Highlights of Impressionist & Modern and Contemporary Art

Launch Slideshow

In an exciting week of sales that brings together important works by the most sought-after artists of the Modern and Contemporary periods, Sotheby's will offer works by Alberto Giacometti, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Roy Lichtenstein and many more. Exhibitions of property from the Impressionist & Modern Art Evening and Day sales will hang alongside Contemporary Art Evening and Day in our New York galleries from 5–18 May. Click through for a preview of highlights from both sales.

Impressionist & Modern Art Evening
16 May | New York

Contemporary Art Evening Auction
18 May | New York

Highlights of Impressionist & Modern and Contemporary Art

  • Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled. Estimate Upon Request.
    Irrefutably the most significant work by the artist to ever appear at auction, Untitled  ranks among the ultimate paragons of the Jean-Michel Basquiat’s oeuvre, and is the commanding counterpart to Basquiat’s Untitled (Head) in the collection of The Broad Museum. As an indisputable masterpiece from the singular formative year of Basquiat’s meteoric career, the unveiling of Untitled marks an extraordinary moment within the legacy of Contemporary Art’s most mythic and revered figure. Built up of innumerable layers of vibrant hues and coursing rivulets of pigment, Untitled is an unparalleled example of the virtuosic ability to apply, execute, shift, and render paint upon canvas that distinguished Basquiat as an undisputed master within the vanguard of young and ambitious image-makers.

  • Claude Monet, Le Bassin aux nymphéas. Estimate $14,000,000–18,000,000.
    The selection of Impressionist pictures on offer this May are led by Claude Monet’s Le Bassin aux
 nymphéas, a powerful testament to the artist’s
 enduring creativity in his mature years. Monet’s paintings of his water lily 
pond at Giverny rank among the most celebrated
Impressionist works. Painted circa 1917-20, Le Bassin
aux nymphéas captures the famous pond that served 
as a boundless source of inspiration, providing the major themes that dominated his final decades. The enduring impact of these late paintings is evident in abstract works by artists including Jackson Pollock, Joan Mitchell and Gerhard Richter.

  • Roy Lichtenstein, Nude Sunbathing. Estimate Upon Request.
    A resounding testament to the visual dynamism of Roy Lichtenstein’s bold signature style, Nude Sunbathing  constitutes the ultimate crystallization of the artist’s enduring engagement with the quintessential heroine of his inimitable oeuvre; freed from the narrative constraints of her previous embodiments, Lichtenstein’s nude revels in the enjoyment of her own peerless form. Speaking in the year the present work was painted, Lichtenstein remarked, “I’m trying to make paintings like giant musical chords, with a polyphony of colors that is nuts but works…It’s tough to make a painting succeed in terms of color and drawing within the constraints I insist on for myself.”

  • Claude Monet, Vétheuil. Estimate $4,000,000–6,000,000.
    Monet’s Vétheuil is a stunning depiction of the artist’s hometown. This picturesque location was the site of some of Monet’s most successful Impressionist landscapes during this period and continued to fascinate him well into his late career. Painted in 1880, the work has descended within the same family collection since 1914. 

  • Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes Bild. Estimate $12,000,000–18,000,000.
    As a spectacular torrent of brilliant white paint courses horizontally across the canvas, both covering and uncovering strata of bold crimsons, gold, and cerulean, Abstraktes Bild  ranks among the most intense and pristinely resolved examples of Gerhard Richter’s hallowed corpus of abstract paintings. Simultaneously concealing and revealing spectacular accents of red, yellow and blue primaries, a sublime ivory veil of lusciously viscous white oil paint flows laterally across the canvas like a storm of snow surging across the geological strata of a cliff face. The present work sits at the chronological apex of the period when the artist’s creation of monumental essays in abstraction reached new heights and the long, hard-edged spatula became the central instrument of Richter’s technical practice.

  • Kazimir Malevich, Suprematist Composition with Plane in Projection. Estimate $12,000,000–18,000,000.
    A strong group of early Abstract works are led by Kazimir 
Malevich’s Suprematist Composition with Plane in Projection of 
1915 – a prime example of the artist’s 
“Suprematist” paintings, which are extremely rare. Coined by the 
artist during his exhibition at the 0.10: Last Futurist Exhibition of
 Paintings in Petrograd in 1915 – in which the present work most
 likely hung – the term refers to Malevich’s fascination with the
impact of colour and form. For the exhibition, Malevich displayed 39
 paintings detached from figurative subject matter. The appearance
 of Suprematist Composition with Plane in Projection in our May auction is particularly timely: Malevich is a focus of the Royal Academy of Art’s recent exhibition Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932. 

