NEW YORK – Monets and Picassos weren’t the only priceless works of art in our tenth-floor galleries the evening of 3 May. Sotheby’s had the honour of hosting a 300-year-old Italian Stradivarius and its world-renowned owner, violinist Joshua Bell. In front of an intimate gathering of collectors and accompanied flawlessly by pianist Alessio Bax, the Grammy award-winning virtuoso played four compositions, each inspired by works in our upcoming Impressionist & Modern Art Evening sale. Along with Simon Shaw, Sotheby’s Co-Head, Worldwide, Impressionist & Modern Art, Bell talked about the dynamic between the selected works and music, offering a fresh take on both art forms. The spellbound audience listened to Bell’s masterly performance, which concluded with a standing ovation. Below, discover the inspiration behind Bell’s four pairings.
PHOTOGRAPH BY HARRISON EPSTEIN PHOTOGRAPHY.
Auguste Rodin, L’Éternel printemps, 1901–03 & Tomaso Antonio Vitali, Chaconne for Violin and Piano in G minor (1663-1745)
Rodin’s white-marble carving has a fascinating musical genesis: while listening to Beethoven’s Second Symphony, the vision of the two embracing lovers appeared to the sculptor. Bell chose the corresponding composition, which features repetition and various permutations, because it is rooted in an ancient structure. Similarly, Rodin looked to ancient sculpture for inspiration, and like Vitali, he gave his art a romantic touch.
WORKS BY EGON SCHIELE, FRAU IN UNTERWÄSCHE UND STRÜMPFEN (VALERIE NEUZIL) SHOWN CENTRE, IN OUR UPCOMING SALES.
PHOTO BY COLIN MILLER.
Egon Schiele, Frau mit Unterwäscher und Strümpfen (Wally Neuzil), 1913 & Friedrich “Fritz” Kreisler (1875-1962), Liebesleid (Love’s Sorrow)
Vienna, a capital of music during the 18th and 19th centuries, experienced a flowering in the arts around 1900. “When I think of Vienna, I think of violin in Vienna,” Bell said. “There’s one name that comes immediately to mind, and that’s the greatest violinist of that time, the Austrian Fritz Kreisler.” Arguably Kreisler’s most famous composition, Liebesleid, meaning “Love’s Sorrow,” is particularly apt for Schiele who, along with his wife, died tragically young during an influenza epidemic.
PHOTO BY EUGENE GOLOGURSKY, GETTY IMAGES.
Paul Signac, Maisons du Port, Saint-Tropez, 1892 & Maurice Ravel, Sonata for Violin and Piano No.2 in G Major, M. 77, Allegretto
In 1892, St. Tropez was a small fishing village accessible only by boat. At this time, the connection between music and painting was very strong – as Shaw said, “visual art aspired to the same condition that music had of pure abstraction.” Signac made the association directly: Just as he applied systematic dots of color to create a picture, a composer made a finished piece of music by combining individual notes. He even labelled this group of paintings in Opus numbers. With this in mind, Bell selected an abstract piece by the French composer Maurice Ravel. “Composers are always painting with sound,” Bell explained. “They use the term ‘colour’ all the time regarding how they’re going to play particular sections.” In this instance, the composition suggested such subtle colour changes, producing a dreamlike sound quality.
JOSHUA BELL, SIMON SHAW AND ALESSIO BAX WITH A CHAGALL. PHOTOGRAPHY BY HARRISON EPSTEIN PHOTOGRAPHY.
Marc Chagall, Bouquet sur les toits du village, 1961 & Pablo de Sarasate, Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs), Op. 20
Music was a core theme throughout Chagall’s exceptionally long career. He admired Mozart and Tchaikovsky, designed costumes, and stage sets for the Paris Opera, and figures playing flutes, violins and other instruments appear in many of his best-known paintings. Bell paired this Chagall, which includes a flute-player, with a composition by the Spanish violinist Pablo de Sarasate, an internationally known musician.