Flash News: Upcoming auction sales in New York – Thomas Houseago in Paris


Monet, Modigliani, Bouguereau… the best works on offer in May

New York’s prestige sales in May look set to generate plenty of spirited bidding battles. We take a look at some of the top lots in the catalogues.

A long row of stacks of wheat in a field at sunset, painted with Claude MONET’s classic pastel colours. The image is so well known it could almost be a logo for Impressionism. Of the 25 canvases Monet painted around the Stacks of Wheat theme – undoubtedly his most famous series – only eight have remained in private hands. One of them, dated 1891, will be auctioned on 14 May 2019 at Sotheby’s in New York. Already sold in 1986 for $2.53 million, the work was previously owned by Bertha and Potter Palmer, a couple of wealthy American collectors who acquired several Wheat Stack paintings through Paul Durand-Ruel in 1891 just after Monet’s now legendary exhibition at the dealer’s Parisian gallery. The Palmers played a fundamental role in Chicago’s economic and artistic identity and their donations over many years formed the hard core of the collections of the city’s Art Institute, which holds the largest number of works from this series. It is estimated that Bertha Palmer was the proud owner – at one time or another – of nearly 90 works by Monet during her lifetime. The Palmers usually resold their paintings shortly after acquiring them, but this one was retained by the family after Bertha’s death in 1918. Sotheby’s clearly appreciates the value of this prestigious provenance and has given the work a low estimate of $55 million that has already attracted a lot of comment…

Sotheby’s May sale offers a number of other museum quality paintings including a superb Musketeer (1968) by Pablo Picasso that could well exceed the price of another Musketeer (with a pipe) which fetched $30 million in 2013. There will also be an excellent masterpiece entitled La Jeunesse de Bacchus by William BOUGUEREAU valued at between $25 and $35 million that will almost certainly dwarf the artist’s previous auction record ($3.5 million since the sale of La Charité in 2000 at Christie’s). La Jeunesse de Bacchus is a masterpiece of the genre, a giant canvas (over 6 x 3 metres) that remained in the hands of the artist’s heirs and has only been loaned on rare occasions for retrospectives.

Meanwhile Christie’s has programmed the sale of The collection of Drue Heinz (1915-2018) on 13 May in New York, spearheading its 20th Century Week. A legendary philanthropist and generous patron of the visual arts and literature, Drue Heinz is known among other things for her activity as publisher of the literary magazine The Paris Review. During her 30-year marriage to Jack Heinz (of the Heinz Foods empire) she assembled a museum-worthy collection focused primarily on the major artists of the Modern era. Among the masterpieces Christie’s will be offering is Modigliani’s portrait of Lunia Czechowska (à la robe noire) painted a year before his death and carrying an $12 to $18 million estimate. The portrait contains all the primary influences that Modigliani liked to incorporate into his works, from the Renaissance-inspired elongation to an interest in face-masks in tribal and African creations. Drue Heinz also also possessed a rare pastel entitled Course de taureaux drawn by Pablo Picasso when he was 18 (estimated $4 to $6 million) and a Nu à la fenêtre by Henri Matisse (1929) with the intense colours of a Nice terrace.

The May sales look set to elicit vigorous bidding and the entire market will be attentive to the results that will act as a barometer for the rest of the year.

Thomas Houseago. Almost Human

Modern Art Museum of the City of Paris, 15 March – 14 July 2019

Born in Leeds in 1972 and a graduate of the Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design in London, Thomas HOUSEAGO is today an internationally recognised artist especially since his L’Homme pressé, a dark colossus from the François Pinault collection, was shown during the Venice Biennale in 2011. More recently, at the Grand Palais in Paris, he presented Walking Man in tribute to Auguste Rodin at the French master’s centenary exhibition of sculpture in 2017. Paris is therefore a perfect setting for the expression of his immense talent and its Museum of Modern Art is showing some thirty powerful and very expressionist works whose physical presence (often a strange mix of raw and noble materials – wood, plaster, bronze, metal…) express both strength and fragility. A sculptor of busts, heads, colossus-type figures standing, seated, crouching, moving or lying down, Thomas Houseago draws directly onto his 3-D forms much as he does on his canvases… strange enigmatic faces, like contemporary Vanities…

The ground floor areas of the Musée d’Art Moderne de la ville de Paris have been occupied in chronological order. In a first space we discover the anthropomorphic plaster sculptures of his early work. Moving on, we encounter hybrid and experimental sculptures. The third room is devoted to L’Homme pressé. This imposing bronze giant takes possession of the verticality of the place and is juxtaposed by the horizontality of the recumbent sculpture Wood Skeleton I (Father) and the long mural frieze from the series Black Paintings. The exhibition ends in an immersive space dedicated to presenting Cast Studio made especially for the event, accompanied by a film and photographs tracing the creation of this clay-molded sculpture and translating the ‘anatomicality’ and ‘performative’ dimensions of his works. The piece Striding Figure II artwork installed in the pond of the museum’s esplanade draws to a close this sometimes dizzying immersion in the artist’s darker period as it emerges towards the light.

Present in numerous public and private collections, notably in the United States where he has lived since 2003 and in the UK where he was born, this star of the Contemporary art world was discovered early by the Brussels gallerist Xavier Hufkens. Today he is also supported by the Gagosian Gallery. Present on the secondary market since 2010, his prices grew exponentially very quickly: already past the $100,000 threshold in 2011, they reached $200,000 in 2012. His most recent work at auction – Portrait – fetched $91,200 at the George Michael Collection Sale on 13 March at Christie’s in London. Houseago’s sculptures are not rare on the market since on average there is one for sale every three months. You would need a minimum of $30,000 – $40,000 to enter the bidding and hope to acquire an example of his already recognized and much sought-after work.