The European Avant-Garde: A Private Family Collection

The European Avant-Garde: A Private Family Collection

To be offered in: Rembrandt to Richter Evening Sale, 28 July and Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale, 20-29 July
To be offered in: Rembrandt to Richter Evening Sale, 28 July and Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale, 20-29 July

T he beginning of the 20th century in Europe heralded a period of immense artistic experimentation and change. As the world around them became ever more mechanised and urban, artists sought new means of expression that would relate to this strange new world. The most dramatic change was brought about by Picasso and Braque’s pioneering development of Cubism and its fragmentation and abstraction of form. This moment would have a profound impact on the art and artists that followed right through to the present day. For the artists working alongside Picasso and Braque and in the decades that came immediately after, it inspired a specific creative energy; whether pursuing a purely abstract aesthetic or working in a figurative mode, they were now able to explore new forms of visual representation with complete freedom.

This collection spans the first decades of the 20th century and tells the story of this remarkable period of art history. It encompasses a wide range of artists working in different styles and mediums, but all concerned with the same crucial questions about representation. Certain themes emerge – there is a focus on the human form and human experience, and always an aesthetic concern with the balance between figuration and abstraction; the heart and the head. It is these themes that draw the works of the collection together and allow dialogue between different works and artists, ultimately enriching our understanding and enjoyment of each.

The collection begins – speaking chronologically – with early examples of Cubist works including Léger’s 1914 Nature morte and Picasso’s 1912 charcoal and ink drawing Fumeur. Examples by Laurens and Lipchitz chart the evolution of Cubism into the 1920s as artists adapted it within their own aesthetic. The works by Picasso in the collection are particularly interesting; they reveal his incredible diversity as an artist, but they also show how in his later career the principles of Cubism metamorphosed in different ways. In the deconstructed forms of the still life from 1937 and the use of colour and line in the 1969 Le peintre et son modèle, it is clear that both are descendants – however distant – of Cubist forbears. Representing the emotional core of this collection, is the exceptionally beautiful 1931 portrait of Picasso’s lover, Marie-Thérèse Walter in which Picasso adopts the fully figurative style that he used occasionally when depicting those most important to him.

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  • Lyonel Feininger
    Lastträger am Meeresstrand (I) (Beachcombers by the Sea (I))
    Painted in 1920.
    Estimate £700,000-900,000

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  • Marc Chagall
    La branche de gui or Le rêve
    Executed in 1928.
    Estimate £700,000-900,000

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  • Alberto Giacometti
    Femme debout
    Conceived in 1956-57 and cast in bronze in an edition of 8. This example was cast in 1958.
    Estimate £4,000,000-6,000,000

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  • Wassily Kandinsky
    Ohne Titel (Komposition) (Untitled (Composition))
    Executed circa 1914-1915.
    Estimate £600,000-800,000

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  • Pablo Picasso
    Femme endormie
    Executed on 4th February 1931.
    Estimate £6,000,000-9,000,000

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  • Fernand Léger
    Nature morte
    Painted in 1914.
    Estimate £8,000,000-12,000,000

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  • Wassily Kandinsky
    Murnau, Schloss und Kirche II (Murnau - Castle and Church II)
    Painted in 1909.
    Estimate £1,000,000-1,500,000

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Another important aspect of this collection is the way it emphasises the connections and crosscurrents that united Europe during this period, and saw artistic ideas disseminated and shared. In parallel with developments in Paris, artists in Germany were also making bold leaps in terms of visual representation. Two exquisite works by Kandinsky mark his movement from the stylised works of the Murnau years into the pure abstraction that followed. Works by Jawlensky and Feininger build on this artistic heritage and, in the case of the latter, also reveal the important impact of French artistic developments. This is true also of the only work by a British artist in the collection; Henry Moore’s Reclining Figure is a reminder of the dialogues between British and French artists in the inter-war period.

This is a collection that has been lived with and enjoyed for over forty years. It combines an intellectual understanding of art history with a strong aesthetic appreciation. The works have been acquired with an awareness of their shared context and they reflect a distinctive and cohesive taste, yet there are also flashes of individuality indicative of the character of the collectors. Like all collections put together with passion and integrity, it enriches the works it brings together as well as illustrating the very profound joy of living with art.

The Cubist Revolution

In 1907 Picasso’s painting Demoiselles d’Avignon changed the course of art history. The first work to include elements of cubist style, it announced the beginning of a new aesthetic which Picasso and Braque would develop over the following years. They sought to capture multiple viewpoints of a given subject resulting in a fragmented and abstracted pictorial style that would lead critic Louis Vauxcelles to coin the term cubiste – literally describing the little ‘cubes’ that make up their compositions. Whilst Picasso and Braque’s cubist works are characterized by a focus on formal concerns, artists like Léger placed more emphasis on colour as a formal element, developing a distinctive visual style of their own. In the second wave of Cubism after the First World War, artists like Laurens and Lipchitz further refined this deconstruction of the human figure in works that embraced a new sense of clarity and order.

