Modern Visionaries: Monet, Picasso, Rodin & More

Launch Slideshow

This spring, Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Evening auction in New York will present works representing nearly every key movement of the time, from Fauvism to Surrealism. Luminous landscapes and psychologically complex portraits from renowned collections, such as the Bobst and Blaffer families, feature in this dynamic sale. Click ahead for a preview and to learn the stories behind some of this season’s most intriguing lots.  

Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale

9 May | New York 

Modern Visionaries: Monet, Picasso, Rodin & More

  • André Derain, Les Voiles rouges, 1906. Estimate $15,000,000–20,000,000.
    Painted in London during the height of the Fauve movement, Les Voiles rouges was completed during one of Derain’s three visits to London over the span of ten months. Just 25 at the time, Derain was encouraged by his dealer, Ambroise Vollard, to make the journey from Paris to London. While the majority of the canvases painted during this time featured famous London sites like the Palace of Westminster and St. Paul’s Cathedral, the present work is void of any readily discernible landmarks. Several scholars suggest this work was painted in Greenwich, a town located at the lowest crossing point on the Thames, downriver from London city. The boat painted by Derain resembles a Thames sailing barge, or commercial sailing boat commonly found on the River Thames in London. Les Voiles rouges has remained in the Blaffer family of Texas collection for over sixty years.  

  • Maurice de Vlaminck, Sous-bois, 1905. Estimate $12,000,000–18,000,000.
    Also coming from the Blaffer family, Vlaminck's Sous-bois resonates with a passion and exuberance that characterise the greatest Fauve paintings. This work was executed in the summer of 1905, only months before Louis Vauxcelles derided the outrageously colourful canvases of Vlaminck, Matisse and Braque on display at the Salon d'Automne as the rantings of ‘fauves,’ or ‘wild beasts.' Of all of the Fauve painters, Vlaminck was perhaps one of the most vocal about the trans-sensory impact of vibrant colour. This fascination with brilliant, vibrant colours is magnificently reflected in Sous-bois, which probably depicts a scene near Chatou, where Vlaminck lived at the time.  

  • Claude Monet, Camille à l'ombrelle verte, 1876. Estimate $9,000,000–12,000,000.

    Camille à l'ombrelle verte is a charming depiction of Monet’s wife strolling through the garden of their family home in Argenteuil. Unlike other works, which depict Camille as a minor feature or in the distance ofa lavish natural setting, the artist divided his attention in this picture equally between the figure and her surroundings. Monet and his family moved to Argenteuil, a suburb near Paris, in 1871 and lived there for the following six years. Camille became Monet's partner in 1866; much to the disapproval of their families, the two lived together before finally marrying in 1870. She provided a constant source of inspiration for the artist, who often painted her in moments of leisure, sometimes with their son, Jean.

  • Paul Signac, Maisons du Port, Saint-Tropez, 1892. Estimate $8,000,000–12,000,000.

    Signac painted this spectacular view of the port at Saint-Tropez in 1892 – the height of his time as the leader of the Neo-Impressionist painters. In April of that year, Signac set sail to the south of France, in search of restorative sunlight and happier times following the death of his friend Georges Seurat the prior year. When he arrived at the port of St. Tropez, which at the time could be accessed only by boat, the visual splendor of the terracotta roofed houses lining the port made a lasting impression on him.

  • Auguste Rodin, L'Éternel printemps, 1901-1903. Estimate $8,000,000–12,000,000.
    Carved from a single block of marble at the turn of the 20th century, Rodin's stunning L'Éternel printemps ranks among the artist's most skillful renderings of this passionate subject. The first owner was the German diplomat Hellmuth Lucius von Stoedten, who commissioned it from the artist's studio. This sculpture, which is adorned with a floral motif on the base, is believed to be the fifth of ten known carvings of the subject in marble and was singled out in Frederick Lawton’s 1906 biography of the artist as the most beautiful of them all.

  • Claude Monet, Près Monte-Carlo, 1883. $5,000,000–7,000,000.
    Monet had a lifelong commitment to painting en plein air as he explored how atmospheric conditions affect light and colour. Près Monte Carlo was one of the first works from the shores of Monte Carlo and is amongst the finest seaside images of this period. The work depicts a seascape with rocks and vegetation, all elements that he was craving to experience and paint while he was in Paris. Monet’s quick brushstrokes and wide spectrum of colour give the composition a dynamic sense of movement and a luminous quality.

  • Pablo Picasso, Mousquetaire, 1967. Estimate $5,000,000–7,000,000.
    Mousquetaire, Picasso's richly coloured depiction of his alter-ego, is a testament to the artist’s stamina and powerful creative expression. Picasso painted this picture in the spring of 1967, when youth culture and “free love” dominated social discourse. The musketeer series was a continuation of the artist’s interest in reinterpreting yhe Old Masters, as well as his appreciation of other great figures of the past, including Shakespeare. Towards the end of Picasso's life, the image of the musketeer evoked his Spanish heritage and his nostalgia for the youthful vigour of his early years. 

  • Pablo Picasso, Paloma, 1952. Estimate $4,000,000–6,000,000.
    Picasso had a life-long fascination with the expressive power of grisaille. Here, Picasso’s and Françoise Gilot’s youngest daughter Paloma is the subject of a portrait completed four days before the little girl's fourth birthday. With the arrival of Paloma in 1949, until the end of his relationship with Gilot in 1953, Picasso turned to his domestic life for creative inspiration and focused particular attention on his young children. These pictures are characterised by a linear simplicity that calls to mind the naiveté of childhood, and they can also be seen as direct responses to the playful cut-outs that occupied Picasso's arch-rival Matisse around the same time.