  • Robert Rauschenberg, Rigger. Estimate $8,000,000–12,000,000.
    Within the oeuvre of an artist whose work is unconditionally shaped and influenced by his immediate surroundingsRigger  pronounces an abstract vernacular that is exceptionally particularized to—and intimately revealing of—Robert Rauschenberg’s life in Lower Manhattan at the time of its creation. Emphatically architectural, the explicit elements which make up the present work speak to both the specifics of his downtown neighborhood and the rapid changes occurring there, the result of major urban re-development in New York in the early 1960s. In a thunderous cataclysm of gestural bravura, arresting multidimensionality, and staggeringly innovative experimentation, Rigger is a seminal example of Rauschenberg’s singular engagement with the very nature of artistic form in his celebrated Combine paintings. 

  • Alberto Giacometti, Buste de Diego. Estimate $10,000,000–15,000,000.
    Sculpture from the Finn Family Collection is led by Alberto Giacometti’s Buste de Diego, one of the artist’s most radical and engaging works. Measuring just over two feet in height, the work’s significant size contributes to its robust personification of the Existentialist movement during the contentious years of the Cold War. The bronze depicts one of Giacometti’s most frequent inspirations: his younger brother, Diego. 

  • David Hockney, Building, Pershing Square, Los Angeles. Estimate $6,000,000–8,000,000.
    A critical early landmark of David Hockney’s era-defining painted visions of Los Angeles, Building, Pershing Square, Los Angeles  encapsulates the very genesis of his lifelong enchantment with the magnetic allure of Southern California. Furrthermore this work crucially displays the artist’s formative radical experimentation with various technical and compositional concerns at the beginning of his storied career. Evincing his ongoing dialogue with abstraction, Hockney’s painting is dominated by straight edges and simplified shapes—the primary image is isolated in the center of the composition, framed by a flat background and three strips of color approximating the city street that runs along the bottom of the picture. 

  • Diego Giacometti, Bibliothèque de l'île Saint-Louis. Estimate $2,000,000–3,000,000.
    Speaking of Diego: the May sale offers Diego Giacometti’s striking Bibliotheque de l’île Saint-Louis, one of the most important works of the artist’s career. Measuring over ten-and-a-half feet in height and twelve feet in length, the Bibliotheque de l’île Saint-Louis is among Giacometti’s largest-scale comissions. 

  • Andy Warhol, Hammer and Sickle. Estimate $6,000,000–8,000,000.
    The extraordinary Hammer and Sickle  from 1976 is among the most historically potent, culturally significant, and incomparably iconic paintings from the inimitable oeuvre of Andy Warhol. Bristling with the explosive energy of communism’s universally recognizable motif, Warhol’s emphatic rendering of one of the Twentieth Century’s most familiar and symbols confronts the viewer with a  provocative bravura that rivals that of the artist’s quintessential Pop images of Campbell’s Soup Cans and Marilyn Monroe. Warhol’s subsumption and subsequent re-appropriation of communist symbolism into his legendary Pop vernacular – both physical, as in Hammer and Sickle, and metaphorical, as in his renderings of Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong and Russian communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin – profoundly refocused the artist’s ground-breaking aesthetic energies on the political realities of his time. 

  • Pablo Picasso, Tête d'homme. Estimate $8,000,000–12,000,000.
    Painted in 1969, about a week before his 88th birthday, Pablo Picasso’s self-portrait Tête d’homme was first exhibited in a one-man show that the artist curated himself in the hallowed halls of the Palace of the Popes in Avignon. Its grand scale, sweeping Gothic arches and quatrefoil windows were ideally suited to the great scale and impact of Picasso’s paintings from the period, including the present work. In many ways Tête d’homme epitomises Picasso’s obsession with and admiration for Vincent van Gogh, echoing several elements of that artist’s Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat from 1887. 

  • Mark Grotjahn, Untitled (Face 41.05). Estimate $6,000,000–8,000,000.
    With a bravado that echoes the rich action paintings of Abstract Expressionist titans Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, and a vectored composition that pays tribute to Futurists such as Umberto Boccioni and Gino Severini, Unititled  successfully integrates ineffable dynamism into a syntax of gestural expression. The radial bands of scarlet vermillion, deep phthalo blue, cadmium yellow, and viridian green explode layer by layer through the composition, setting the picture plane into undulating motion. Grotjahn juxtaposes these strong primary colors against more muted hues that he has tinted with white, grey, and other light neutrals.

  • Gustav Klimt, Dame im Fauteuil (Woman in An Armchair). Estimate $7,000,000–9,000,000.
    Painted in 1897-1898, Gustav Klimt’s Dame im Fauteuil (Woman in Armchair) is a rare example of the artist’s early portraiture. The work also illustrates his affiliation with the Symbolist painters of the late 19th century. The female sitter is swathed richly in a matching red dress and hat, her narrow waist belted in a deep green. The serenity and delicate pallour of her face is mirrored in the ghostly quality of the two outlined heads in the upper left of the composition. 

