Wuzon da Block

On a jet-lagged early morning, I’d like to spill my thoughts onto this screen so you can hurry and see these spectacular Picassos, in case you happen to be in the ‘hood.  This time I sojourned in NY with one of our kids, and I have to say that the apostate Sofie chose as the best-in-show not a Picasso at all, but rather a Warhol painting.  Well, Superman is an admittedly spectacular Warhol, but since I’m writing this and not Sofie, it’s not going to be illustrated here.

The 1000-pound gorilla in the room was the unavoidable Les Femmes d’Alger, Version O:

1955 Les Femmes d’Alger, Version O

This Christie’s blockbuster, which is predicted (and I believe also guaranteed) to break the world auction record to the tune of something like $145M USD, was one of 15 paintings and a variety of drawings and prints that Picasso created à la Delacroix, and also as an homage to Matisse, who had died five weeks before Picasso began the series.  Picasso’s friend and really his only rival had famously depicted the harem and other “orientalist” scenes, and, as usual, Picasso wanted to one-up him.  A tribute, yes, but also, shall we say, an improvement.

Past that wonderful painting, the two pieces I was tempted to sneak away with are the print at Christie’s, La Femme qui Pleur, I (the 7th and final state, est. $4-6M):

B1333 La Femme qui Pleur, I, State VII

Last time another impression was auctioned, it broke the $5M mark and thereby set a world’s record for original prints.  (And I am pleased to remind you that it was unsigned.)

The other is the lovely and hilarious ceramic of 1952, Le Hibou Noir (est. $800,000-$1,200,000) at Sotheby’s:

1952 Le Hibou Noir, Soth. NY 2015

Wuzon da Block?

BIRDBRAIN

La Chouette, 1950
La Chouette, 1950

Here’s an owl worth noting at Sotheby’s evening sale in London this week.  In my opinion, it is the one of the two nicest Picasso owls and arguably the most desirable Picasso terracotta or ceramic, period.

This ceramic was one of about a dozen that were cast from a mold, as well as six bronzes.  Picasso then painted each ceramic differently.  The bronze version is lovely and is of course sturdier than the ceramic, but I find the painted terracottas to be more expressive than the bronzes and, in a number of cases, more beautiful.

It is noteworthy that five of these ceramic variants including the current lot (but no bronze) were included in the MOMA’s 1980 Picasso retrospective, the greatest and largest Picasso retrospective that ever was and will ever be.  It is highly significant that any one of them, much less five as well as a photo showing Picasso seated next to one, was included in this show, which had at its disposal the very best of the best.

The provenance of this particular variant is also significant, as it comes from Marina Picasso’s inheritance.

Wuzon da Block?

Starter Picasso

Nature morte à la cruche, 1937

Time was you could still land a nice Picasso canvas for under a mil. Today, with few exceptions, you’re looking at a cool 2 or 3 mil, or then some, for a starter Picasso.  Yet, more likely than not, what you get for your money is uninspiring.

So along comes this offering at Christie’s London.  I must say that the first time I leafed through their online catalogue, this painting didn’t catch my eye.   That first time around, I had judged it merely as one would a still life and, as such, I readily dismissed it.  After all, Picasso certainly painted many more beautiful and more clever still lifes.  But when my printed catalogue arrived, I gave it a closer look.  Now I saw a lovely, colorful painting in which Picasso’s lover Marie-Thérèse is depicted not once but twice, as the bowl of fruit in the foreground and also in the drawing-within-a-painting hanging on the wall.  The jug struck me as rather masculine, convincing me that it represents a male suitor, Picasso to the fruit bowl’s Marie-T.  Of course the master’s ego had to endure an ample belly, a small sacrifice in the service of art.  As if resigned to this fate, he highlighted his contour in white.   Well, there are other Picasso portraits of women à  la pitchers, two of them quite renowned, but offhand I can’t think of another artwork in which the pitcher is the doppelgänger for the Maitre himself.  (By the way, the Christie’s catalogue caption is well-crafted and informative and totally worth reading.  And its author agrees with me, at least on most points.)

There is an auction history for this piece.  It BI’ed in 2005 on an estimate of 600-800K USD, but it did sell in 2010, not the very best of times, for just over 1.1M USD.