The Modern Figure

Following the advent of Cubism and the development of abstract art in the first decades the twentieth century, artists began to look at the human figure in new and exciting ways. The bronzes by Giacometti and Moore from this collection underline the different approaches that artists took: Moore’s abstracted figures drew on the natural world, whereas Giacometti turned to man’s inner psyche as inspiration for his highly-stylized figures. In Picasso’s Femme endormie, the artist’s lover Marie-Thérèse is captured in a few deft lines – the minimalism of his monochrome palette only heightening the emotional intensity of the work. A similar intensity is found in Chagall’s surreal dreamworld where the artist shows himself presenting his wife Bella with a bunch of mistletoe. Each work is completely different, but each is concerned with human experience, and each serves to illustrate the artistic freedom embraced by artists at the dawn of this new age.

German Expressionist Art – Der Blaue Reiter & The Bauhaus

While Picasso was developing Cubism in Paris, a group of German artists came together to promote modern art and create works that achieved a spiritual truth. In 1911 Kandinsky and Franz Marc, supported by Jawlensky, Macke and Feininger among others, held the first Blaue Reiter exhibition and the following year they published the Blaue Reiter Almanac setting out their artistic aims. Although they shared a common goal, the movement was not defined by a unified aesthetic and each artist developed their own distinctive style. Kandinsky’s experiments would lead him to pure abstraction, whilst Jawlensky retained a more figurative style, albeit with a focus on colour and form. The outbreak of war ended the Blaue Reiter – with Macke and Marc both killed in combat and Kandinsky and Jawlensky forced to move back to Russia – but it was not the end of their artistic association. Kandinsky, Jawlensky and Feininger together with Paul Klee would join together in the 1920s as the Blue Four with the aim of promoting their art and ideas in the United States. Kandinsky and Feininger also both became teachers at Walter Gropius’s legendary Bauhaus. The Bauhaus curriculum encouraged artists and students to work together, breaking down traditional boundaries between fine art and crafts. The Bauhaus was hugely influential and the impact of its unique approach and design aesthetic is still seen across the world today.

The Avant Garde Around the World
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  • New York

    Galleries such as Pierre Matisse Gallery (the first owner of this Giacometti) were key in promoting European avant-garde in the USA. Highly influential and prestigious, these galleries brought European art to a new audience and the exhibitions they held had an important impact on the next generation of American artists.

    Photograph taken on the occasion of the exhibition Artists in Exile, Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, March 1942. Photo: George Platt Lynes. Photographic Archive. The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York

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  • UK

    Inspired by the work of artists such as Picasso, Arp and Giacometti, Henry Moore developed his own unique visual language of abstracted forms, inspired by the natural world and landscapes of England.

    Henry Moore in the studio at 11a Parkhill Road, Hampstead circa 1933

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  • Russia

    At the turn of the century many Russians artists were inspired by the French art that was shown in major cities such Moscow and St. Petersburg. Kandinsky, Chagall and Jawlensky were all born in Russia, but moved to Europe to pursue their artistic careers. They brought a distinct character to the different schools of European modernism that they embraced or pioneered; Jawlensky’s heads recall Russian orthodox icons, Kandinsky’s work often alluded to Russian folklore and Chagall’s dreamworlds reimagined his childhood home of Vitebsk, visible here in the snowy landscape through the window.

    Marc & Bella Chagall

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  • Dessau

    In 1919 Walter Gropius opened his legendary Bauhaus school in Weimar; six years later it moved to Dessau. The Bauhaus curriculum encouraged artists and students to work together, breaking down traditional boundaries between fine art and crafts, and its revolutionary approach continues to inspire and influence artists, designers and architects through to the present day.

    Exterior of the Bauhaus school at Dessau, designed by architect Walter Gropius in 1926 © General Photographic Agency / Stringer

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  • Munich

    In 1911 Kandinsky and Franz Marc, supported by Jawlensky, Macke and Feininger among others, held the first Blaue Reiter exhibition at the Moderne Galerie in Munich. The following year they published the Blaue Reiter Almanac setting out their artistic aims. Although they shared a common goal, the movement was not defined by a unified aesthetic and each artist developed their own distinctive and experimental style.

    Friends of the Blue Rider on the balcony of Münter’s and Kandinsky’s apartment in Ainmillerstrasse, 36, Munich. 1911 © Fine Art Images/Heritage Images Alamy Stock Photo

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  • Paris

    Paris was the birthplace of Cubism. Led by Picasso and Braque, artists such as Léger pioneered a new aesthetic that fragmented and abstracted forms to achieve a new visual truth

    Le Bateau-Lavoir circa 1910

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Impressionist & Modern Art
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