Théo van Rysselberghe determined to introduce the pointillist technique into Belgium. His own divisionist portrait of Alice Sethe marked a turning point in his career. On 27 March, Sotheby’s auction of Art Impressioniste et Moderne offers his Thuin, La Partie de tennis (1889; Fig. 3). The subject is a modern one – young women, his new in-laws, playing lawn tennis. No doubt the market will enjoy the fact that this canvas was acquired directly from the artist by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and has remained with his descendants ever since. Estimate €2m–€3m.
Following the success of the drawings from Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo’s Punchinello series in London in December, on 25 March Christie’s Paris offers another sheet, long presumed lost. The signed Punchinello with
children and a horse (€200,000–€300,000), in pen and brown ink and wash, comes from the collection of Paul-Louis Weiller, the rest of whose collection will be offered in the summer. Ⓐ