A visit to the Wallachs was always a treat. Ira and Miriam Wallach were deeply engaged in the issues of the day, which meant that the conversation was lively and challenging; they appreciated good food and wine; they were warmly welcoming; and there was the art. Their taste was exquisite, the works superb. One would have called them stunning, but they fit so naturally in the Wallachs’ beautiful home.
Their collection included an exceptional group of modern paintings by the masters of abstraction. Kandinky’s Berührung is a superlative composition created while at the Bauhaus in Dessau. The monumental Femme rêvant de l’évasion is an exceptional example of Miró’s important post-war paintings, most of which can now be found in museums and institutions around the world. Two further works by Miró from his mature oeuvre beautifully illustrate the artist’s ceaseless experimentation and wonderful sense of color. Other developments in 20th Century modernism are well represented by the rare Dada work on paper by Picabia, Arp’s wonderfully sensuous Pays du Thales, and the delightful Kinder mit Hund by Paul Klee, also a tutor at the Bauhaus.
An equally outstanding selection of contemporary American and International works reveals Ira and Miriam’s dedication to collecting remarkable examples of colorful, geometric abstraction in both painting and sculpture. Frequently acquired in the early 1960’s from such gallerists as the legendary Sidney Janis, whose unparalleled eye first perceived the crucial importance of Abstract Expressionism, paintings such as Hommage to the Square, Midsummer 1964 by Joseph Albers or the monumental Blue Cross (1960) from Sam Francis’s ‘blue period,’ are works of exceptional quality that boast an unimpeachable provenance. Stunning sculptures in the collection include Isamu Noguchi’s lyrically titled Recurrent Bird (1958) in Greek marble, and Two Lines Up (1979) by George Rickey, which masterfully conveys the artist’s desire to produce works whose scale and constant movements exist in dialogue with nature. An important precursor to Op Art is represented by Victor Vasarely’s Untitled of 1959, whose playful scrambling of lines and geometric shapes questions the perceptual possibilities of the two-dimensional canvas.
Sotheby’s is privileged to offer these extraordinary works to discerning collectors who share the Wallachs’ impeccable taste.
Blue Cross is an exquisite example from the distinctive ‘blue phase’ of Sam Francis’s career, a time of creative ferment between 1960 and 1963 when shades of blue were the sole palette employed by the artist. It boasts a distinguished exhibition history: the work featured in major exhibitions in Pittsburgh, Denver, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Toronto between 1961 and 1964 before being bought by the current owner from the legendary Martha Jackson Gallery in 1965.
Plumes of delicate blue pigment billow out from a central point against a pure white background, creating a shape elegantly reminiscent of a flower - betraying the influence, perhaps, of Francis’s early pre-artistic studies in botany at the University of California – whilst deeper washes of blue coalesce at the corners and towards the canvas edges. Blue was a colour of crucial importance to Francis throughout his career, but never more so than during the early 1960s as he sought new directions in his paintings, forging a new creative language that produced some of his greatest masterpieces. Francis referred to blue as the “Mother Liquid, matrix,” indicating his belief that the remainder of the colour spectrum was of lesser import within his art (the artist cited in: Sam Francis, Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings 1946-1994, University of California Press, 2011, p. 57). In common with Wassily Kandinsky’s belief outlined in the theoretical treatise On the Spiritual in Art, Francis considered blue to be a ‘celestial’ colour, a shade that enabled the mind to transcend earthly matters in favour of spiritual concerns. In Francis’s painterly and psychological language, gazing at Blue Cross can thus be considered akin to a meditative experience in which the onlooker is encouraged to abandon all material associations in favour of contemplation and cogitation. Ultimately, Blue Cross can be read as an enriching affirmation of life, a glorious explosion of concentrated colour that bravely defies earthly constraints.
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