Seems to me that drawings are on a tear, much as sculptures have been for the last several years.  Oils have long outpaced works on paper and 3-D objects, by more than I would have expected.  Of late however there has been a meteoric rise in the value of works in both of these laggards. Three very high-end sculptures have recently been sold (the $100M+ Giacometti, and a Matisse and a Modigliani each topping $40M), which is a big step in correcting this market disparity.  (Picasso sculptures have topped out at just under $30M, more because of lack of availability than desirability, I believe.)  With drawings, it might be too soon to be conclusive, given the small number of recent high-end sales.  But yesterday’s sale of a small black chalk Raphael drawing for just under $48M, in addition to the small black-and-white Picasso work on paper described in my last post (The Results are In ), are hopefully the beginning of a long-overdue trend.  This 37 cm Raphael, as you may have heard, is a world’s auction record for a work on paper:

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…but I don’t mean the elections. There were so many astonishing results in the NY auctions this week.  For the sake of brevity (and diplomacy), I’ll limit my comments to the two paintings I previewed (below) as well as one particular drawing.  Let’s start with the drawing, by far the most riveting result:

Le Viol (The Rape, 1940), pen, brush and ink on paper, 38 x 46 cm, was estimated at $4-6M but fetched $13,522,500.  This result speaks for itself, though I’m not exactly sure what it says.  Except that it breaks the world’s record by a mile for a black-and-white work on paper by Picasso.  It also comes in at the heels of the third priciest Picasso work on paper of all, including those in color.  But the three more expensive and more colorful works were all considerably larger.  This is more expensive than those three for its size, and is the second most expensive Picasso work on paper of all for its size (independent of whether the calculations are performed with the area or with the longer of the height or width).   This record is perhaps all the more remarkable considering its dark subject matter, in contrast to the more placid collection of acrobats, harlequins, and women, with the occasional still life and animal thrown in, of the next 100 contenders.

On the other hand, the Marie-Thérèse and Françoise discussed below (posted on 10-16-12) sold close to their low estimates for $41,522,500 and $5,234,500, respectively.  I think the lucky buyer(s) of these two paintings should be prosecuted for theft.

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My hats off to the Yanks!  You are truly irrepressible!  These have been the toughest days any region of the country has faced since NY was hit by 9/11 and New Orleans and vicinity by Katrina.  As a result, the NY Stock Exchange was closed for two days this week, but it took but one day for the art market to resume in full force, at least uptown where the floodwaters were not as severe.  Auctions this week went on as scheduled or were delayed by no more than a day.  Downtown, where the depredations of the storm were more severe, repairs are already underway.  It is truly amazing how quickly you jumped back and resumed business as usual.  What a testament to your incredible resilience!

As an aside, the lightning-fast rebound of the art market could also be viewed as a testament to the depth of the commitment to collecting.  This can only be attributed to the profound meaning and joy with which art enriches our lives and makes one’s pain so much more bearable.

Perhaps the only good thing that could be said about Sandy is the unexpected love-fest she engendered between Barack and the conservative heavyweights Bloomberg and Chris Christie  (and, if not of similar importance but certainly vital to the individuals involved, the great boon to NY conservators as a result of the Chelsea flood).

Best wishes to you all as you recover and rebuild!

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10.16.12 | add comment  

Wusson da Block

Tête de femme (1952)

There are a number of lovely Picasso paintings and works on paper in NY this season, but the one that stands out the most is the above oil painting of Françoise at Christie’s.  Although Picasso created quite a number of beautiful drawings and prints of his new lover, his paintings of her were generally not among his best.  This painting is that much more remarkable, because it certainly ranks as one of the finest paintings of Françoise, arguably one of the two best.  The other one, La femme-fleur (The Woman-Flower), is in the subject’s private collection.  (In the end, it seems Françoise didn’t fare that badly….)

Picasso must have been pleased with this painting.  The day before he had painted this smaller oil:

…and he must have known he was on to something.  Then he refined his thoughts with the painting at hand, and also made this style du jour more widely available by recreating it in a large aquatint format, La Femme a la Fenêtre, one of his very finest prints, in an edition of 73:

Another beautiful portrait of Françoise was featured last May at Sotheby’s with the same estimate as the current lot, $4-6M:

Tête de femme (1946)

At 55 cm, it was a bit bigger, and it sold for just over the high estimate.

