LONDON - Sotheby’s London today announces that its dedicated Surrealist Art Evening Sale on Tuesday 5th February 2013 will present exceptional works including one of Salvador Dalí’s most accomplished portraits, Portrait of Mrs Harrison Williams (est. £1.5-2 million), René Magritte’s arresting painting Les Belles Relations (est. £2-3 million) and Joan Miró’s Le fermier et son épouse (est. £5.5-7.5 million), among others.
Sam Valette, Sotheby’s Senior Director and Senior International Specialist, Impressionist & Modern Art, London, said: “Following the numerous record prices achieved for Surrealist works of art sold in Sotheby’s international auctions over the last two years,* and in response to the growing demand for works within this collecting field, we are delighted to be presenting for sale superb examples of works that have been selected specifically to appeal to the desires of discerning collectors.”
Highlighting the sale is Le fermier et son épouse (est. £5.5-7.5 million), an intense and brilliantly coloured painting by Joan Miró. The work was executed in 1936, a time when the artist was reaching wide-spread international recognition, with his works participating in now legendary Surrealist exhibitions including the International Surrealist Exhibition in London and Fantastic Art, Dada & Surrealism at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The painting depicts a Catalan farmer and his wife, surrounded by the landscape of Montroig and farm animals. Summarising the significance of this farm when working on a painting depicting it in 1928, Miró remarked that the work was: “a résumé of my entire life in the country. I wanted to put everything I loved about the country into that canvas - from a huge tree to a tiny little snail. I don't think it makes sense to give more importance to a mountain than an ant (but landscape artists just can't see that).”
The powerful composition Le fermier et son épouse from one of the most turbulent periods of Miró's career was painted in the lead-up to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in the summer of that year. For many decades the painting was in the collection of the great American film director Billy Wilder (of Some Like It Hot and Sunset Boulevard fame). The work was not seen in public until 1989, when Billy Wilder’s collection was sold at auction in New York.
The fragmentation of the human body and depiction of isolated body parts in René Magritte’s Les Belles Relations (ext. £2-3 million) is not only an important theme in the artist’s works, but also one that expresses the essence of Surrealism in general. It was this arresting work that was chosen as the icon of the now-famous Surrealist exhibition Two Private Eyes, held at The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in 1999, featuring on the exhibition posters. The imagery of the present composition has its roots in Magritte’s celebrated bowler-hatted man, which has undergone several metamorphoses in which the man’s head has gradually disappeared, giving way to an impersonal assembly of its main parts. It is by combining the subject of a faceless modern man with the timeless and the unknowable, that Magritte questions our perception of reality and unveils the mystery hidden in everyday images.
One of Salvador Dalí’s most accomplished portraits, Portrait of Mrs Harrison Williams, was commissioned directly from the artist and painted by him in 1943. Estimated at £1.5-2 million, the painting - offered for the first time at auction - depicts Countess Mona Bismarck (1897-1983), who was at the time of the portrait married to Harrison Williams, reputed to be one of the wealthiest men in America. After their marriage in 1926 she swiftly became known as one of the most glamorous and beautiful women of her day; becoming the first American to be acclaimed as ‘the best-dressed woman in the world’ by the luminaries of fashion.
Dalí's dazzling depiction of the legendary Mona Bismarck is filled with classical allusions and Surrealist symbolism making it one of the most ambitious pictures he had produced by this point in his career. The painting was executed just three years after Dalí arrived in New York City, having fled Paris with his wife Gala in 1940. After his arrival, he was swiftly assimilated into the group of European Surrealists that had coalesced there at the outbreak of World War II. Together with them, he mingled with many of New York’s social luminaries, receiving from them prestigious commissions for works such as this, and the portrait of Helena Rubinstein sold at Sotheby’s New York for $2.65m in May 2011.
Surrealism by Max Ernst (est. £1.5 -2 million) was painted in New York in 1942 a few months after the artist’s escape from war-torn Europe. Ernst’s standing as one of the foremost Surrealist artists prompted Duchamp to request from him a painting for First Papers of Surrealism, the show that he was organising in New York. This exhibition, the first devoted to Surrealism since the outbreak of war, focused on the work of Ernst, Duchamp, Masson, Matta, Breton, Dominguez, Lam, Tanguy and many other artists who had fled Europe from Nazi persecution. The work to be sold exemplifies the innovative techniques of representation that Ernst was developing in New York, and greatly influenced the next generation of American artists (it was among a group of Ernst’s paintings from 1942 said to have been admired by Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell) and would prove influential on the emergence of Abstract Expressionism. Surrealism was exhibited in the Max Ernst 2005 retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Painted in 1941, Les Courtisanes (est. £1-1.5 million) is an exceptional example of Paul Delvaux's painting. As in his finest compositions, it combines the motif of mysterious female nudes placed against a classically inspired architectural backdrop. Demonstrating the influence on Delvaux of Cézanne - in the composition, spacing and individual poses of the nudes, and in the overall concept of a bathing scene - the painting depicts the figures on a balcony by the sea, dominated by the large sky. The nudes and semi-nudes that we see before us in the guise of bathers by the sea are no doubt the courtesans referred to in the title of the work.
Composition by Yves Tanguy (est. £400,000 - 600,000), which comes to the market for the first time in 80 years, was executed in a year that marked a watershed in the artist’s career - 1927. It was during this year that he began to create works that, through their ingenuity and beauty, firmly established the style which became the defining aesthetic of Tanguy’s art. He had by then become a highly accomplished painter and in complete command of a new personal Surrealist language which was often based on his childhood fascination with the sea. In the same year he was recognised by his fellow Surrealists by being given his first one-man show at the Galerie Surréaliste in Paris.
The luminous blue of the upper composition is enlivened by the presence of a biomorphic figure who stalks the ocean floor. Though Tanguy received no formal artistic training, his childhood summers spent near Finistère in Brittany, on the western coast of France overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, had a profound influence on his style. Composition is included in the forthcoming Yves Tanguy Catalogue raisonné.