LONDON - Andy Warhol’s complete set of ten screenprints of Endangered Species will take the spotlight at Sotheby’s London in an auction of Old Master, Modern and Contemporary Prints on 19 March 2013. Estimated to bring £250,000-300,000, the Endangered Species project was the result of a conversation between Warhol and Frayda and Ronald Feldman, his New York art dealers, concerning the ecological issue of beach erosion. With his interest and curiosity in animals, he was keen to take on this project, proposed by the Feldmans. The vibrantly coloured screenprints, produced in 1983, were described as ‘animals in make-up’ by Warhol. They are all portrayed majestically yet betray a poignant resignation to their fate. Placed in isolation as individual prints, they are positioned on the same level of elevation as the artist’s illustrious screenprints of 20th-century luminaries, such as Marilyn Monroe, Liz Taylor and Muhammad Ali. Complete sets of Warhol prints are very rare to the market.
The auction features further works by Warhol: his Self-Portait, a unique colour screenprint from 1967, estimate £50,000-70,000; the famous Cambell’s Soup II series, the complete set of ten screenprints in colours from 1968, estimate £100,000-150,000; Shoes, a colour screenprint with diamond dust from 1980, estimate £45,000-65,000; and three Sunset screenprints, each in a unique combination of colours, from 1972, with estimates ranging from £6,000-8,000 to £10,000-12,000.
The Modern Prints in the sale are spearheaded by a very rare woodcut by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and a collection of works by Edvard Munch. Kirchner’s Kühe im Frühling comes to the auction market for the first time in its history with an estimate of £80,000-120,000 and a provenance that can be traced directly to the artist. Executed in 1933 and printed in a unique combination of seven different colours – green, ochre, black, violet, rose, blue and dark brown – it is a tour-de-force in colour printmaking, which Kirchner had perfected at this relatively late stage in his life. In Davos, he was introduced to a farmer named Ruesch, from whom he rented an alpine hut on Stefelalp. Kirchner formed a fond friendship with Ruesch’s son, Dr. Ruesch, and daughter-in-law, Annemarie Jacobson Ruesch. This resulted in Dr. Ruesch accumulating an outstanding collection of prints by Kirchner, including the present work. The innovations Kircher brought to the printmaking process demonstrated a departure from the traditional method of using a different woodblock for each colour; instead, he used only three blocks which he cut apart, then inked each individual piece and re-assembled them for the printing process. The image of the human being and beast living in harmony has a tense undertone, expressed in Kirchner's juxtaposition of strong colours. It reflects his despair which was caused by the political turmoil in his native Germany with the coming to power of the National Socialist Party and its inherent threat to his art. In the year Kühe im Frühling was produced, Kirchner focused on printmaking and the resulting colour woodcuts are considered among the most important of the artist's graphic oeuvre.
A collection of works by Edvard Munch features one of the artist's most important prints. Two Human Beings. The Lonely Ones is a very rare, early woodcut, printed in pale blue, black, green, yellow and orange. Produced in 1899, it depicts a man and woman, facing in the opposite direction of the viewer, standing on a shoreline looking out to a horizon bathed in the light Nordic summer night. The alienation experienced by the two figures is tangible. Munch carved his own wooden blocks and cut them to create shapes which he then reassembled much like a jigsaw. Signed by Munch and estimated at £250,000-350,000, the present woodcut is among the most beautifully modulated in the series. Further prints by Munch include Woman, a lithograph from 1899, estimate £80,000-100,000; the fifth and final state Madonna lithograph in black, blue, red and olive green, estimate £100,000-150,000 and a monochrome version of The Brooch, Eva Mudocci, a lithograph from 1903, estimate £40,000-60,000.
Two prints by Roy Lichtenstein comprise motifs familiar from the artist's oeuvre: Reflections on the Scream, from the 1990 Reflections series, a lithograph with screenprint and woodcut printed in colours, estimate £50,000-70,000 and Crying Girl, from 1963, an offset lithograph printed in colours, estimate £15,000-25,000.
Old Masters: Exceptional works by Dürer and Rembrandt
Dürer’s Saint Jerome in his Study and Knight, Death and the Devil were produced in 1513-14, during the artist’s most fruitful period for engravings. These two works are widely acknowledged as the ‘master engravings’ which represent the pinnacle of his achievement in the medium, and as such are among his most famous and influential works. Saint Jerome at his Study is original in design, with its evocative atmosphere and detailed setting: the window allows magical patterns of light to play on the arches, the ceiling beams and floor, giving the composition a variety of tone and contrasts, which are a hallmark of Dürer’s skill. This print was so popular with his contemporaries that more impressions of it were sold or given while he was in the Netherlands than any other print at the time. The present impression is estimated at £70,000-90,000.