The only argument that can explain the ridiculously low estimate for the current offering, other than the sellers’ desire to engender a feeding frenzy, is its comparatively small size (45.7 cm).  But the painting is limited to the woman’s head, and this head is at least as large as any of her best portraits.  Still, for those who don’t grade art like real estate–that is, in terms of size, this painting should soar much higher, easily triple the high estimate.

This smallish painting is reminiscent of the even smaller but at least as wonderful Marie-Thérèse oil that I blogged about last season.  At just under $10M, that one went above the high estimate, but not nearly what I think it’s worth.  In that case, size and simplicity worked in favor of the buyer. In the present case, simplicity should no longer be a mitigating factor in anyone’s eyes (it never is in mine), but we’ll see what happens this time with respect to size.

Before we leave the subject of paintings, for those of you who may be unacquainted with La femme-fleur, the most important portrait of Françoise bar none, here’s a photo:

La femme-fleur (1946)

If you’re not quite in the above price bracket, there’s also a lovely contour drawing of this muse, well-priced and full size, at Christie’s the very next day (estimate $3-400K):

Portrait de femme

For those of us for whom price is really no object, in the Sotheby’s evening sale there is this serene masterpiece:

Nature morte aux tulips (1932)

It is from the same celebrated year, 1932, as the current Picasso auction record ($106.5M):

Femme nue, feuilles et buste

Though the painting at hand is estimated at $35-50M, it is only a bit smaller (130 cm vs. 162 cm) than the reigning Marie-Thérèse and is, in my opinion, at least as wonderful.  (Frankly, in my mind there is no contest.)  There’s so much that can be said about this painting, but for now I just want to call attention to his speed.  It is well-known that Picasso was a lightning-fast artist.  But this is the only instance of which I’m aware in which he recorded the time it took for him to paint a given work. The stretcher, according to the Sotheby’s, is inscribed “H 9 à 11 1/2  Hs”, that is, 9 AM to 11:30 AM.  Picasso had apparently impressed himself, not to mention the rest of us.

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Though the year in art has just begun, I feel nonetheless confident in saying that the best buy of the year has already occurred. Le repos (The Repose, 1932), a serene portrait of Marie-Thérèse sleeping on her hands, is the finest artwork I’ve seen all year and one of my very favorite portraits of this model:

Smallish (46 cm), yes, but I for one don’t judge artworks by their size, unlike so many of the real estate speculators in the art market. This gem sold at Christie’s NY in May for just under $10M on an estimate of $5-7M. (It last sold in the same room a decade earlier for just over $3M, and before that was bought in at Christie’s London in 2001.) At the risk of losing all credibility, I prefer this simpler and much smaller work to the world’s auction record sale, the contemporaneous  Nude, Green Leaves and Bust.

Another Marie-Thérèse from the same sale also took my breath away, a full-sized 1933 watercolor and pen and ink entitled Sur la terrasse, which brought in $1,594,500 on an estimate of $5-700,000:

Here Picasso is imagining that the sculpture he’s sketched would one day grace a town plaza.  This in fact came to pass, but not with any of the bronzes of Marie-Thérèse that this drawing resembles. Rather, Picasso dedicated a nice but much less amazing bronze of Dora Maar to the memory of Apollinaire, which now commands a church plaza at Blvd. St. Germain des Prés, and also presented the coastal town of Vallauris with his 1943 L’homme au mouton (Man with Sheep), in which town square it now presides. Picasso had preferred to dedicate one of the Marie-Thérèse bronzes to the memory of his good friend, but the memorial committee considered them too radical (see Picasso in Exile ). Though Picasso didn’t get his wish, in this drawing he imagines how his bronze might have looked in a town square, not in Paris but in the French Riviera, where he and Marie-Thérèse summered together, often furtively while dodging his first wife Olga. I find the sketchy manner very charming with which he rendered her sculpted head and the trees and buildings, in a dreamy village by the sea.

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Check out the ABC News story for which yours truly was interviewed, “A Picasso for $14? Ohio Man Buys Print in Thrift Store”. Well, I guess I’m just not satisfied with 15 seconds of fame–I’d like to catapult to 20! So here’s what the kind journalist edited out of my comments. Despite all the problems with the poster, and particularly with the signature, that she quoted in that story, the journalist made it sound like I had concluded the signature was fake and maybe even the linocut. Actuallly, all in all, I imagine that the print is real, the red signature was distorted photographically to give it a pinkish hue, and it is just an unusually unevenly faded but authentic signature. And, since she didn’t mention the proviso, then I will restate that of course these observations are based on a review of digital images, which is not the same as examining the art in the flesh.

