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  • Impressionist And Modern Art at Sotheby's
    March 24, 2005 NEW YORK.

    Henri Matisse, Deux fillettes, fenêtre bleue.

    Sotheby's evening sale of Impressionist and Modern Art on May 3, 2005 will be highlighted by a rediscovered masterpiece by Wassily Kandinsky, a historic work from Pablo Picasso's Femmes d'Algers series and a striking Self-Portrait by Max Beckmann. Other works by Alberto Giacometti, Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, Fernand Léger, Chaïm Soutine, Edvard Munch and Balthus, among others, will also be offered. According to Charles Moffett, Co-Chairman of Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern Art Department Worldwide, "The sale is remarkably rich in key images of 20th Century Modernism." Prior to the auction, the works will be on view in Sotheby's expansive 10th floor galleries from April 29th through May 3rd.

    Among the highlights of the evening sale is a rediscovered masterpiece by Wassily Kandinsky entitled Zwei Reiter und liegende Gestalt (Two Riders and Reclining Figure). David Norman, Co-Chairman of Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern Art Department Worldwide, said, "Painted in 1909-10, this brilliantly-colored and fantastical composition had, until recently, been unseen for nearly a century and largely unknown to scholars. It illustrates the crucial moment in Kandinsky's career when identifiable imagery gave way to pure abstraction - a development that would forever change the nature of 20th century art." It is one of two compositions that the artist originally painted on the front and back of a single piece of millboard and it is estimated to sell for $15/25 million*. The other composition, which has since been separated from the reverse of the present work, is currently in the collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. When Kandinsky painted Zwei Reiter und liegende Gestalt in 1909-10 he was integrating this new metaphysical aesthetic with his existing predilection for depicting symbolic motifs and Russian-inspired iconography. The mounted rider, for example, is understood to be the symbol of the dragon slayer, St. George. One can decipher his lance-like arms, outstretched in opposite directions, as he leaps over the hills with his horse. The sleeping figure along the bottom left edge is interpreted as a symbol of introspection and imagination, which were both characteristics that Kandinsky valued very highly in his art. Kandinsky gave the double-sided painting to his friend and fellow Expressionist painter Alexej von Jawlensky. This fact is not surprising, given that the two artists frequently exchanged pictures over the course of their lifetimes. Jawlensky probably received the double-sided millboard from Kandinsky sometime before 1914, and the two compositions must have been separated soon thereafter. It has been proposed that this separation was done by the painting's first owner, Alexej von Jawlensky. Originally unsigned, shortly after the separation, the present work was signed by an unidentified hand, which may have been that of the artist himself, Jawlensky or his assistant Lisa Kümmel. (Separate release available)

    Pablo Picasso's Les Femmes d'Algers from the iconic series of fifteen canvases which the artist dedicated to North African women lounging in their harem will also be offered. Painted in January 1955, the canvas was acquired by New York collectors Dr. and Mrs. John A. Cook in 1962 and has thus been off the market for over 40 years. For five decades from the 1950's to well into the 1990's, Dr. John A. Cook, a New York psychiatrist and psychoanalyst made weekly trips to some of the city's most prominent art galleries. The result is a remarkable and eclectic collection. He was accompanied by his wife Margaret, and often by his daughter Mariana, now a noted photographer. The galleries of Sidney Janis and Pierre Matisse were frequent haunts, as were galleries in Europe. The present work, which is estimated to sell for $15/20 million, is one of fifteen oils executed by the artist between December 13, 1954 and February 14, 1955 depicting the exoticism and pleasures of a harem. Thirteen of these canvases present a scene of four women -- one seated and one reclining, one smoking a hookah and one serving tea -- while the other two depictions focus on a single figure in isolation. Mr. Norman, continued, "The present work is one of the most detailed depictions of the full quartet and is the tenth from the series and often referred to as Les Femmes d'Algers (J). That series, based on the 19th century painter Eugene Delacroix Orientalizing masterpiece of the same name, represents one of the most significant undertakings of the latter half of Picasso's career." Picasso consigned the series to his dealer, Daniel Henry Kahnweiler. All 15 were then purchased by Victor and Sally Ganz on June 8, 1956 for $212,953. The Ganzes kept five of them (C, H, K, M and O) and sold the other ten for $138,000. The present work was acquired by two of Picasso's longtime dealers living in New York, Saidenberg Gallery and later, Paul Rosenberg, who eventually sold it to Dr. Cook in 1962. Also from the Cook Collection is Alberto Giacometti's powerful Grand tête de Diego, a particularly sensitive interpretation of his brother who was his close collaborator, which is estimated to bring $2.5/3.5 million, and a mystical composition by Balthus, L'Enfant aux Pigeons, signed and dated 1960, which is estimated to sell for $1.8/2.5 million. (Separate release available)

    Another outstanding highlight is a striking self-portrait by Max Beckmann entitled Selbstbildnis mit Glaskugel (Self-Portrait with Crystal Ball). As an artist with one of the most expressive and imposing countenances of the 20th century, Beckmann could not resist rendering his own image in countless compositions throughout his career. Mr. Moffet, noted, "Those pictures that he explicitly intended as self-portraits were often the most psychologically intense and thought-provoking of these images. Beckmann painted the present portrait of himself as a prescient sooth-sayer in 1936, only months before he and his wife Quappi fled Germany for Holland on the eve of the Second World War." Selbstbildnis mit Glaskugel (Self-Portrait with Crystal Ball) is a powerful testament to the artist's determination to persevere during those troubled times. And perhaps more than any other picture that he completed while living in Berlin, it anticipates the horrors of the Nazi cataclysm that lay ahead. Earlier in 1936 government authorities shut down Beckmann's exhibition space at the Nationalgalerie in Berlin, claiming that his bold compositions were examples of "degenerate art." Undeterred and perhaps even emboldened by this affront, Beckmann went on to paint this picture, which remains in wonderful original condition, in which he contemplates his fate. Selbstbildnis mit Glaskugel (Self- Portrait with Crystal Ball) is estimated to sell for $10/15 million.

    The subject of the landscape was rarely approached by the Cubists, but in Les Maisons dans les Arbres from 1910, Fernand Léger transforms this view of the French countryside into a spectacle of remarkable depth and formal complexity. The picture dates from 1914, when France was on the verge of war, and it would be one of the last canvases that Léger would complete before being drafted later that year. The subject of the French landscape, therefore, had a special significance in that it was a reminder of what would soon become a battleground. What Léger is depicting here, and in a select group of other landscapes that he completed during this time, is the very thing that the nation was defending. The result is a work of extraordinary freshness and power that captures the dynamism and essential beauty inherent in geometric form. Throughout the 1910s, Léger advanced his understanding of multi-dimensional representation and developed a new way of manipulating form through the use of contrasting colors and negative and positive space. His palette became more conservative; his colors, like those in the present work, were often limited to red, blue, green.