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    My Eye
by Thomas Hoving
 
       
 
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot
Le hallebardier
1868-1870
BOUGHT IN
 
Will the Impressionist and Modern art evening at fusty old Phillips be hot, hot, hot? And should it be?

Few auctions in recent years have been blessed with publicity like Phillips Auctioneers' May 11th Impressionist and modern art sale. It's mainly because before all those government investigations and class action lawsuits plaguing Christie's and Sotheby's the modest house has seldom offered so many sublime treasures. Stories of lofty guarantees to sellers have been circulating and claims that the sale will shatter many records abound.

Here's my professional take on those pieces estimated to fetch over a million dollars.

Catalogue numbers:

3. Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Le hallebardier, estimated at $2 million-$3 million (BOUGHT IN). To me this is a spectacularly unattractive portrait of the sour-puss art dealer Hector Brame dressed like a renaissance soldier in armor and stockings. Sure, the silvery cuirass is slickly painted with the right gleams and reflections but the overall feeling is browned out and depressing. Only a Corot freak could live with this one. J-B-C just isn't Bronzino.

4. Gustave Courbet's Portrait de Mademoiselle Jacquet, estimated at $2.5 million-$3.5 million (SOLD FOR $2,202,500). We are told in the catalogue that that greatest of American connoisseurs, Paul Mellon, once owned this ugly duckling. He sold it, I figure, because he simply got tired of looking at the expressionless face. One of Courbet's rare miscues.

     
 
Alfred Sisley
Un jardin à Louveciennes (chemin de L'Etarche)
1873
SOLD FOR $3,522,500
 
6. Alfred Sisley, Un jardin a Louveciennes (chemin de l'Etarché) estimated at $1 million-$1.5 million (SOLD FOR $3,522,500). Small, 25 by 18 inches, this intimate and precious work is an enchanting virtual-Impressionist endeavor with scintillating light and an entirely successful capturing of real atmosphere. Superior piece and if it goes for the estimate this will be a steal, far more valuable than most second-rate Monets at inflated prices. It beats the artist's rendering of the same garden in the snow in the Phillips Collection in D.C.

7. Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Grande corbeille de fleurs d'été, 1890, estimated at $4 million-$5 million (BOUGHT IN). Garish and splashy, but, dammit, it is quintessential Renoir (and a lot better than his treacly young women.) This one will scream to dinner party guests -- "I'm a genuine RENOIR!" According to the catalogue this 25-by-31-inch floral monument was in Col. Michael Paul's collection and then the Metropolitan's. If true this might not have been one of the museum's canniest deaccessions. $5 million is far too high, but $3 to $4 million might make sense.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Grande corbeille de fleurs d'été, 1890
BOUGHT IN
8. Claude Monet, Le Seine prés de Bougival of 1872, estimated at $5 million-$6 million (BOUGHT IN). A yard wide and half high, this is a beautiful and accomplished work by the top master of the Impressionist movement. Poetic, dazzling with light, exquisite sky, clouds and water with marvelous reflections, it's a veritable masterpiece. Even with the rich holdings of the Met, the museum would be proud to have this stunner.

Claude Monet, Le Seine prés de Bougival, 1872
BOUGHT IN
Claude Monet, Plage de Juan-les-Pins, 1888, estimated to fetch $6 million-$8 million (BOUGHT IN). Large, sunny, romantic, yet not one of Monet's top-rank landscapes. It's a little too formulaic. Let it go.

11. Paul Gauguin, Paysage martiniquais of 1887, estimated at $5 million-$7 million (BOUGHT IN). 26 by 45 inches. Splendid, richly-textured, complex and exceptional work. Martinique was for Gauguin the eye-opener that spurred him on to evolve his amazingly lush colors of Tahiti. A seminal and gorgeous picture.