All things considered, this is a pretty nice entry-level oil, and, at 56 cm, not even a small one at that.  And it’s signed, for what that’s worth.  All this, on an estimate of 800,000 – 1,200,000 GBP (1,213,040 – 1,819,560 USD).  Not bad for a starter Picasso….

Get your tickets now!

Musée Picasso photo

After five long years of abject deprivation, we can now bask in Picasso Central once again.  Following extensive renovation and a doubling of its exhibition space, Le Musée Picasso reopens tomorrow, on the maitre’s 133 birthday.  It has surely been a long, dry spell….

Wuzon da Block?

Bouffon et Jeune Acrobate  1905, gouache
Bouffon et Jeune Acrobate
1905, gouache

The most beautiful and most important piece in all the auctions is amazingly underpriced.  It’s at Sotheby’s Imp/Mod evening sale, lot 63.  The most recent  comparable sale among the oils and works on paper (WOPs) of 1905 was this one, far smaller and less beautiful:

1905 Saltimbanque assis OPP.034
Saltimbanque assis, 1905
pen + ink + watercolor

This tiny (14.4 cm), faint, unsigned watercolor just brought down 434,500 GBP (710,083 USD) at Sotheby’s London earlier this year.  Yet the Sotheby’s estimate is only $2.5-3.5M for the present 58 cm gouache.

The priciest sale of this gorgeous series of Saltimbanques on paper went for over $38M way back in around 1986, setting a record for a WOP that has not yet been broken:

Acrobate et Jeune Arlequin1905, gouache
Acrobate et Jeune Arlequin
1905, gouache

OK, I’d rather have this record sale, despite my love of The Fat Man, but the fat man and the young acrobat at Sotheby’s is stupendous and a giveaway at this estimate.

Skipping several periods ahead, here’s a WOW surrealist drawing, the most amusing I’ve seen at auction in the series:

Baigneuse au Ballon1929, pen + ink
Baigneuse au Ballon
1929, pen + ink

My third and final pick is the nicest late Picasso on cardboard I’ve ever seen, at Sotheby’s evening sale (and, in my opinion, one of the nicest late Picasso paintings of all in any medium),  a large painting (97 cm) at a very reasonable estimate of  $4-6M:

Tête d'Homme à la Pipe1969, oil on cardboard
Tête d’Homme à la Pipe
1969, oil on cardboard

Good luck at the races, people!

There’s More for Concern than the Prick of the Lance

B908 hirez

Now that I’ve encountered 5 confirmed forgeries and 2 suspected ones of the same linocut, more than I’ve seen of any other print outside of the Vollard Suite, I thought you might want to know about it.  The print in question is “Pique, Rouge et Jaune” (“Lance, Red and Yellow”, Bloch 908).  I came across the two that are merely suspect years ago, before I knew exactly what to look for.  But one of them was in the shop of a dealer convicted of (unwittingly) selling forgeries, and its price was too low.  The other was such a bad impression like I’ve never seen in a real linocut, with large swaths of the image incompletely covered with ink.  (A similarly poor impression is currently at auction at the time of this writing and is clearly forged.)

There is a silver lining–or two:  First, none of these was in the hands of a reputable auction or private dealer.  (The first poor impression referenced above was in a gallery with which I have had no personal experience and can’t fully judge its reputation.)  Second, the distinction between the forgeries and the real thing is satisfyingly trivial, if you just know what to look for.  But since you, dear reader, might not, I thought I’d not only alert you to the prevalence of these forgeries, but also show you how to identify them for yourself.  Ordinarily, I don’t publish such tips, for fear that they’ll fall into the wrong hands, but in this case, the discrepancies can’t be corrected for, because they reflect an apparently inherent limitation in the resolution of the reproductive process.  Also, I’ll reveal just enough so that you can positively identify the forgeries from photographs alone, without discussing several other types of discrepancies, some of which would be more apparent upon direct inspection.  You would need to compare a print in question either to the real thing or, barring that, to a good photo.  Even the smallish photo in Baer is good enough for this purpose, and Kramer will do but is not great.  Just compare the prints, or photos thereof, side-by-side, focusing on the details of each, and see if there are variances between the two.  You will find numerous fine distinctions if one is a forgery, but here’s just one example of what I mean (first, side-by-side close-ups for orientation, then further magnified close-ups for detailed analysis):

B908 best side-by-side
Copy                                       Original

B908 forgery close-up
Copy, further magnified

B908 orig. close-up
Original, further magnified

Note the “O”-shaped structure at the tip of the lance–it’s fluffy on top in the actual print but smooth in the forgery.  The “O” is also much more uniform in width than in the original.  There are additional discrepancies just in these close-ups, let alone the remainder of the prints, which should be obvious once you start looking.

