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The Top Lots from New York’s Fall Imps & Mods


It’s blockbuster season in the world’s auction houses, and gavels will fall heavy this autumn. MutualArt checks out the big hitters at Christie’s and Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern sales this month in the Big Apple.

NYC in Fall

New York in the Fall can glow like embers, its leaves like a dying but warming hearth, its activity like sparks. There’s something about the color scheme of the autumnal Big Apple, and the way it seems to re-introduce you to your own sense of sight, which recalls the Impressionist painters.The city is alive with the same energy, celebrating light not as an inherent or general medium, but as a functionary collision-zone between human experience and the material world. No better place or time, then, for the world’s biggest sales of Impressionist and Modern Art.

Each November, Sotheby’s and Christie’s bring their respective hauls of Monets, Manets, Matisses and more to once again engage in sales which continue as a fundamental pillar of the art market. Astronomical sums of money change hands, and some of modern art history’s finest paintings are moved. This year is no exception to the usual stellar quality and historical significance of the top lots. Here are the leading works from each of Sotheby’s and Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art Sales in the Fall of 2019.


Claude Monet, Charing Cross Bridge (1903)

A significant Monet coming to auction will always dominate headlines. It’s highly unlikely that Sotheby’s leading lot this time will match the $110.7m raised by Meules (1891) back in May — the highest amount ever paid for an Impressionist painting — but this view of Charing Cross Bridge doesn’t suffer by comparison to its more expensive cousin. Of Monet’s motifs, perhaps only the water lilies have become more well-known than Charing Cross Bridge.

He painted several views of the Bridge from his room at the Savoy Hotel, London, between 1899 and 1905. The version coming to Sotheby’s was done in 1903.

The water lilies are studies in natural suffusion, mingling material with reflection, and deconstructing the human sensual sphere into a fragrant, synaesthesiac blend. By contrast, the pictures of Charing Cross Bridge enact a tension between sense and structure, form and feel. This painting is a sublime example of Monet’s skill and vision. It’s up for sale with an estimate of $20M — $30M.


Claude Monet, Étretat, Coucher de Soleil (1883)

In the traditionally less gregarious Day Sale, Sotheby’s bring another excellent Monet to the fore. The man-made bridge of Charing Cross is substituted for the famous natural bridge of the chalky Normandy coast. The light is more sombre, the view a little more expansive. Estimated between $1.2M and $1.8M, this sale should generate great interest amongst collectors of the Impressionist master.


Pablo Picasso, La Femme dans un fauteuil (Françoise) (1949)

Writer and artist Françoise Gilot, still active and influential today at 97 years old, first met Pablo Picasso in 1943. She was 21 years old. The painter was 40 years her senior. She became one of his favorite subjects. Among Picassos portraits of Françoise are numbered some of his most energetic depictions of the human face, and some of his most expressive cubistic impulses. But, more than this, his paintings of Françoise show Picasso at his most tender. Elsewhere occupied by conflict and historical time, when painting Françoise, he foregrounds one concern: beauty. This 1949 example is no exception, and leads the Christie’s Evening Sale at $12M — $18M.


Salvador Dalí, Décor pour Roméo et Juliette (1942)

Dalí once quipped that, “the first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot.” The phrase is Shakespearean in its bathetic, bait and switch humor, and also in its guarded approach to the dishonesties of poetry and cliché. There was probably never an artistic mind better suited to illustrating the works of Shakespeare than Dalí. He understood flamboyance and performance; understood, too, the great tragedy within all human activity.

Certain Shakespeare characters are terrified of time. Each second they appear on stage, they can hear the great clock shaving moments from their allotted time. Dalí knew this, and warped his forms and his landscapes to the temporal flux of the universe. The motif of the clock appears here, eking out the tragic lives of the star-crossed lovers. It’s a beautiful work, and a meeting of two of history’s finest artists. It’s available for $800,000 — $1.2M


Henry Moore, Seated Figures (1942)

An always-welcome quirk of Christie’s Imp. & Mod. series, the sale of works on paper from the period offers a chance to collect big name artists at price brackets below the multi-millions. This Henry Moore sketch shows the great sculptor’s intuition for space, form, and weight, even in two dimensions. The social group have a friendly roundness and intelligent shoulders, but their bulk and overlapping energies mean that this space could be claustrophobic rather than intimate. Social or sinister, it’s a brilliant, philosophic invocation of human shape and activity, and a snip at $600,000 — $800,000.

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