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Gauguin, Modigliani and Kandinsky dominate New York, while the diverse events of Asian Art week in London are complimented by remarkable sales of Pre-Raphaelite and Bloomsbury Group art

Gauguin, Modigliani and Kandinsky dominate New York, while the diverse events of Asian Art week in London are complimented by remarkable sales of Pre-Raphaelite and Bloomsbury Group art

Susan Moore

There may not be another $100m Picasso, or any equivalent of the $190m Greentree collection, but this month New York fields an impressive array of Impressionist and Modern pictures, with Sotheby’s Part I sale alone expected to fetch $208m. the firm’s highest pre-sale estimate since the spring of 1990.

Stealing the limelight at Sotheby’s on 4 November is an iconic Gauguin, Maternite (II), one of just a handful of great works by the artist remaining in private hands. Painted in 1899 during the artist’s second Tahitian period, the painting is a celebration of Polynesian fecundity in all its guises, from the bounty of the maiore fruit and lush flowers to the young woman unselfconsciously nursing her child in the foreground. The image has a highly personal resonance too painted as it was around the time Gauguin’s seventeen year old Polynesian mistress, Pahura, gave birth to the couple’s son, Emile, named after his first son, born 25 years bolero in France. An earlier version of the painting is in the Hermitage Museum; this slightly smaller but more vibrant canvas, well known in the us, is expected to sell for around $40m-$50m.

It is not everyone who would have the courage to sell arguably the greatest Severini in private hands to buy a Pontormo Madonna and Child but Hester Diamond is no lily-livered collector. This month she is selling six choice pieces of Modern art to fund her newer passion for renaissance painting and baroque sculpture Over the past 15 years the Manhattan collector has acquired works by the likes of Veronese, Dossi Dossi, Joos van Cleve, Luis de Morales and Bernini–and helped found the Medici Archive Project, Now Sotheby’s hopes to realise over $61m for her through the sale of works by Kandinsky, Mondrian, Brancusi, Leger and Picasso. Certainly it is hard to imagine anyone failing to be beguiled by the Kandinsky. Skizze fur sintflut II (Sketch for deluge II) of 1912 is as seminal a work of early Abstract Expressionism as it is rapturous, its surface Hooded with translucent colours and flowing, amorphous forms that seem to overlap, explode and evaporate, Like Ms Diamond’s Mondrian in the same sale, New York Boogie Woogie, it is expected to fetch over $20m.

Other highlights from the evening sale include a Modigliani portrait, Jeanne Hebuturne (Devant une porte), from the estate of Wendell Cherry (estimate $20m-$30m) and sculpture from the collection of Philip and Muriel Berman, including two of Henry Moore’s greatest large scale figures, Reclining figure: Angles and Three-piece reclining figure: Draped, estimated at $3m-$4m and $4m-$6m respectively. On 3 November, Christie’s counter with one of the most impressive of Monet’s paintings of the Houses of Parliament, and one of only four remaining in private hands, Londres, le Parlement, effet de soleil dans le brouillard. It was painted, like the others, from a terrace at St Thomas’s Hospital (he painted that other epic London series of Charing Cross and Waterloo bridges from his room at the Savoy). There cannot have been many guests at the illustrious hotel who would wake up in despair it there was no fog, or even the least trace of mist. Never before on the open market, the picture is expected to realist 12m [pounds sterling]-18m [pounds sterling]. On 10 November, in its Post War and Contemporary sale, Christie’s also offer the most expensive Andy Warhol to appear at auction Mustard race of 1963, from his ‘Death and disaster’ series, is expected to find a new buyer at $12m.

There is more to New York. however, than Modern and contemporary art. On 12 November, Christie’s present its first ever single-owner collection of Pre-Columbian art, its highlights jade and greenstone artefacts, Mezcala votive sculptures and Mayan ceramics. The top lot here is a Mayan jade belt plaque of the early classic period of around AD 400-450 decorated with a profile portrait of a richly attired lord in full regalia (estimate $800,000-$1.2m). On 11 November, Sotheby’s present an important Bangwa male commemorative figure of a king, Fotabong Nsheu, expected to fetch around $1m. In 1990, the auction house sold a commemorative queen figure for $3.4m, still the highest price ever paid at auction for any African work of art.

In London on 24 November, meanwhile, Christie’s sell important Pre-Raphaelite paintings and drawings from the St James’s apartment of the late Sir Paul Getty, a much-missed champion of unpopular cultural causes (the furniture is being offered the following day). Getty had begun to buy Victorian art, Rossettis in particular, after he acquired the artist’s house on Cheyne Walk in the 1960s. The key Rossetti was his large black chalk drawing of Desdemona’s death song, a project the artist had suggested for the centrepiece of the music room of his patron F.R. Leyland. It depicts the faithful Desdemona singing the willow song moments before being smothered by the jealous Othello (estimate 200,000 [pounds sterling]-300,000 [pounds sterling]). Works on paper are the great joy of this distinguished group, part of one of the most important but least known of all private collections of Pre-Raphaelite art. Here, too, for instance, is Burne-Jones’s early pen-and-ink drawing of The wise and foolish virgins, executed in 1859, and the finest of his intense, hard-edged pen and ink drawings (estimate 200,000 [pounds sterling]-300,000 [pounds sterling]). At the other end of the value range, but no less remarkable, is the likes of William Holman Hunt’s exquisite landscape watercolour of Asparagus Island, Kynance, in Cornwall (estimate 50,000 [pounds sterling]70,000 [pounds sterling]).

On 19 November, Christie’s otter The Reader’s Digest Association’s collection of works of art relating to the Bloomsbury Group, the best holding of this material ever to come to auction. One of the first and finest corporate art collections to be established, the collection was begun in the 1940s by Lila Acheson Wallace who co-founded the association with her husband and who had a particular interest in Virginia Woolf. The most telling and personal image here is a painting of 1940 by Virginia’s sister, Vanessa Bell, portraying Duncan Grant and their daughter. Angelica, in the dining room of their extraordinary Sussex farmhouse Charleston (estimate 30,000 [pounds sterling]-50,000 [pounds sterling]).

One of the remarkable stories of the season is the rediscovery of time art collection of the Berlin financier Max Steinthal, boxed up in the basement of Dresden’s Gemaldegalerie and only discovered when the museum’s basement was emptied at the time of the devastating floods of 2002. Now restituted to his heirs, it comes to the block at Sotheby’s London over the next tour months. On 16 November the most important pieces will be sold: they include Sorolla’s Las tras velas (The three sails), a blustery scene of three Valencian fisherwoman set against billowing sails (estimate 1.5m [pounds sterling]-2.5m [pounds sterling]) and one of the most important nineteenth century Italian paintings in private hands–Segentini’s La raccolta delle zuche, its pumpkin harvesters recoiling from the engulfing smoke of the sinister locomotive silhouetted against the horizon (1.2m [pounds sterling]-1.8m [pounds sterling]).

Those–like Hester Diamond–more interested in Italian Old Masters, should note ‘II Cinquecento: From Giorgione to Barocci’, on view at Whitfield Fine Art. 180 Old Bond Street, 22 November-10 December, and on line at whitfieldfineart.com. The revelations here are a Madonna and Child with St John described as ‘one of the most exciting rediscoveries in Andrea del Sarto’s oeuvre’ ($5m), Pontormo’s Portrait of Francesca Capponi as Mary Magdalene ($8.5m) and a modello of Barocci’s Christ expiring on the Cross, now in the Prado ($2m)

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