Paul Gauguin, Paysage martiiquais, 1887
BOUGHT IN
12. Pierre-Auguste Renoir, La Loge au Théâtre des Variétés, 1898, 26 by 32 inches. Estimated to bring $5 million-$7 million (BOUGHT IN). Too sweet and glib. There are far better Renoirs of the theater and some of the figures, notably the man in the far right, are summary and limp. Pass.
 
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Femme de maison refaisant son chigon
1893
BOUGHT IN
 
13. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Femme de maison refaisant son chignon, 1893, estimated at $3 million-$4 million (BOUGHT IN). This is a fine example of the apparently loose and even sloppy brushstrokes all coming together to give us a stolid and emotionally moving image. The robe itself is a swell passage of paint. The detached, almost resigned way the whore gets herself ready for the evening's business becomes a penetrating little drama. This one is a real prize.

14. Paul Cezanne, Environs de Gardanne, 23 by 28 inches, 1886-1890, estimated at $6 million-$8 million (SOLD FOR $5,062,500). A tough and satisfying on-the-edge-of-Cubism work with all of the best features of the master -- the abstract yet natural feel, breathtaking colors and a shocking sweep of space.

Paul Cézanne, Environs de Gardanne, 1886-90
SOLD FOR $5,062,500
15. Camille Pisarro, Port du Havre, marée haute, 25 by 32 inches, 1903, estimated $2 million-$3 million (SOLD FOR $1,542,500). Unexciting and bland -- seems oddly automatic. Maybe it's just too late in a great career.

16. Edouard Vuillard, Jardin du Luxembourg and Place Vintimille: A Pair of Paintings, 39 by 19 inches, estimated at $2 million-$3 million (SOLD FOR $1,542,500). Boring and unresolved -- perhaps because they are cut-down fragments.

18. Pablo Picasso, Partition, bouteille de porto, guitare, cartes à jouer of 1917, 19 by 24 inches, estimated at $4 million-$6 million (BOUGHT IN). Not much fire of genius in this surprisingly vapid still-life.

21. Juan Gris, L'Arlequin au violon, 1919, 36 by 28 inches and estimated at $1.8 million-$2.5 million (BOUGHT IN). Disappointing. That gloss, flair, and wit so typical of the finest Gris works is not there.

23. Joan Miró, Le Baiser, 28 by 36 inches, estimated at $2 million-$3 million (SOLD FOR $1,652,500). Joyful, subtle, funny and ever-entrancing composition in which the ground zero of the French kiss becomes a near-explosive visual moment. This would make a banner acquisition for any modern museum.

Joan Miró, Le Baiser, 1924
SOLD FOR $1,652,500
29. Pablo Picasso, Nu couché et Femme se lavant les pieds, 1944, 38 by 51 inches, estimated at $3 million-$4 million (SOLD FOR $4,402,500). Routine and uninspired.

30. Picasso, Femme assise (Portrait de Françoise Gilot), 1949, 51 by 38 inches, estimated at $3 million-$4 million (SOLD FOR $2,642,500). Free at last from the grim female images of the war years this figure has both zap and tenderness. The black lines that crisscross the face were painted by Picasso to eliminate all perspective illusion and they give the serene painting an awesome force.

31. Kazimir Malevich, Suprematist Composition, 1919-1920, 31 by 31 inches, no estimate given, but they're hoping for a whopper -- $10 million plus has been bandied about (SOLD FOR $17,052,500). To appreciate this subtle, colorful and monumental work which admirably evokes the magic of flight, it's fun to read Malevich's own words about the movement -- "The old world has laid down its burden in a cemetery plot. We will fly into space; we are burrowing new passages in its pliant body, and eagles will remain in the pits left by our perfection."

Kazimir Malevich, Suprematist Composition, 1919-1920
SOLD FOR $17,052,500


So sell a few NASDAQ shares, avoid the mediocre stuff and bid, bid, bid for the high style.


THOMAS HOVING is editorial director of Artnet.com.

 
 
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