  • Jean-Michel Basquiat, In the Wings. Estimate $5,000,000–7,000,000.
    Adding to the limited number of important paintings that he dedicated to the greatest jazz legends of the Twentieth Century, here Jean-Michel Basquiat enshrines the image of Lester Young – arguably the most influential and innovative saxophonists of all time – and creates a highly personal, devotional icon for posterity. With individualism and experimentation at the heart of jazz music, each of Basquiat’s jazz heroes maintained a distinctive vocal or musical style, making unique artistic contributions to the development of the genre. Having acknowledged himself as a relative rarity as a Black artist within a racially homogenous art world, through In the Wings  Basquiat destabilizes the canon of cultural history by inserting Black consciousness at its forefront and chiefly positioning himself as its visionary narrator.

  • Georges Braque, La Pianiste. Estimate $6,000,000–8,000,000.
    La Pianiste represents the pivotal moment in Georges Braque’s career when he synthesised his Cubist sense of space with the vibrant palette of his early Fauve years. Part of what is considered Braque’s first true series, and recognised as the beginning of his late period, La Pianiste is the only major example of this seminal group to remain in private hands. Other works from this series reside in the most important collections in the world: The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. 

  • Rudolf Stingel, Untitled. Estimate $5,000,000–7,000,000.
    Upon exposure to Untitled , one is immersed in a spectacular vision of thousands of graffiti inscriptions that Rudolf Stingel has cast in eletroplated copper. Because of its reflective sheen, the gilded surface resists the gaze, like a mirror, so that one becomes aware of their presence in the face of the work. The installation comprised of expansive aluminum-coated Celotex boards that lined the gallery walls. Allowed to depart radically from traditional museum protocol, viewers were invited to imprint, scribble, and incise any kind of mark with any available material, imparting an aspect of performativity to Stingel's installation that aligns him within a greater tradition of relational aesthetics. 

  • Lyonel Feininger, Fin de séance. Estimate $6,000,000–8,000,000.
    Feininger made his debut into the world of avant-garde painting in Paris
 with the spectacular Fin de séance. The artist 
chose to include this impressive canvas in the annual Salon des
 Indépendants in the spring of 1911, where it hung alongside works by
 Matisse and Kandinsky, as well as the debut of Picasso and Braque’s 
revolutionary Cubist compositions. When Feininger moved to the United 
States in 1937 on the eve of the war, Fin de séance was one of
 approximately 50 works from his early oeuvre that he left in the care of
 an associate in Quedlinburg, Germany. It was not until 1984, nearly 30 years after his death, that the pictures were finally returned to Feininger’s heirs in the United States. 

  • Paul Signac, Le Pin de Bertaud. Estimate $3,500,000–5,000,000.
    Works emerging from a distinguished private collection include Impressionist pictures by Paul Signac, Alfred Sisley and Pierre Bonnard, as well as an important early sculpture by Alexander Archipenko. The group is led by Signac’s Le Pin de Bertaud, a spectacular view of Saint-Tropez painted in 1899-1900 at the crescendo of his time as leader of the Neo-Impressionists. 

  • Cy Twombly, Silex Scintillans. Estimate $5,000,000–7,000,000.
    In its signature juxtaposition of haphazard handwriting, bold gestural ferocity, and expressive painterly language, Silex Scintillans  epitomizes Cy Twombly’s unique formal vocabulary, in which the boundaries between painting and writing have been obliterated in favor of a semantic unity of sign and form. In his unique fusion of frenetic painterly abstraction with the metaphysical implications inherent to his scrawled text, Silex Scintillans exemplifies Twombly’s work of the early 1980s, in which the artist increasingly embraced an arresting, atmospheric lushness and romantic approach to the pastoral in his large-scale works. During this period, inspired by such canonical painters of nature as Claude Monet and J.M.W Turner, Twombly’s art became increasingly rooted in the universal themes of love, fate, and the divine.

  • Edgar Degas, Le Ballet. Estimate $2,000,000–3,000,000.
    By the time Degas painted Le Ballet, he had been immersed in the world of opera and dance for at least twenty-five years. Much of his activity occurred backstage and his studies of training sessions in the classrooms and of numerous personalities from the company give a remarkably complete view of the workings of this complex organization. In Le Ballet four ballerinas are captured on point in brightly colored garb. Gliding in front of a painted backdrop with a landscape of rolling hills, the stage is separated from the viewer by the bulbous head of a cello.


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