Picasso to lead art auctions in New York, November 2023
A review of Sotheby’s and Christie’s art auctions in New York, November 2023.
By G. Fernández – theartwolf.com – Texts written on October 29th 2023 – the article will be edited after the auctions to include the results of the works mentioned.
Image: Pablo Picasso, “Femme à la montre” (1932) and “Buste de femme” (1909).
Sotheby’s has the big blockbuster of the season, the superstar of Emily Fisher Landau’s collection, Pablo Picasso’s “Femme à la montre“ (1932), for which according to various sources the auction house expects to fetch more than $120 million. Painted on 17 August 1932, it is undoubtedly one of the most important “1932 Marie-Thérèses” to come on the market in recent years, and that is a big word in the art market. It does not, in my opinion, come close to the glamour and mystery of “Le Rêve” (for which I personally would not accept any bid under $200 million if the work were mine), but I do consider it a superior painting (albeit slightly smaller in size) to the “Femme assise près d’une fenêtre (Marie-Thérèse)” auctioned for $103.4 million in 2021.
Sotheby’s catalogue spares no praise for the painting, noting that “among the representations of ardor and desire in the canon of twentieth-century art, Picasso’s sensuous depictions of his lover and muse Marie-Thérèse Walter reign supreme. Executed in 1932 at the pinnacle of Picasso’s impassioned affair, ‘Femme à la montre exists’ as one of the most resolved and complex depictions from this highly charged year.“
Also at Sotheby’s, the Modern Evening Auction includes another Picasso from 1932, an un-sensuous “Compotier et guitare” for which Sotheby’s expects to fetch over $25 million. Personally, it’s a work that leaves me completely cold, especially when compared to the work that is -in my opinion- the most important Picasso coming up for auction this month (yes, including “Femme à la montre“). This is “Buste de femme“, a gouache on paper mounted on panel, which has a pre-sale estimate of $18-25 million. Painted in the spring of 1909, it is not a “sensual” work, it does not impress with its colouring; but any serious collector should bid for this work, an excellent example of Picasso navigating between his African and Cubist periods, on his journey towards changing art history forever.
Image: Claude Monet, “Peupliers au bord de l’Epte, temps couvert” (1891)
In the same auction, “Peupliers au bord de l’Epte, temps couvert” is a fine example of Claude Monet‘s “Peupliers” series, and carries a pre-sale estimate of $30-40 million (exactly the same estimate that was assigned a year and a half ago by Christie’s to another painting in this series, the “Peupliers au bord de l’Epte, automne” which was finally auctioned for $36.4 million). Another star of the auction is “Au-dessus de la ville“, painted in 1924 by Marc Chagall, which Sotheby’s describes as “a resplendent ode to his greatest love, ‘Au-dessus de la ville’ is one of the finest paintings executed during Chagall’s Paris period and captures the key motifs of reverie, nostalgia and romance which would define the artist’s work until his final days“. Hugely prolific, Chagall is inevitably an inconsistent artist, but this is a superb work that deserves its $12-18 million estimate.
Sotheby’s contemporary art auction is led by Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “Self-Portrait as a Heel (Part Two)“, which comes to auction with a pre-sale estimate of between $40 million and $60 million. I have commented on other occasions that the oversupply of Basquiats on the market is damaging the valuation of his works, but this is a painting of undoubted importance, which has not been on the market since 1999, when it was auctioned for $772,500, then a considerable price for Basquiat and now a bargain.
After “Femme à la montre“, the “work of art” with the most “hype” this season is the Ferrari 330 LM / 250 GTO which carries -according to various sources- an estimate of more than $60 million. It is a complex car, which Sotheby’s defines as “among the model’s most singular examples. Chassis number 3765 is the only Works GTO example that was originally equipped with a 4-liter engine. This engine was built with the Colombo-style architecture but with an increased displacement of nearly four liters, and in this particular version it was converted to dry sump lubrication and tuned with special carburetors and camshafts.” In this regard, the barchetta.cc website states: “engine replaced at factory by 250 P engine with № Int 670/62E, 5-speed gearbox, unspecified “body adjustments”. Completed by October“. This is a reasonable estimate, although I personally consider the value of this unit to be below that of the two Tour de France winning GTOs (chassis 4153GT and 5111GT).
Image: Claude Monet, “Le bassin aux nymphéas” (1917-19)
The 20th century art auction at Christie’s includes five works labelled “estimate on request”. Among them, “Le bassin aux nymphéas” is one of several views that Claude Monet painted of his water lily pond at Giverny. Although not one of the best paintings, its good size (100.1 x 200.6 cm) and provenance should be enough to justify the auction house’s (unpublished) estimate, which according to some sources is in the region of $65 million. Painted in 1976, Francis Bacon’s “Figure in Movement“ includes his lover George Dyer as a motif, and could fetch in the region of $50 million. “Untitled (Yellow, Orange, Yellow, Light Orange)” (1955) is a fine Mark Rothko canvas that returns to the market after nine years, having been auctioned for $36.6 million in November 2014. According to various sources, Arshile Gorky’s “Charred Beloved I“ is expected to top $20 million, and Richard Diebenkorn’s “Recollections of a Visit to Leningrad“ could exceed $25 million.
Christie’s also includes another “1932 Marie-Thérèse” by Pablo Picasso, a “Femme endormie” which despite its modest size (72.4 x 54 cm) has undeniable appeal, making its estimate of between $25 million and $35 million surprisingly modest. “L’empire des lumières“, the first version of the subject painted by René Magritte in 1949, returns to the market after six years, having been auctioned for $20.5 million in November 2017. It now has an estimate of between 25 and 35 million, which doesn’t seem far-fetched to me considering the importance of the work.
Image: Paul Cézanne, “Fruits et pot de gingembre” (1890-93).
There are several works by Paul Cézanne in the auction. The most important is “Fruits et pot de gingembre“, a small but very attractive still life by the artist, which has a pre-sale estimate of between $35 million and $55 million. Christie’s states that the work is being sold “pursuant to a settlement agreement between the current owner and heirs of Jacob Goldschmidt. The settlement agreement resolves the dispute over ownership of the work and title will pass to the successful bidder“. Regardless of its provenance, it is one of the finest still lifes by the artist to come to auction in recent years, similar in scale, but far superior in composition, to the “Nature morte: pommes et poires” auctioned for $20 million in 2021.
And if your budget is not enough for a “small” still life by Cézanne, you can try to get a “tiny” still life by Cézanne for between $7 million and $10 million, which is Christie’s published estimate for “Quatre pommes et un couteau” (22.2 x 26.1 cm). “La mer à l’Estaque” is a view of one of the artist’s favourite villages, and has a pre-sale estimate of $3-5 million, which is very, very modest even though it is not, of course, a first-rate Cézanne. Just two years ago, another view of L’Estaque (albeit a larger one) was sold for $55.3 million.
Also up for auction is Frida Kahlo’s “Portrait of Cristina, My Sister“, which has a reasonable pre-sale estimate of $8-12 million. In 2001, this same work was auctioned for $1.65 million. “La barrière du chemin de fer, aux Pâtis près Pontoise” is a very fine landscape by Camille Pissarro, an ode to the charm of early Impressionism, which has a pre-sale estimate of $3-5 million.