Contemporary and Old Masters Specialists Trade Places

Contemporary and Old Masters Specialists Trade Places

What would specialists in Old Master paintings, Impressionist & Modern Art and Contemporary Art highlight from their colleagues’ sales?
What would specialists in Old Master paintings, Impressionist & Modern Art and Contemporary Art highlight from their colleagues’ sales?

S ix centuries of visual art are represented across three auctions this October: Master Discoveries, Modern Discoveries and Contemporary Discoveries. It’s the first time in Sotheby’s history that the Discoveries series – which introduces collectors to new artistic periods and helps them cross categories – covers such a significant span of art history.

In light of the occasion, here a specialist from each sale shares her favorite work of art from the auctions assembled by her colleagues, drawing historical threads and tracing the patterns of influence across hundreds of years of artistic production.

Old Masters

Giovanni Battisa Lombardi’s The Veiled Woman

Giovanni Battista Lombardi’s masterful treatment of marble renders Classical folds of drapery that create a tactile viewing experience. The sumptuousness of the surface reminds me of the thick impasto for which Vincent van Gogh is famous. The intense texture turns a straightforward bust into a complex portrayal of human features, similar to how the surface of the bronze acts in Antoine Bourdelle’s Tete d’Apollo in Modern Discoveries. I am drawn to the dimensionality Lombardi layers into this work and his ability to emphasize the mundane, yet difficult-to-capture, interaction between flesh and man-made fabric.

—Lucile Turnipseed, Associate Cataloguer, Impressionist & Modern Art


Michel Richard-Putz’s Midnight at Tabarin

The energy of Parisian cabaret, Bal Tabarin, is palpable in Michel Richard-Putz’s Midnight at Tabarin (Minuit à Tabarin). The movement conveyed through the gestural execution of the dancers’ dresses, the dim light casting a yellow glow across each face and the sheer number of figures packed into the composition create a sense of drama and dynamism. The vitality captured in this painting calls to mind Julian Schnabel’s Untitled in Contemporary Discoveries. In discussing the impact the artist’s exposure in the 1970s to European Master paintings had on his practice, Schnabel stated. “There is a level of synaesthesia where all the different senses are mixed together that gives you an experience that I’m interested in finding in my own paintings.” While this led him to explore unconventional materials in his plate paintings, in this action-packed narrative painting he followed Richard-Putz’s lead by creating a feast for the senses.

—Caroline Yarbrough, Associate Cataloguer, Contemporary Art

Impressionist & Modern Art

George Grosz’s Gray and Pink Standing Female Nude

George Grosz’s handling of paint in this nude portrait is so voluptuous and painterly. Both the form and facture remind me of the work of the Flemish Baroque artist Peter Paul Rubens. The image feels like a celebration of fleshiness, which is characteristic of Rubens’ aesthetic. The loose application of paint, making the process of the work’s creation immediately apparent, also recalls Rubens. I am further drawn to the subtle use of color: while at first the palette seems almost monochromatic, Grosz enlivens the surface with touches of purple and blue, which imbue the painting with the appearance of a pastel.

—Daria Foner, Associate Specialist, Old Master Paintings


Jean-Pierre Cassigneul’s Rencontre XI

In Jean-Pierre Cassigneul’s Rencontre XI, artistic devices such as the mirroring of elongated forms in the figures and forest coupled with expressive color, draw the viewer in. Sustained looking provokes my imagination: a discourse unfolds between the horseback rider and the three elegant women, seemingly overdressed in heels and hats for a stroll through the woods. The forms of the trees in particular recalls Lynne Drexler’s Diminished Day in Contemporary Discoveries, and further parity is found in the brilliant play of colors present in both paintings.

—Caroline Yarbrough, Associate Cataloguer, Contemporary Art

Contemporary Art

Ana Mendieta’s Untitled

The play on absence and presence in Ana Mendieta’s photograph is very powerful. The fabric evokes classical statuary, and the truncation of the limbs reminds me of the Winged Victory of Samothrace – except that here the cloth has been divorced from the body. Rather than revealing a feminine physique, the fabric-clad structure is a decidedly inanimate abstract form. The use of the architectural framing device reminds me of a sculptural niche: it both offsets and encloses the object.

—Daria Foner, Associate Specialist, Old Master Paintings


Richard Prince’s Untitled

Here, Richard Prince appropriates a work by Pablo Picasso. Cannibalizing Picasso’s corporeal disjunction, Prince comments on both the false concept of a new idea, while also targeting the prized conception of beautiful art that places it within a realm beyond question. Prince’s artistic process is largely cognitive, shifting the traditionally labor-intensive model of an artist to recontextualize a canonical figure. Playing with spatial relations and proportions, as Picasso does in Quatre femmes nues et tête sculptée, from La Suite Vollard in Modern Discoveries, Prince uses the audience’s familiarity with Picasso’s work to his advantage. With the aura of a Picasso but the conceptual twist that accompany all his works, Prince produces a unique dialogue.

—Lucile Turnipseed, Associate Cataloguer, Impressionist & Modern Art

Old Master Paintings

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