Masters of Abstraction: Paris Contemporary Highlights

Launch Slideshow

The upcoming Sotheby’s France Contemporary Art sale will pay tribute to the Parisian masters of abstraction whose international renown is today supported by ever-increasing prices for their works. Pierre Soulages, Zao Wou-Ki, Jean Dubuffet, Nicolas de Staël and Simon Hantaï are all artists that Sotheby’s France has helped to establish in the Contemporary Art auction market internationally. Click ahead to see highlights from the upcoming sale.

Art Contemporain Vente du Soir
6 June 2017 | Paris

Art Contemporain Vente du Jour
7 June 2017 | Paris

Masters of Abstraction: Paris Contemporary Highlights

  • Pierre Soulages, Peinture 162 X 130 cm, 14 Avril 1962. Estimate €2,000,000–3,000,000.
    The sale will be led by a major canvas executed by Pierre Soulages in the early 1960s. Peinture 162 x 130 cm, 14 Avril 1962 perfectly illustrates Soulages incredible creative energy and mastery of volume, space and light. Experimenting with blue, like in Peinture 195 x 130 cm, 21 novembre 1959, which reached a world record price at the Sotheby’s auction in London in June 2013 ($6,651,081), the artist links colour and matter in an innovative gesture. As Soulages says himself, “the more limited the means, the stronger the expression.”

  • Nicolas De Staël, Paysage À Agrigente.
    Estimate €800,000–1,200,000.
    In the summer of 1953, Nicolas de Staël went on a journey that took him to Sicily, where the ruins of Greek temples crumbling in the sun gave him an aesthetic shock that led, during the following months, to one of the most remarkable series he ever produced. Consisting of only 19 paintings, all considered absolute masterpieces, this series is one of the most popular with amateurs of the painter's work.

  • Zao Wou-Ki , 19.03.62.
    Estimate €1,800,000–2,500,000.
    In 1962, Zao Wou-Ki was one of the figureheads of the international art scene, and one of the most illustrious representatives of the new Paris school and lyric abstraction. With 19.3.62 , a remarkable piece that has remained for 40 years in the same private North American collection, Zao Wou-Ki was at the peak of his art. He had found a long-sought balance between tradition and modernity, his gestures being accomplished and his palette perfectly controlled. Here a sensitive, dreamlike landscape rises up, drawing the viewer deep within it.

  • Andy Warhol, Pat Hearn. Estimate €300,000–400,000.
    Pat Hearn left her imprint on the art world as a pioneer who stood at the forefront of the New York City art scene. She was one of the first to boldly open galleries in Chelsea and in a relatively gallery-free area of SoHo (on Wooster Street near Grand), inaugurating both neighbourhoods for art and founding the Gramercy International Art Fair, known today as the Armory Show. She was both an inspiration and a well-respected art dealer, as well as a sophisticated, tasteful woman. This silkscreen portrait by Andy Warhol is a tribute to her accomplishments and her success as a cutting edge female personality. By unveiling her most feminine features, Warhol exposes the art world celebrity in an atypical intimate light. Here, the gallerist becomes the subject of art. With this portrait, Pat Hearn, who was renowned for being more interested in other artists’ work than her own, becomes the muse of Andy Warhol and subsequently, an icon. The choice of colour and female subject of Pat Hearn also echoes back to Warhol’s famous 1962 Gold Marilyn, where gold and portraiture seem to serve to elevate women to the level of the divine.

  • Jean-Paul Riopelle, Jardin.
    Estimate €700,000–1,000,000.
  • Jean Dubuffet, Quatre Leveuses de Bras.
    Estimate €600,000–800,000.
    This work was realized in 1943, the year Dubuffet, aged 41 years old, finally embraced the artist career that he had renounced twice before.
    In 1943, “the world had just changed speed” and some, like Paul Eluard, Jean Fautrier or Jean Paulhan, who would be the first owner of this particular painting, felt “a growing need to throw themselves into a life that dilates and cracks up everywhere”  (Max Loreau, Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet, Fascicule 1 : Marionnette de la ville et de la Campagne).

