Henri Matisse, "Nu au coussin bleu", 1924. Estimate: $20-30 million. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd., 2010.
NEW YORK, NY. - Christie's announced the sale of one of the greatest private American collections of Modern Art to come to auction: The Collection of Mrs. Sidney F. Brody. Remarkable for its extraordinary depth and quality, the collection boasts a wealth of master works by the towering figures of the Modernist movement, including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Alberto Giacometti, Georges Braque, Edouard Vuillard, Marino Marini, and Henry Moore. The total value of the works to be offered is expected to exceed $150 million, making it one of the most valuable single-owner collections ever offered at auction.
The strength of the collection is exemplified by a trio of spectacular works: Pablo Picasso’s "Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust" painted in March 1932 (estimate upon request), Henri Matisse’s "Nu au coussin bleu", 1924 (estimate: $20-30 million), and Alberto Giacometti’s "Grande tête de Diego", 1954 (estimate: $25-35 million). These works, as well as a selection of other major Modern paintings and sculpture, will comprise a special section of Christie’s landmark Evening Sale of Impressionist and Modern Art on 4 May 2010, with additional fine art to be offered in a dedicated single-owner session the following day.
"This is quite simply one of the most sophisticated collections of Modern Art in private hands today, and Christie’s is truly honored to have been selected to present the collection to the public on behalf of the Brody family. The significance of these works to the global collecting community cannot be over-stated. As witnessed at the recent London sales of Impressionist and Modern Art, the appetite among major collectors for top-quality works of great rarity and exceptional provenance continues to reach new heights. We have no doubt that the caliber of this collection will ignite collector interest worldwide and yield exciting results in the saleroom this May,” said Edward Dolman, CEO of Christie’s International.
Mr. and Mrs. Sidney F. Brody
The Collection of Mrs. Sidney F. Brody began in earnest with a Henry Moore sculpture placed under the Christmas tree, a gift for Mrs. Frances Brody from her husband Sidney, a prominent Los Angeles real estate developer. “Sid put it under the Christmas tree. And well, by then I guess we were hooked,” she recalled in a later interview. Mrs. Brody shared with her father Albert Lasker a passion for collecting and a preference for Modern art and design in particular. As a young couple in the late 1940s, the Brodys engaged the legendary architect A. Quincy Jones and interior designer William “Billy” Haines to custom design their home in Holmby Hills, CA. Recognized as a tour-de-force of mid-century Modernist design, the house became the perfect foil for the couple’s burgeoning art collection, which grew over the years to become a scintillating display of paintings, sculpture and important works on paper.
“For those lucky enough to have seen the Brody collection in situ in the couple’s elegant home, the true genius of the collection was apparent at every turn. From Picasso’s tender love poem to Marie-Thérèse – a masterpiece by any measure – to Matisse’s Michaelangelesque seated nude, and Giacometti’s greatest bronzes, every room revealed fruits of sophisticated connoisseurship,” recalls Christopher Burge, honorary chairman of Christie’s International, who first visited the Brody home in the fall of 1978.
As dedicated patrons of the arts, the Brodys were founding benefactors of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), and the UCLA Art Council. Later in life, Mrs. Brody became a guiding patron of the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, CA. She passed away in November 2009 at age 93. In support of the Huntington’s goals of encouraging research, and promoting education, arts, humanities and botanical sciences, a portion of the proceeds from the sale of The Collection of Mrs. Sidney F. Brody will be donated to the organization.
The centerpiece of the Brody collection is Picasso’s spellbinding Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust. This large-scale portrait of Picasso’s mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter, is inarguably one of the finest of Picasso’s celebrated 1932 paintings. Painted in rich blues, pinks and vibrant greens, with accents of red and orange, this deeply sensual and thematically complex work can be read above all as a declaration of love from the artist to his young muse. Marie-Thérèse’s sleeping form, seemingly suspended in swaths of black, dominates the lower half of the canvas. Above, her sculpted head rests upon a pedestal, and the barely perceptible outline of another face emerges from behind the philodendrons. The painting was completed on 8 March 1932, during one of most intensely creative periods of Picasso’s career. He had celebrated his 50th birthday the prior Fall, and was preparing for a retrospective exhibition to be held in June 1932 at Galerie Georges Petit in Paris.
The Brodys acquired the work direct from Picasso’s dealers in the 1950s and made it the focal point of their expanding collection. This remarkable painting has only been exhibited once in the United States, when the Brodys generously loaned it to the 1961 exhibition Bonne Fête Monsieur Picasso, a retrospective staged in honor of Picasso’s 80th birthday that was sponsored by the UCLA Art Council. The upcoming sale preview marks the first time in 50 years the work will be publicly displayed.
