Flash News: Urban art – Charles Meynier in France – Cranach


Urban art in the spotlight

The 3rd edition of the Paris Urban Art Fair runs from 12 to 15 April 2018 at the Carreau du Temple in Paris. Dozens of French and international galleries will gather around the theme “Why live in town?”. Each will highlight one or two artists from the Urban Art movement in the framework of a carefully orchestrated scenography.

In this particularly abundant segment, several galleries have returned to the event including the Marseille-based David Pluskwa gallery – regularly involved in high-level group shows – and this year proposing work by renowned artists such as JEF AÉROSOL (1957), TANC (1979) and TILT (1973). Also back this year, the Brugier-Rigail gallery – a pillar of the Parisian and global urban art market – with an armada of top-priced Urban artists such as Shepard FAIREY (1970) JONONE (1963) MR CAT (1977) and MISSTIC (1956).

The Openspace gallery – led by specialists Nicolas Chenus and Samantha Longhi, authors of numerous publications including The Guide to Urban Contemporary Art – will be presenting a group show focusing on oneiric figuration, with works by Eric Lacan (1976) aka Monsieur Qui, Robert Proch (1986) and MISS VAN (1973) to whom the gallery is dedicating a retrospective in May 2018. Specializing in American graffiti, the US gallery Wallworks will feature a panel of celebrities including QUATRE and SEEN, and the Swiss auction house / art gallery, Galartis, will be presenting the star lots from its upcoming sale in Lausanne-Crissier entitled Urban Art: Graffiti & Street Art scheduled for 3 June 2018. The 4-day programme for this year’s edition has more signings, installations and performances than previous editions. In addition, reflecting a desire to “democratise” the movement, the UMA (Universal Museum of Art) will present an exclusive virtual reality exhibition dedicated to urban art in partnership with Urban Art Fair.

The fair’s declared aim is to juxtapose the grandpas of graffiti with artists from the new school of Urban Art to enchant professional and amateur buyers and provide additional stimulus to this market that has become one of the most fashionable segments.

Auction record for Charles Meynier… another success for France’s provincial auctioneers

The stately homes, mansions and chateaux of Frances western provinces are full of unexpected wonders. Already this year a canvas found in a cellar in Auray (Brittany) by the Indonesian painter Raden SALEH (1814-1880) (La Chasse au taureau sauvage) fetched nearly $9 million in Vannes when offered for sale by auctioneer Jack-Philippe Ruellan. A double whammy for the provincial operator since it set a new auction record for the artist and an all-time auction record for Brittany.

Lately, Bertrand Couton, an auctioneer-valuer in the Nantes region, discovered a masterly canvas, Télémaque, pressé par Mentor, quitte l’île de Calypso, painted in 1800 by Charles MEYNIER for presentation at the Salon (where he received tremendous praise both from critics and the public). A key work by this central artist of Napoleonic France, the work depicts an episode from a Fenelon novel published in 1699, The Adventures of Telemachus, and reprinted throughout the 18th century. The painting seems to have gone off the radar around 1810. Two centuries later, it resurfaced at Nantes Ivoire on 27 March where it was acquired by a British buyer for nearly $2.5 million, nine times its pre-sale estimate and setting a superb new record for the artist.

It is fair to say that the rediscovery of masterpieces in provincial collections generates results worthy of major international marketplaces… and the phenomenon is not rare in France. In 2011, a Chinese imperial scroll was discovered in the Toulouse region and offered for sale by Labarbe auctions where it fetched no less than $23 million. In 2013, a gold-lacquered Japanese chest (belonging to Cardinal Mazarin) was found in the Touraine region and offered for sale by Rouillac (in Cheverny) where in fetched $7.7 million. More recently, a still-life by the Dutch master Pieter CLAESZ reached $1.4 million in Pau (May 2017). Naturally, these successes reflect the modernization of provincial operators’ marketing techniques which, for example, allow a Russian buyer to be notified of a sale in Senlis (France). In March 2017, a major work by the Russian painter Konstantin A. KOROVIN, fetched over $350,000, more than doubling its estimate.

Online sales platforms have clearly broken the isolation of regional sales companies. Sometimes buyers decide to travel to the sale rather than bidding online. When three bronze Buddhas were offered for sale in 2016, the Asian market reacted vigorously with a number of Chinese buyers arriving in Bordeaux to participate in the auction, raising the stakes to $6.5 million. Of course, another factor in these regional success stories is undoubtedly the ‘prestigious’ provenance of the works offered, which sometimes have an intriguing or illustrious background. In short… unexpected attic discoveries are a constant feature of France’s provincial art market.

A spoliated Cranach to be sold soon

Christie’s is preparing the sale of a superb painting by Cranach the Elder (Lucas I CRANACH, 1472-1553). Expected to fetch between $1 and 2 million at its Old Masters sale on 19 April in New York, the canvas is unlikely to set a new record for the artist, but should mobilize major dealers and Old Master collectors.

The painting is a portrait of John Frederick I of Saxony (1503 -1554) also known as John Frederick the Magnanimous (Portrait of John Frederick I, Elector of Saxony). The German Prince-elector, a friend and patron of Lucas Cranach, is represented on a panel measuring 62.8 x 39.7 cm wearing luxurious attire and an unusually refined red and white bib. The appearance of this superb portrait is in fact the fruit of a long struggle involving a lot of research over many years. After it was lent by the great art collector Fritz Gutmann to the Boijmans Museum in Rotterdam in 1938, the work effectively ‘disappeared’ for 80 years. Two years after the Rotterdam showing, the Nazis occupied Amsterdam and decided to appropriate masterpieces from the superb Gutmann collection. The Gutmann couple, Fritz and Louise, were put under house arrest and their assets confiscated. In 1943 they were sent to Theresienstadt and Auschwitz where they died a year later.

The John Frederick I portrait therefore represents another example of the painful history of the Nazi era and of stolen artworks. But the heirs of Fritz and Louise Gutmann, their children and their grandchildren, did everything possible to find the Cranach work, including working with Interpol and Lost Art, the specialized database for artworks looted during WWII. The Gutmann family continued searching for two generations… never giving up. Fritz Gutmann’s grandson, Simon Goodman, published a book on the subject in 2015 (Orpheus Clock: Search for art treasures stolen from my family by the Nazis). In the end, Christie’s artworks restitution department established the link between the work’s last owners and the lawful heirs and the painting was returned to Simon Goodman.

Regarding the restitution of spoliated arworks, InterPol, public associations, private organizations, States and auction houses all work towards the restitution of cultural property looted during WWII; however much remains to be done. In France in particular, many looted artworks are still in public museum collections. The rightful owners of some 2,000 works classified as MNR (Recovered by National Museums) have still not been identified.