Flash News : Joseph Cornell – Francis Bacon – Gerrit van Honthorst



Every fortnight, Artprice provides a short round up of art market news: Joseph Cornell – Francis Bacon – Gerrit van Honthorst

Joseph Cornell, an American Surrealist in Lyon

Until 10 February 2014, the Museum of Fine Arts in Lyon is holding an exhibition entitled Joseph Cornell and Surrealism in New York. This is a real revelation for French fans of Surrealism, as Joseph CORNELL (1903-1972) is little-known in France compared to other major exponents of the genre. However, this pioneer of collage, construction and assemblage befriended and at times collaborated with artists such as Salvador DALI, Marcel DUCHAMP, Max ERNST et MAN RAY when they were in New York during the 1940s.
The Lyon exhibition presents 269 works, including a selection of Cornell’s boxes. The artist began working on these little treasures in 1931, using simple boxes to display poetic juxtapositions of fascinating objects. The following year, he exhibited at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York, which was to become the hub of Surrealism in New York. Today, these little boxes are particularly popular with Americans (the Cornell market is 96% American and 1.6% French in terms of receipts). In the 1980s these delicate works changed hands for less than $5,000, whereas today they average between $150,000 and $450,000. Their rarity and importance in 20th-century art (not to mention their influence on certain major contemporary artists) mean that Cornell’s prices are now similar to those of other Surrealists. Indeed, in 2013 he attained a new auction record when one of his boxes sold for $4.2 million – eight times its estimate (Magic Soap Bubble Set created in 1940, sold for $4.82 million including buyer’s premium on 15 May 2013 at Christie’s New York). A modified version of this exhibition will take place from 7th March to 8th June at the Fralin Museum of Art (Virginia, USA).

Bacon at Christie’s

After a triptych by Francis BACON sold for $127 million in 2013 (Three Studies of Lucian Freud, $142.4 million including buyer’s premium on 12th November), making it the most expensive work ever sold at auction, along with the revelation of the buyer’s name (US billionaire Elaine Wynn, ex-wife of Steve Wynn), it is unlikely to go unnoticed that Christie’s is offering another Bacon masterpiece

at its upcoming prestigious sale in February 2014 (Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction, 13 February). The auction house has devoted a whole dossier to a portrait of George Dyer, claiming it is the most important portrait of this subject to appear at auction in a decade. This Portrait of George Dyer Talking dates from 1966, is almost two metres high (198.2 x 147.3 cm) and is undoubtedly one of Bacon’s major works. George Dyer was the artist’s lover and muse and, like Lucian Freud (subject of the record-breaking triptych), he was the subject and inspiration of some of Bacon’s greatest work. Christie’s is expecting to sell this portrait of Dyer for some £30 million. This would be 7 to 8 times higher than the last time it came under the hammer in 2000 (George Dyer Talking sold for £4.1 million or $6 million on 15 November 2000 in New York). If the painting meets expectations it will become Francis Bacon’s third most expensive work.

Gerrit van Honthorst: Masterpiece in New York

Every year at the end of January, Christie’s and Sotheby’s hold major sales of Old Masters. At these occasions, works by historic artists such as Cimabue, Van Dyck, Brueghel, Watteau and Fragonard appear on the market. This year, Sotheby’s is devoting a chapter to the German School, with the highlight being a 17th-century masterpiece by Gerrit VAN HONTHORST (A Merry Group Behind a Balustrade with a Violin and a Lute Player, 99,4 cm x 138,5 cm). Drawing its inspiration from Caravaggio, this work is a true museum piece (a version of this canvas is held by the Museum of Fine Art in Lyon, France). It depicts two boisterous musicians in the foreground, while behind them a young man is toasting their efforts. The sculptural quality of this work plunges the viewer into an exuberant, musical world. Sotheby’s is focusing strongly on this genre painting, valued at $2-3 million, after its rivals set a new record for this artist of $2.9 million in June 2013 (The Duet, 1624, 5 June 2013, Christie’s New York). So a new record is in the offing, which once again will contribute to the excellent state of the 17th-century German School. This constituted one of the most intense periods of economic and artistic upheaval in Europe’s history.