Another caveat: just because a print you’re examining doesn’t resemble the above forgery doesn’t mean it’s real.  There are at least two different forgeries.  Theoretically, there could be more than two, but I have seen (and photographically archived) two forgeries which differ from each other, as well as from the original, in their details.  Logically, a print you’re examining must resemble the original in detail if it is real itself.

There are certainly other forged linocuts on the market.  The source of the first forged Pique I encountered had consigned a number of lesser linos to a Parisian auction, which succeeded in selling most of them.  I’ve however seen only forged “one offs” of other linos.  My experience could certainly be skewed.  Nonetheless, particular caution is warranted when shopping for this bright red-and-yellow linocut masterpiece. (See http://ledorfineart.com/B908_La_Pique.html for a discussion of the artwork itself.)

Hijinks in Hong Kong

Hi, Kobi!   Just some comments on the Art Basel Hong Kong show.  Hmmm…where to start?  I met several top art dealers from NY, London, Milan, Paris, etc. who deal in Picasso.  I saw some nice Picassos (and some very disturbing Contemporary Art).  My overall impression is that the people who regularly buy from these dealers must be incredibly naive.  I won’t bore you with all the conversations, just a sampling.

“Provenance? It’s in Zervos, which is a catalogue raisonné (spoken slowly apparently so my slow mind can grasp the French words)…that’s all the proof you need.  If it’s in there it’s genuine.  Here, let me show you a copy of the page.”

“But what if it’s a fake?”  (Apparently few have inquired beyond “Zervos…maybe because there is no letter after Z.)
“We’ve been in business for 20 years.”

I’m thinking, OK, let’s try this another way:  “How about a Certificate of Authenticity?”
From the look on his face, I think few have gone this far as it means an implied question of his integrity.

“I wouldn’t do that…people could attach it to a fake.”

But couldn’t they do the same with your invoice, so what’s the problem?

He’s ready for me:  “Besides it’s the law in the U.S. – I have to guarantee the goods are as sold.”

Before I can respond to his circular logic, he’s looking for a more pliable buyer:  “Ahh, excuse me but I see the Sultan of Brunei, one of my closest BFFs.”

Then I ran into an art dealer whom I had met before who was pushing his expert from Paris and advising me not to ask too many questions or the Parisian would withhold the opportunity to buy his Picassos.  When I asked why that was, he pointed to a man. “See that guy, that’s  one of the richest dudes in HK. He has 3 yachts and he buys from my guy to get the best deals.”

So I have two quick flashes: 1. Not only can’t he possible use 3 yachts but the minute after he bought them, they depreciated more than the national budget of Kenya.  2. If he has that much stupid money, what the hell does he care if he saved a few quid-–isn’t he into the aesthetics of the artwork?  Dr. Watson…something seems out of his kilt here.

Then I encountered another HK dealer whom I had also previously met on my last trip who just said flatly that I wasn’t their kind of client…apparently I knew too much about Picasso….

Moving on…I met with a good framer.  I’ll scan and send you their brochure.

So that’s about it…the Good (Picassos), the Bad (contemporary art) and the Ugly (Ovid’s Metamorphosed Used-Car Salesmen, aka High Art Dealers)…

Regards,

HaoZi

Best in Show

 

1923 TÊTE DE JEUNE HOMME

This time my “best in show” pick is a clear choice, despite the fact that its estimate is more than an order of magnitude lower than the top estimates.  The “show” to which I’m referring is this week’s battle between the giants, Christie’s and Sotheby’s.  The battlefield is London.   As the forces prepare for battle, perhaps you’ve noticed a stalwart young man among them, the Tête de Jeune Homme (Head of a Young Man), a full-sized drawing and a paragon of Picasso’s Neoclassical Period.  Picasso created it with black conté crayon, my favorite medium in drawing because of the glistening, bold mark it produces.  I must disclose that I haven’t traveled to London to view this drawing in the flesh, nor does its line appear particularly bold or glistening in the catalogue photos.  Never mind, even if it were charcoal or pencil, that wouldn’t detract from its magnificence.