“Christie’s is delighted to continue our long tradition of presenting Picasso’s exceptional 1932 paintings to our clients. Of Picasso’s many great series, the pictures of Marie-Thérèse from the spring of 1932 have always been regarded as being among his greatest achievements. The upcoming sale of Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust is a landmark opportunity to acquire a true masterpiece, and one that has rarely been seen since the 1930s,” said Conor Jordan, Head of Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art Department in New York.
Another cornerstone of the collection is Matisse’s Nu au coussin bleu, the finest 1920s-era picture by the artist to appear on the market in many years. Executed in 1924, the work uses lush pattern, rich coloration, and confident modeling to brilliant effect, a characteristic of the most important of the odalisques Matisse painted in Nice during this period. The model’s sinuous pose, with her arms crossed overhead and one leg drawn up, relates closely to Grand nu assis, the artist’s celebrated bronze. Works of this era are in high demand within the global collecting community; during the last three years Christie’s has twice achieved record-breaking prices for Matisse works, including L'odalisque, harmonie bleue of 1937, which sold for $33.6 million in November 2007, and Les coucous, tapis bleu et rose of 1911, which sold for $45.2 million in February 2009.
Leading the collection’s impressive selection of sculpture is the stunning Giacometti bronze, Grande tête de Diego – the most highly-prized of the artist’s sculptural portraits of his brother. This large version, conceived in 1954, counts among the first in Giacometti’s series of radically innovative sculptural portraits in which he sought to reclaim a more realistic and concrete sense of space. By dramatically compressing the width of the face, Giacometti presented the viewer with two completely opposite and distinct representations of his model that are never simultaneously viewable. “No other Giacometti portrait bust of Diego has the electric charge of this particular cast from the Brody collection. Simultaneously monumental and fragile, expansive and taut, its drastic proportions and tremulous surface cut through the air like a knife. This should be an irresistible work for any serious collector of 20th century sculpture,” noted Mr. Jordan.
A thrilling sculptural counterpoint to the monumental grandeur of Grande tête de Diego is a second, earlier Giacometti bronze, the artist’s famous depiction of a lean, stealthy feline in mid-stride entitled Le chat (estimate: $12-18 million). Fascinated by the pliancy of the animal’s sleek form, Giacometti stretched Le chat lengthwise, making its body extremely narrow and taut. Though the figure
measures two-and-a-half feet in length, the sculpture’s sinewy form inspired the writer Jean Genet to remark that Le chat could likely “pass through a mouse hole.”
Further highlights from the Collection of Mrs. Sidney F. Brody include:
• Autoportrait by Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940), a superb early self-portrait painted in deliberately strident hues of yellow and orange by a principal figure of the Nabis movement. Executed just after 1890, the portrait is representative of Vuillard’s radical and highly successful forays into the free use of color, a tenet the Fauve artists would claim for themselves some fifteen years later. Works of this type remain extremely rare on the art market, and are highly prized by museums and collectors alike (estimate: $1.2-1.8 million).
• Piccolo cavaliere by Marino Marini (1901-1980), a beautiful, 20-inch tall bronze of Marini’s favorite horse-and-rider theme that features a vigorously hand-chiseled and painted surface. The Brody work is an exceptional example of Marini’s signature contribution to 20th century sculpture in which he developed an innovative technique of working the surface of the bronze to a textured and nuanced finish (estimate: $1.5-2 million).
• Family group by Henry Moore (1898-1986), one of several important Moore bronzes in the Brody collection, this small bronze was cast for the Berkeley Gallery exhibition of 1945. Considered to be among the most desirable of all of the celebrated artist’s small sculptures, it was also the Christmas gift from Sidney Brody to his young wife that marked the couple’s first important fine art purchase, and jump-started their joint collecting pursuits (estimate: $600,000-800,000).
• A suite of six rare Blue Period drawings by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), including astudy for Femme assise aux bras croisés, a pen and ink drawing with blue crayon completed in 1902-3 (estimate: $200,000-300,000). Of similar size and coloration is Picasso’s Vieillard debout les bras croisés (estimate: $120,000-160,000) and a beautifully-shaded nude study, Femme nu en buste (estimate: $120,000-160,000).
Rounding out this exceptional collection are additional paintings and sculpture by Georges Braque, Edgar Degas, Amedeo Modigliani, and James Ensor, among others. Highlights include Braque’s La treille, a large-format scene of a terrace garden covered in twisting vines (estimate: $3-5 million) and two bronzes by Degas, Danseuses habilée au repos (estimate: $600,000-800,000) and La masseuse (estimate: $300,000-500,000). Also featured are Modigliani’s 1915 watercolor work La ménage (estimate: $250,000-350,000), and Ensor’s jewel-like Nature morte aux fruits et compotier, painted circa 1909 (estimate: $100,000-150,000).