    The message is clear. With Quatre leveuses de bras , the result of over two decades of questioning and research, Dubuffet achieves what has given him so much fame today and why he is celebrated  as a genius by art historians: his faculty to create a machine for fabricating the world.

  • Yves Klein, Monochrome Bleu Sans Titre, (Ikb 279). Estimate €300,000–500,000.
  • Jean Dubuffet, Paysage Gris aux Taches Cerises. Estimate €1,500,000–2,000,000.
    "There is no doubt that Jean Dubuffet has decided to carry us far away, but where?" wrote Max Loreau in his foreword to the Fascicule V of the catalogue of Jean Dubuffet's work: Paysages grotesques (Grotesque Landscapes).  Grotesque because the artist breaks with the common places of traditional landscapes scenes but also because Paysage gris aux tâches cerises has nothing to do with a "completed spectacle". It becomes instead an invitation to mental wanderings. A beautiful lesson on the alchemy of painting.

  • Joan Mitchell, Tilleul. Estimate €300,000–500,000.
    Tilleul is one of Mitchell’s most direct examples of landscape abstractions. Tilleul, a linden tree in French, is part of a group of paintings created by Mitchell and inspired by the tree in front of Monet’s former home in Vétheuil which she acquired in the summer of 1967. In this powerful work, the dense vertical strokes of paint evoke the essence of tree branches reaching upward.

  • Simon Hantaï, Untitled. Estimate €100,000–150,000.
    In his works of around 1958, Simon Hantaï painted with small dabs, which he poetically dubbed "wake-up touches". Less well-known than the "Meuns" and the "Mariales", this series revolutionised the painter's technique while reviving the ancestral art of mosaics. Sans titre , 1958 is a speaking example, corroborating Dominique Fourcade's comments in the catalogue raisonné of the Centre Pompidou's exhibition: "The imperious need for interiority and the need to achieve a state more secret, more real than painting led Hantaï to the intuition (and concept) of the little "wake-up touches". At the same time, it was this way of painting that made possible and viable his withdrawal and revival – which could be described as his birth. It was a powerful, continuously inspired process. (…) "

  • Anselm Kiefer, Makulisten, Immakulisten.
    Estimate €200,000–300,000.
  • Damien Hirst, Beautiful Bum Runs Painting.
    Estimate €200,000–300,000.
    In 1993, Damien Hirst and Angus Fairhurst hosted a spin art stall at a street fair dressed as clowns by performance artist Leigh Bowery. The following year in Berlin, Hirst had a spin machine made and began his iconic series of spin paintings. Characterized by their bright colours and dynamism, the series is a true breath of optimism and energy. This particularly hypnotic disc of canvas, titled Beautiful bum runs painting , dating from 2007, is saturated with explosions of paint and intensity. In Damien Hirst’s own words, the paintings from the series are “childish… in the positive sense of the word” (Damien Hirst and Gordon Burn, ‘On the Way to Work’ (Faber and Faber, 2001), 221). The nuances of warm tones of canary yellow and orange, mixed with cool eruptions of greens and blues vibrate from the canvas vehemently. To create such a vivid artwork, Hirst poured the household gloss onto a rotating canvas. The choice of colour was therefore decisive in the making of the painting, while the rest of the creative process was left up to chance and the spin painting machine.

  • Chu Teh-Chun, 5 Mai 1978.
    Estimate €600,000–900,000.
    Chu-Teh-Chun first discovered the great masters of Western painting in 1935 in the ancient Song capital of Hangzhou. His teacher, Lin Fengmian, was a fervent admirer of Cézanne and Matisse. The same year, the Sino-Japanese conflict obliged the students of the Hangzhou School of Fine Arts to leave the city for Chongqing, at 4,000km to the West. It took Chu The-Chun over two years to travel this distance. During the trip, the young artist attempted to depict the landscapes he travelled through in the pure Chinese tradition. He drew over a hundred works, in the manner of the great landscape artists of the Tang and Song dynasties. Over the following months, Chu The-Chun was quick to understand how, due to this particular genre, which however takes a very different form in the Western tradition than in the Chinese tradition, he was able to create a link and bring the two aesthetic cultures together.

  • Sam Francis, Untitled. Estimate €300,000–400,000.
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