An exceptional group of works by Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Odilon Redon, will be offered as part of Sotheby’s Modern & Contemporary Art Evening Sale this summer in London, on 29 June. From an esteemed private collection and fresh to the market, these five works look beyond Impressionism and convey the uniquely sensitive vision of each artist.
Three of these works were executed in pastel, by the two artists most closely associated with the medium. Edgar Degas and Odilon Redon are widely considered to be two of the greatest proponents of pastel of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. No other artists of their time created images possessing so much vibrancy, subtlety or profundity with the medium, which was first used – and invented by – Leonardo da Vinci during the Renaissance.
But it was Degas and Redon who both grasped its fundamental quality – directness – and its versatility, in facilitating the ability to both draw and paint with immediate effect. During the 1890s, pastel became Redon’s favoured medium and the works he produced during this decade reveal a new approach to colour – no longer using it naturalistically but rather for its symbolic or expressive qualities.
Odilon Redon, Profil bleu, pastel, circa 1895, est. £600,000-800,000
Symbolist works by Redon rarely come to auction. Profil bleu dates from a key period, when the artist’s main concern was with communicating a personal experience of the spiritual, which coincided with an increased interest in imagery taken from Buddhist and Christian faiths. In the 1890s Redon forged a close friendship with Paul Gauguin and through him he met the Nabis artists – their use of colour, embrace of the decorative and interest in Japonisme were all important to Redon and their influence can be seen in Profil bleu. This pastel has a notably vivid colouration – not least in its use of an intensely hued cobalt blue – and is particularly rich and textured.
Edgar Degas, Le bain, pastel, 1883, est. £1,500,000-2,000,000
This exquisitely composed pastel features one of Degas’ signature themes, that of a woman in the privacy of her toilette. As in his portrayals of ballet dancers, Degas preferred to capture his models in a private moment, when they appear fully absorbed in their activity, completely unaware of being observed. In his pastels – a medium he made his own – Degas produced dense opaque areas of raw colour whilst simultaneously paraphrasing others with no detrimental effect on the overall composition. He could capture fleeting moments with an assuredness unmatched by oil or watercolour.
Edgar Degas, Femme à sa toilette, pastel, circa 1897, est. £1,000,000-1,500,000
Femme à sa toilette is striking example of the artist’s fascination with the female nude in the process of drying after a bath. The range of rich, vibrant tones and the balanced and proportioned treatment of the woman’s body rank this as an accomplished example from the artist’s celebrated series of bathers. In his pastels of the 1890s, Degas’ focus moved towards a new interest in colour, in tandem with a newfound freedom of expression. This sense of spontaneity is also reflected in his technique of adding strips of paper to the top and bottom of the sheet, a practice he often employed in his mature works, as he adapted the size and shape of his support in such a way as to suit the emerging composition.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Femme à la rose, oil on canvas, 1910, est. £1,000,000-1,500,000
Femme à la rose depicts one of the beautiful young women who came to define Renoir’s unique style of portraiture. By this stage, he had moved away from the strictly Impressionist style of the previous decades and found a new source of inspiration in painters such as Titian and Rubens. Painted at his house in the south of France, this example of Renoir’s late portraiture is both intimate and timeless.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, La bohémienne or La bergère, oil on canvas, circa 1902, est. £700,000-1,000,000
Renoir’s paintings of nudes are among his greatest achievements. Aside from Degas, no other avant-garde painter of the late nineteenth century focused more of his energy on painting this subject. From 1900 onwards the female nude became one of Renoir’s most important subjects, and La bohémienne represents one of the finest examples from this period. The timeless nature of the model’s costume, and the pastoral idyll that it evokes was an important element of Renoir’s later canvases.
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