Plus, someone inexplicably cropped the majority of the signature illustrated in the story. Here’s a close-up of the whole autograph:

Everyone seems to be panning the quality of this artwork and urging its new owner, Zachary Bodish, to sell it. He, on the other hand, has been getting attached to it. (Sound familiar?) Well, though I wouldn’t buy this poster, there are some nice things one can say about it. For example, there is its amusing feature of the small annular marks in the corners and in the middle of the edges.  Picasso, up to his usual visual jokes, intends these marks to represent the nails used to affix this poster ad to the wall. In all his tens of thousands of artworks, there are only two other occasions of which I’m aware in which he depicted such faux-nails, both linocut posters advertising two other Vallauris ceramic exhibits of his the preceding year. Not that a single nail ever touched this hallowed poster board–even such lowly posters as this, yet signed and numbered, were more likely distributed in Paris by his dealer Kahnweiler.  

See you at Salvation Army! -Kobi

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03.31.12 | add comment  

Color Starvation

Question: I am looking for a more colorful piece than the prints you show. Do you have any? -GH

Response: There are very Picasso prints that are both colored and great and none that we presently own.  I wouldn’t need all the fingers of one hand to count the truly great ones.  Almost without exception, Picasso’s greatest prints are black-and-white, as is widely acknowledged.  Only one colored print enters most sophisticated collectors’ top 10 list.  And most of the colors fade, so that today, 50 years or more after their printing, most of the available colored prints have faded to one degree or another.  Add to that the realization that color increases cost dramatically, and one is often led to the conclusion that the goal should be great concept and great design, with perhaps less emphasis on color.  To top it off, as Picasso said, “Color weakens.”  I ultimately don’t buy it, and Picasso, who had elevated goofing on his interviewer to an art form long before Bob Dylan was born, may not have exactly meant it either, but it’s amusing to trot out his quote on such occasions.  In any event, I find that it is easier (and less costly) to provide the much-needed color in one’s decor in other ways, such as with the works of lesser artists, while cherishing Picasso for the breathtaking genius of his line, a line alternately complex and (deceptively) simple. -Kobi

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I guess it paid off to stick it in their evening sale.  Yes, folks, last night’s La femme qui pleure, I at Christie’s NY went for $5,122,500, thereby setting the world’s record for a print by any artist.  It also more than doubled the previous record for a Picasso print at auction, an unsigned impression of La Minotauromachie at just under $2M last year in London.  Wait just a minute—I have to stop and catch my breath….

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Tête couronnée (Crowned Head)

Yesterday  marked Picasso’s 130th birthday.  Hard to imagine that the quintessentially modern artist lived so long ago!  Included in our collection is a Blue Period drawing that is shockingly over a century old—a veritable antique.  Happy birthday, Pablo!

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There are some nice offerings at the fall auctions in NY, but before we get to the paintings, it is noteworthy that for the first time, at least of which I’m aware, prints have made one of the storied evening sales.  Both their low estimates exceed the million $ barrier, and both are at Christie’s, consisting of an unsigned Minotauromachie and a signed impression of  La Femme qui Pleure, I (Bl.1333), the final (7th) state:

What’s even more remarkable, it seems to me, is the unusually large number of really nice paintings, eleven in the Christie’s evening sale alone.

At Sotheby’s, there’s the fascinating 1927 Guitare accroché au mur:

and the huge late Picasso painting, one of the nicer ones, L’Aubade (The Dawn Serenade, 1967):

At Christie’s (in chronological order), there’s the small 1919-20 Guéridon devant une fenêtre aux volets fermés:

a serviceable Marie-Therese, the 1935 Femme endormie:

a decent Dora, the 1938 Femme assise:

a very nice still life, more colorful than many wartime images, the 1944 Citrons et verre:

a good animal combat, the 1965 Homard et chat sur la plage:

and, last, the 1968 Mousquetaire buste, an amusing piece and a good value for the money:

There are also a couple of wonderful, full-sized drawings, one at Christie’s, the 1938 Figure féminine assise:

the other at Sotheby’s, the 1969 Homme au turban et nu couché, (PP69.399, catalogue # misprinted in their ecatalogue):

Let the games begin!

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