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Flash news: Foujita & Sanyu at Phillips’ – Aristophil… Chapter 3

[12/04/2019]

Phillips Exhibition in Paris: Foujita / Sanyu: Muses & Models,

Phillips, which has not yet organized any public sales at its Paris office on Rue du Bac, recently organised an exceptional exhibition of works by the Japanese artist Tsuguharu FOUJITA (1886-1968) and the Chinese artist Chinese SAN Yu (1895-1966) at the Grand Palais. The show’s dates, 19-30 March, were judiciously selected to coincide with Paris Drawing Week, thereby benefiting from the presence of the latter’s well-informed public. Destined to be mounted in other countries as well, it was logical that this travelling exhibition should start in Paris considering the role the city played in the respective careers of the two artists, who both forged their styles in dialogue with their contemporaries, including Picasso, Matisse and Modigliani.

Thirty or so works, most of them on paper, showcased their exploration of the female nude. From Sanyu’s spontaneous and elliptical lines to Foujita’s more controlled and synthetic lines, both combining techniques inherited from Japanese prints and Chinese calligraphy with modern sensuality and 1920s Parisian emancipation, the show offered an interesting comparison of the art and destinies of these two major artists. One work, A Reclining Nude (1931) by Foujita depicting his muse and companion Madeleine, was already known to Foujita followers for having fetched $286,000 in 1988 at Sothebys New York, an auction record at the time for a work on paper by the Franco-Japanese master. Phillips clearly made a particular effort in selecting a number of superb sheets still in private hands to mount this exhibition of artists who are more than ever in demand. Their secondary market prices reflect this demand with Foujita’s work up 64% since 2000, while’s Sanyu prices have risen 2,123% over the same period… the latest drawing by Sanyu to be auctioned – Femme au foulard rouge (1920-1930) – fetched almost $100,000 more than its high estimate in Hong Kong, indicating extremely motivated demand for this Chinese Matisse ($223,000 at the Sothebys sale on 1 April 2019).

The next stop for the show is, again logically, Hong Kong (May 18 to 31) where the sheets will be for sale on the basis of estimatesondemand. This type of operation is becoming increasingly common for major auctioneers who, by investing in curated events, increase the desirability of works without having to rely on museums.

Aristophil… Chapter 3

In 2017, four French auction operators, Aguttes, Ader, Artcurial and Drouot Estimations, were legally entrusted with the sale of the Aristophil Collections, a mission involving nearly 300 auction sales over approximately six years. The rocambolesque story of the Aristophil Collections is supremely complex and involves a large number of magnificent collections as well as a major financial scandal. Founded in 1990 by a certain Gérard Lhéritier, the quasi-fund company sold shares in assets such as manuscripts, letters, art and autographs (the shares being directly linked to specific assets).

Among other assets, the company had managed to acquire some of the finest and rarest collections of manuscripts and letters known to exist, including André Breton’s Manifesto of Surrealism, Quinte Curce’s illuminated fifteenth century history of Alexander the Great and Marie Antoinette’s letters in 1790, and many others. Nearly 18,000 people invested in the fund’s shares against the idea that the assets to which the shares were linked would generate handsome returns when resold. Unfortunately, the company managing the quasi-fund (which the AMF had refused to legitimize) turned out to be running a Ponzi scheme whereby customers who resold their shares were given comfortable capital gains resulting from the ‘arrival’ of new customers. In the space of a few years, the whole system collapsed as the assets at the root of the investments were discovered to have been absurdly overvalued. The scandal erupted in 2015 and the French courts ordered a vast program of sales in an attempt to compensate the victims of the scam.

The 3rd part of this enormous re-sale project began in early April at the Parisian auction centre, Hotel Drouot, divided into seven sessions. Two at Aguttes on 1 April were devoted to fine art, combining drawings and paintings with artists’ writings: correspondence with dealers, letters to revered masters, some reading like genuine aesthetic manifestos. Among the remarkable lots, several works by Henri MARTIN (1860-1943) were sold. A bright oil-on-canvas titled Le bassin generated the best result of the sale fetching $585,000 under the hammer of Francis Briest. Unfortunately was only half what it fetched in 2012 when the painting sold for over a million dollars at Rennes Enchères. Another disappointment involved a painting by Camille PISSARROLe Grand Noyer in Eragny – which fetched $681,000 in 2013 (at Sotheby’s London) but failed to sell this time, despite a low estimate of $336,000.

Although other results were more balanced – including that obtained for a beautiful pencil drawing by Vincent VAN GOGH (Wheat field enclosed by a wall) which sold for $438,000 versus $434,500 when purchased in 2012 at Sotheby’s, New York – the investors caught up in the Aristophil scandal are unlikely to get all their money back, primarily because the original assets at the root of the scheme (also acquired at auctions) were subsequently sold to them at much higher prices. Not surprisingly, the sale of this breathtaking “collection” is being closely monitored by the French State and many historical documents have been claimed as public archives. Forbidden from leaving the territory and inalienable, some of the documents have therefore been appropriated by the French State (in line with French law regarding cultural and historical assets) without any obligation to compensate the existing owners.

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