Dürer referred to the engraving Knight, Death and the Devil as ‘Der Reiter’ (the horseman) and each element of the composition can be unravelled as ominous symbols. There have been various interpretations as to who the Knight represents; possibly Martin Luther, Girolamo Savonarola, Pope Julius II and the warrior knight Franz von Sickingen. The ability of the work to prompt questions in the 21st-century demonstrates how evocative and complex the composition is. This fine impression is estimated at £30,000-60,000
Rembrandt is represented in the sale with a group of the most important subjects among his graphic works. The Three Crosses (estimate: £200,000-300,000) rivals the impact of one of the artist’s paintings with its subject matter and grand scale. It is often singled out as the masterpiece of his printed oeuvre. Executed almost exclusively in drypoint, the work displays Rembrandt’s sensitivity to and dexterity with the medium. Due to the fragile nature of the drypoint technique, he knowingly printed a small edition which increased the rarity of each impression pulled. The sophisticated spectrum of tones and volumes in the composition produces a rich, velvety effect which was unparalleled at the time. The work also demonstrates the ability of Rembrandt to capture the emotional intensity of his subjects.
Christ Presented to his People: Oblong Plate (estimate: £70,000-90,000), based on a chapter in Saint Matthew’s gospel, was produced two years after The Three Crosses, on a similarly grand scale and exclusively in drypoint. Rembrandt depicts the moment when Pontius Pilate asks the public whether he should release Barnabas or Christ. Christ, a forlorn figure, is paraded before a group of spectators, many of them Amsterdam citizens of different classes whom Rembrandt had probably sketched at a public entertainment. It is likely that the artist conceived of this work as a pendent to The Three Crosses, perhaps as part of a proposed series of Passion prints that were never completed.
A further important Rembrandt etching is The Three Trees, which is estimated to bring £50,000-70,000. This is the most well-known landscape produced by the artist as it is the largest and most ambitious; few landscape prints rival its evocative and dramatic power. The chiaroscuro effect is achieved with great subtlety and the play of the shadows and tones required technical mastery. The three trees are starkly silhouetted against a clear patch of sky and seem reminiscent of the three crosses at the crucifixion of Christ in The Three Crosses. One interesting detail, upon further looking, includes the pair of lovers obscured in the undergrowth at lower right, who ignore the climatic drama unfolding around them. The sale also features Rembrandt’s beautiful, intimate study of a nude entitled Woman at the Bath with a Hat Beside Her (estimate: £60,000-80,000).
Within this section, Sotheby’s will present Important Old Master Prints from a Private Collection, which comprises further works by Rembrandt and Dürer. The rarity and quality of the subjects shows the connoisseurship with which they were carefully collected over the years, with a discerning eye. These include Rembrandt’s Self Portrait Leaning on a Stone Sill (estimate: £30,000-60,000), The Great Jewish Bride (estimate: £20,000-30,000), Woman Sitting Half-Dressed Beside a Stove (estimate: £20,000-30,000) and Peter and John Healing the Cripple at the Gate of the Temple (estimate: £20,000-30,000). Engravings as well as a large number of woodcuts from The Large Passion and The Life of the Virgin will be offered from this private collection.
Alongside the present auction, Sotheby's London will offer Important Ceramics by Pablo Picasso from A Private Collection, Including Modern and Contemporary Prints on 19 March. Separate press release on the ceramics available.
Among the highlights are a group of prints by Joan Miró, including an example of the most highly prized subject in the artist's graphic oeuvre. Equinoxe, an etching with aquatint printed in colours, dates from 1967 and is estimated at £30,000-50,000. Femme au chignon by Pablo Picasso, a lithograph from 1957, shows a profile portrait made all the more dramatic through the artist's use of bold, graphic forms to depict the sitter's facial features, costume and hairstyle (est. £15,000-20,000). A screenprint of Grace Kelly by Andy Warhol, from 1984, is estimated to bring £25,000-35,000. The undisputed star of the collection is Warhol's Flowers, the complete set of ten colour screenprints from 1970. Dazzling in their various colour combinations, the group is estimated to bring £220,000-300,000. The collection also features the complete set of ten screenprints of Flowers from 1974, with hand-colouring (estimate: £15,000-20,000). Delicate and fragile in appearance, these blooms are a stark contrast to the bolder series from four years previously.