 

On average, I wasn’t all that impressed with the fare from the storied Krugier collection that Christie’s NY presented last fall.  Presumably he sold some of his best works over the years, and perhaps his daughter is keeping others for herself.  But Sotheby’s, which snagged a far smaller piece of the Krugier action, got this drawing, the best work between both of the houses.

 

Earlier in the same evening sale is an Ingres drawing, Three Studies for the Figure of Stratonice, of which the following is a detail:

Ingres, THREE STUDIES FOR THE FIGURE OF STRATONICE, detail

The Ingres is beautiful, but the juxtaposition aptly demonstrates why Ingres will be remembered as a prelude to Picasso.  Ingres was an equally great draftsman, but the profound interest that Picasso’s work inspires is the result not only of Picasso’s equally great draftsmanship but also because of his portrait’s stylistic complexity.  This deceptively simple contour drawing is actually a blend of a fine neoclassical portrait with Picasso’s sculptural style in which by sleight of hand he fashions a two-dimensional artwork seemingly out of solid stone.   The off-center placement of the figure is also crucial, as Picasso promotes the negative space upon which the subject’s eyes gaze as a principal part of the composition.

Sell Out

Picasso + Zervos

The Christian Zervos 33-volume catalogue raisonné of Picasso paintings, drawings and sculptures has just been newly reprinted, a collaborative marketing effort between the original publisher, Cahiers d’Art, and Sotheby’s.  The set will soon be available for $20,000 (gulp!).  In a promotional video distributed by Sotheby’s, Staffan Ahrenberg of Cahiers d’Art states, “It contains over 16,000 images, and it has become the most important reference work on Picasso.”

Well, yes and no.  For those antiquarians among us who are still stuck on the original catalogue raisonné, it lends a bit of cache if your Picasso is illustrated in Zervos, though it does not really add value and is by no means necessary to establish authenticity.  But Picasso made many more artworks than those in Zervos, with estimates running as high as 50,000.  Not counting his approximately 3000 prints editioned on paper and in ceramic, that still leaves the majority of his works that escaped Zervos’ attention.

Nonetheless, Sotheby’s Philip Hook proclaims, “The appearance of a new edition of Zervos is incredibly exciting because it gives such a unique insight into how Picasso worked.  Picasso’s work is recorded in such detail in these volumes, and there is absolutely no substitute for them.”

Really?  What about Alan Wofsy’s Picasso Project?  This 23-volume series published over the last few years in San Francisco (the final 3 volumes are expected soon) may have been unauthorized by the Picasso family and Cahiers d’Art, but it has added over a third more artworks than Zervos.  Plus, Wofsy continues to actively update his archives and has already published several 2nd editions.  Not to mention that the collection is available for a small fraction of the price of either the original or the reprinted Zervos.

John Richardson also weighed in on the new edition: “We’ve all been waiting desperately for someone to pick up on it.  And the fact that there is no color in Zervos, I think, is an enormous asset, because I’d much rather have a very accurate black-and-white image of a painting or a drawing than have some sort of garish reproductions.”

Like every Picasso collector I know, I’d love to see a catalogue raisonné in color.  I don’t know about you, but if I were ready to blow 20 grand on a bunch of illustrations of artworks, I’d insist they be in color.  Sure, I’d rather the colors be as accurate as possible–the colors in books often diverge from the actual colors significantly.  But take a look at any contemporary Sotheby’s catalogue–the colors are pretty darn good.  You’d think that Sotheby’s would hold its book-publishing standards as high as those of its catalogues….

Actually, there was an online catalogue raisonné, mostly in color, of Picassos in all mediums, that was endeavoring to post all of his works.  It was replete with descriptions and discussions of the artworks, extensive day-by-day biographical information, and many scholarly articles.  The Online Picasso Project was begun by Professor Enrique Mallen and had already assembled over 20,000 Picassos.  And it was free!

Red hot!  Red hot!  Get them before they sell out!  And hurry!  25% off for pre-ordering in 2013!