10 Tips for Building your Impressionist & Modern Art Collection

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Launch Slideshow

Very few of life’s endeavours are as exciting yet as anxiety-provoking as the decision to build a collection from square one. Then again, few activities prove quite as rewarding as collecting art. So whether you are starting out and pondering buying prints versus acquiring paintings, or whether you are a seasoned buyer in search of new ideas, consider these ten tips from Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art department.


Impressionist & Modern Art Day
10 May | New York

10 Tips for Building your Impressionist & Modern Art Collection

  • 1. Iconic subjects never go out of style
    When you think of Edgar Degas, you think of ballet dancers. The recent show at MoMA only reaffirms this great artist's fascination with the repetitive motion of the bodies of dancers.  If you choose well, you can have an icon and it might not be priced in the millions: the level of finish, the scale, the number of colors involved and the willingness of a seller to part with a work can lead to very enticing pre-sale pricing. Shown above: Edgar Degas, Étude de danseuse . Estimate $80,000–120,000. See also lots 119 , 196 , and 399 .

  • 2. An artist’s favorite subject often includes his own surroundings


    Marc Chagall is known for filling his compositions with the stuff of his reality mixed with his dreams. Do you fancy a king and his bride basking in bright yellow sun? Or an image of a peasant walking through the quiet snowy landscape of Vitebsk, the artist's hometown? A couple of lovers set against the Eiffel Tower? Our galleries this season feature iconic Chagall images priced for every pocket. Shown above: Marc Chagall, Le Soir , circa 1964–71.  Estimate $800,000–1,200,000. See also lots 350 and 369 .

  • 3. Artists work in many media


    We all know the large, richly coloured oil paintings of Picasso's famous lovers, but why not discover your favourite artists working with unexpected materials? Our sale features an elegant Archipenko porcelain, offered for a fraction of the price of a bronze of a similar subject, or a beautiful and functional charger plate designed by Pablo Picasso and etched in sterling silver, as well as a jeweled brooch in the shape of an eye designed by that most famous of all the Surrealists, Salvador Dalí. All are attractively priced and reflect the vision of the masters who designed them. Shown above: After Salvador Dalí, The Eye of Time . Estimate $20,000–30,000. See also lots 169 and 342 .

  • 4. Discover new names: like Willy Schlobach!
    Our shimmering cover lot this season shows the Normandy coast, a subject Claude Monet returned to again and again. This 1907 work represents a fresh take on the iconic Impressionist view of the cliffs at Étretat. Schlobach was a key member of the Belgian Luminist movement, with other well-known Pointillists of the day, like Theo van Rysselberghe. They showed their work alongside their better known French counterparts including Georges Seurat. Shown above: Willy Schlobach, Les falaises , 1907. Estimate $300,000–400,000.

  • 5. Follow plein air beyond the coast of Normandy
    Other plein air works can take you beyond the Normandy coast and will bolster your travel plans in Europe this summer.  See our wide variety of works by Henri Le Sidaner, who shows us a moonlit Honfleur with lot 368 , and a shimmering Cote d'Azure with lot 107 , or walk in the steps of Le Sidaner for a picnic in the artist’s hometown of Gerberoy, lot 103 . Cultural tourists may want to check out Le Sidaner’s lush sunset view at the house of famed philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau, lot 109 . Shown above: Henri Le Sidaner, Le Goûter Sous Bois, Gerberoy , 1925. Estimate $50,000–70,000. 

  • 6. Pay attention to edition sizes
    Artists who work in bronze often number how many castings are made of a single form.  On occasion, a subject is so meaningful to the artist that they choose to make just one unique cast. Lot 211 is such an example, and is not only signed Lipchitz but also marked with the artist’s own thumbprint.  Shown above: Jacques Lipchitz, Yara II , 1942. Estimate $50,000–70,000.  

  • 7. Examine condition
    Such as the bright and cheerful green patina used by Henry Moore for Three Motives Against Wall No. 1, lot 213. The seated figures before a wall really pop because of Moore’s careful choice to combine bright green and deep brown patina.Shown above: Henry Moore, Three Motives Against Wall No. 1 , 1958. Estimate $200,000–300,000.  

  • 8. Provenance adds richness to an artwork’s history
    Such as Renoir’s Paysage du Midi, lot 139 , which comes from the renowned collection of Mamdouha and Elmer Holmes Bobst. The Bobst name is all over New York, with their generously donated buildings to Memorial Sloan Kettering, the Animal Medical Center, and the famed Bobst library at NYU among others across the US.  These pioneering philanthropists surrounded themselves with beautiful artwork by Impressionist masters. Paysage du Midi was originally owned by the most famous dealer of the Impressionists, Ambroise Vollard, and entered the Bobst collection in 1964. A provenance listing is really just the places these paintings have been, which can be as interesting as their subjects. Shown above Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paysage du Midi, circa 1905. Estimate $600,000–800,000. 

  • 9. Pay attention to scale
    Like these hands by Auguste Rodin, which range from miniature to larger than life! Rodin was obsessed with hands. To depict the darker side of human expression, he studied examples he found on cadavers and on patients in psychiatric wards, and to depict creativity, he modeled the hands of musicians and fellow artists.  Rodin's ability to convey the explosive emotion of the human form is seen on the small scale in the muscular tension of these hands, which are more accessibly estimated than his larger works. Shown above: Auguste Rodin, Main Droite, Moyen Modèle . Estimate $50,000–70,000 (Lot 122). See also lots 123 , 124 , 125 , 126 and 127

  • 10. Make art historical connections
    Your favourite artists knew each other and responded to each other’s work: brothers Diego and Alberto Giacometti shared a studio in Paris! The results of their collaboration included Diego’s whimsical furniture offered in our sale, lots 301-307. It was likely in their studio that Alberto drew this portrait of famed historian John Rewald, who was a frequent visitor. The work’s provenance therefore includes Mr. Rewald, who gifted the drawing to our distinguished seller, the Museum of Modern Art New York, Sold to Benefit the Acquisitions Fund, lot 198. Shown above: Alberto Giacometti, Portrait de John Rewald , 1959. Estimate $80,000–120,000. 

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