James McNeill Whistler, Little Drawbridge, Amsterdam, 1889, est. $40/60,000. © Sotheby's.
NEW YORK - On Thursday, May 3, 2007, Sothebyís will offer for sale James McNeill Whistler prints from the collection of Dr. George S. van Houten, a great admirer of the artistís achievements in printmaking. The finest group of this size to come onto the market in recent decades, the collection spans Whistlerís career, from the 1850s when the artist was primarily concerned with realistic detail, perspective, and the aesthetic achieved by the etching plate, through the abstract compositions characteristic of his mature style, often influenced by Japanese woodblock prints and incorporating more extravagant use of plate tone to impart atmospheric effect. This extraordinary group will be exhibited at Sothebyís New York from April 28 to May 2, 2007, and is estimated to sell for at least $1.2 million.
The van Houten Collection contains many rare, important works, including the rakish and seductive Portrait of Whistler, reminiscent of etched portraits by Rembrandt and van Dyck and estimated to bring $180/220,000. Distinguished provenance is a hallmark of prints assembled by Dr. van Houten and in fact several pieces formerly belonged to the artist Seymour Haden, Whistlerís brother-in-law. The two shared an attraction to the qualities of 17th Century Dutch printmaking and both were fastidious about quality of impression; their prolific work in the medium did much to revive interest in etching in the 19th Century.
Remarkable views of Amsterdam from 1889 include The Balcony, Amsterdam (est. $60/80,000), Pierrot (est. $30/40,000) and Little Drawbridge, Amsterdam, estimated to sell for $40/60,000. These intricate scenes were composed by the careful layering of lines, strategically wiped of ink to create diffused light reminiscent of the earlier Venetian scenes. It is these images of Venice, with their haunting plate tones, that most adeptly expose Whistlerís fascination with light, shadow and reflection and perhaps the finest example of his preoccupation is Nocturne: Dance House. Executed in 1889, the richly intimate portrayal of a canal at night juxtaposes intricate lines and touches of luminosity and is estimated to sell for $100/125,000. This superb impression carries with it the finest provenance for the artist: Charles Lang Freer, Hermann Wunderlich, John Caldwell and Lucien Goldschmidt.
In addition to those luminaries mentioned above, previous owners of prints in the van Houten Collection include such notable names as J.H. Hutchinson, Howard Mansfield, Harris Whittemore, Henry Harper Benedict, Charles C. Cunningham, Jr. and Emma Regina Martin. Works including Wool-carders from 1879-80 (est. $35/45,000, pictured on page 3), were the examples cited and/or illustrated in Edward Kennedyís 1910 catalogue raisonné of the artistís etchings, underscoring Dr. van Houtenís commitment to collecting only the finest impressions. By bringing together unusual subjects and more common images, the van Houten Collection serves to illustrate the breadth of Whistlerís skills, and his scholarly approach towards obtaining work of outstanding quality and historical significance has culminated in a comprehensive representation of Whistlerís graphic oeuvre.
The auction on May 3rd and 4th will also include a wide selection of Modern and Contemporary Prints, including an exceptional lithograph by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Executed in 1910, Cake-Walk (est. $400/600,000) is a lively image in vivid colors, a masterwork of German Expressionism. Also from Germany is an important collaboration by Bauhaus artists Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, among others. The 1923 portfolio Meistermappe des Staatlichen Bauhauses is rarely found intact (est. $150/200,000). Four examples of Mary Cassattís color aquatints from three different Private American Collections include The Barefoot Child (est. $150/200,000) and Peasant Mother and Child (est. $200/300,000), both tender portraits in rich palettes that exemplify the artistís printed work. In the Contemporary portion of the sale is Richard Diebenkornís seminal Green. The large scale intaglio print from 1986 relates to the artistís Ocean Park paintings and is estimated to bring $200-300,000. Bright, fresh impressions of Campbellís Soup I, Andy Warholís set of ten screenprints from 1968 are estimated to sell for $240/280,000. Finally, each of Jasper Johnsí embossed lead reliefs from 1969 will be offered. The Lead Reliefs, Johnsí only three-dimensional multiples, include iconic images such as 0-9 (est. $50/70,000) and Flag (est. $50/70,000).