I t was strong opening night for the 2020 sale season on Tuesday, as eager collectors gathered in the Sotheby’s London saleroom to usher in the year with the Impressionist, Modern & Surrealist Art Evening Sale.
The sale was led by an extraordinary collection restituted to the heirs of patron and art collector Gaston Lévy, appearing here in their auction debut.
Watch as Pissarro's Gelée blanche, jeune paysanne faisant du feu makes its auction debut and sell for £13,296,500.
The star lots of the collection were the Camille Pissarro pointilliste masterpiece, Gelée blanche, jeune paysanne faisant du feu which sold for £13.3 million, and Paul Signac’s luminous Neo-Impressionist view of Istanbul – La Corne d’Or. Matin – which rose to £7.6 million.
Elsewhere in the sale, Franz Marc's Zwei blaue Esel (Pferd und Esel) inspired a long and spirited bidding battle on the phones and in the room, soaring three times over its pre-sale estimate to realise £4 million. The work, created in 1912, just a year after the formation of Der Blaue Reiter with Marc's contemporary, Wassily Kandinsky, is an important example of a central theme in Franz Marc’s career – the animal world.
The stylised treatment of the two animals and the richly contrasted palette, dominated by a bold blue that rejects the naturalistic use of colour, epitomise the profound contributions of Marc’s art to the emerging modernist aesthetic in the early twentieth century.
Watch Franz Marc's Zwei blaue Esel (Pferd und Esel) selling for £4,070,600.
One of Marc’s most important works on paper to remain in private hands, it was acquired by the Zurich-based collector Dr Franz Stadler the year it was created, and had remained in the same family since then.
Alongside these, an important American collection of four early works by Vincent van Gogh made a combined total of £2.9 million; the only painting in the group – a small and darkly evocative 1885 portrait, Peasant Woman Seated sold for £1.1 million.
It was a strong night for Surrealist works, with a new record price of £555,000 for Dutch artist Pyke Koch's Florentijnse tuin (Florentine Garden). An evocative masterwork of magical realism, the garden depicted was inspired by the celebrated Renaissance revival gardens of Villa La Pietra, reinterpreted by the artist into a surreal alternate reality.
Kay Sage’s haunting Journal of a Conjuror found a new owner for £225,000; the painting was created in the year immediately following the death of her husband, Yves Tanguy – whose 1955 work, Composition, also appeared in the sale, selling for £175,000.
Fernand Léger’s energetic canvas Nature Morte sold for £2.4 million, and was closely followed by another important composition by the artist, Le Buste – that found a new owner at £1.7 million. These remarkable works come from a period that provided a new challenge for Léger as he began to synthesise organic elements with the more rigid, geometric forms of his earlier career, all within the traditional contexts of still-life and figure painting. On what would have been the artist's 138th birthday, the pair of paintings made over £4 million.
Other masters of Modernism that found success in the saleroom were Jean Metzinger’s standout Le Cycliste that achieved £3 million, setting a new auction record for the artist, and Joan Miró’s whimsical and witty Personnages et oiseau devant le soleil, which hammered down at £2.4 million.
View the Top Ten Lots from the Sale
The auction made a total of £49,903,100, and the sale series continues with the Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale beginning at 10:30 AM GMT on Wednesday 5 February.