  • René Magritte, La Folie almayer, 1955. Estimate $500,000–700,000.
    This brilliantly coloured gouache depicts a rooted tower, a motif that brought Magritte great relief from a creative block and inspired future compositions on the theme. The solution to Magritte’s so-called “creative crisis” was to depict the rooted tower on a plain background, as he does here, in order to achieve maximum aesthetic pleasure. This composition is one of ten gouaches the artist painted for his 1955 exhibition at Christian Zervos’s gallery Cahiers d’Art, arranged by art dealer Alexander Iolas; Iolas purchased this work following the exhibition and it has remained in his family for the last 50 years.

  • Fernand Léger, Composition au cheval blanc, 1945. Estimate $3,500,000–5,000,000.
    Composition au cheval blanc is one of the artist’s boldly modelled, figurative paintings that captures the celebratory spirit in the months immediately following the end of World War II. While living in the US during the war, Léger focussed on expressive depictions of figures in action and delighted in depicting the curvature of their bodies and the solidity of their features. Much of the inspiration for these figures was derived from watching female entertainers, including dancers, circus performers and acrobats – all beloved motifs in Léger’s œuvre.  

  • Pablo Picasso, Buste de Femme, 1953. Estimate $3,500,000–5,000,000.
    Having left behind the innocent, dream-like portraits of Marie-Thérèse Walter and the dramatic, distorted depictions of Dora Maar, Picasso found a new style in his Françoise Gilot-inspired portraits. His paintings of her are characterised by a certain elegance and poise – even evident towards the end of their relationship. This Picasso portrait dates from when tensions between he and Françoise were at their height. That dramatic period is captured with expressive force in this sharp black and white rendering of Françoise. Although Picasso depicts her with a monochromatic severity, the touches of soft colour in her cheeks, lips and breasts suggest a lingering sensitivity for her.

  • Egon Schiele, Frau In Unterwäsche und Strümpfen (Valerie Neuzil) (Woman in Underclothes and Stockings), 1913. Estimate $2,500,000–3,500,000.
    Schiele’s early watercolours and drawings of nude or scantily clad women are some of the most technically sophisticated and provocative images in the history of western art. The model for the present composition was Schiele’s companion Wally Neuzil, who featured in the artist’s more visually daring and experimental compositions. The most palpable feature of this image is the contours of the figure’s calves, which he has highlighted with a modulation of orange gouache. By providing us with just enough detail to register the form, it is as if Schiele has consciously restrained himself in his investigation of her body.

  • Wassily Kandinsky, Bindung (Binding), 1932. Estimate $2,000,000–3,000,000.
    Bindung, painted during Kandinsky’s final months at the Bauhaus and one of only two works he painted in May of 1932, is a visual symphony of geometry and colour. The composition explores the dimensionality of space by layering colour bands on top of opaque black forms to create an illusion of depth. With its emphasis on individual shapes and their harmonious placement within a composition, it is also a superb example of the artist’s mature style. Kandinsky believed that particular arrangements of shapes triggered an “inner resonance” or “spiritual vibration” and could elicit a powerful emotional response.    

  • Egon Schiele, Stehendes Mädchen mit Grünem Kleid (Standing Girl with Green Dress), 1913. Estimate $1,500,000–2,000,000.
    This arresting image marks an important change that occurred in Schiele’s art during this period. Following his brief imprisonment in 1912 for the alleged dissemination of indecent drawings, Schiele reduced some of the sexual explicitness typical of his earlier work. Here the model wears a bright green dress and her gentle and compassionate gaze departs from the sexualised stare of his previous subjects.

  • René Magritte, La Géante, 1936. Estimate $1,400,000–1,800,000.
    La Géante features one of Magritte’s iconic “leaf-trees,” which depict the tree as a large leaf, the stem of which is planted directly into the ground as the trunk. For Magritte, this represented a solution to one of the many problems he explored in his mysterious Surrealist compositions. The title La Géante (The Giantess) is in memory of a poem by Charles Baudelaire.

  • Jean Hélion, Équilibre, 1936. Estimate $1,000,000–1,500,000.
    A striking example of the artist’s distinct brand of abstraction in the 1930s, Équilibre is composed of a series of overlapping and interpenetrating curves, bars and lines. Coming directly from the Hélion’s family, Équilibre belongs to the series of pictures that the artist created during his time in the US (1936–40) and was completed in his studio in Rockbridge Baths, Virginia, a property that remains with his family today. 

  • Edgar Degas, Grande arabesque, troisième temps, conceived circa 1882-1885 and cast circa 1924. Estimate $600,000–800,000.
    The dancer is perhaps Degas’ most well-known subject, and the three-dimensional medium of sculpture undoubtedly offered him the greatest possibility for experimenting with form. This bronze captures the grace, beauty and flexibility of a dancer in the position known as an arabesque – left leg extended backwards, right arm extended forwards in a counterbalance. An energetic and animated pose, the arabesque reappears throughout many of Degas’ compositions.

  • Henry Moore, Working Model for Reclining Figure: Bone Skirt, conceived in 1977-79 and cast in 1979. Estimate $700,000–1,000,000.
    Henry Moore experimented with the motif of the reclining figure repeatedly throughout his career, rendering it in both organic forms and near-abstract geometry alike. In this bronze, Moore creates dynamism by contrasting the soft folds of the woman’s bone skirt, reminiscent of sculpture and reliefs from Classical antiquity, with the solidity of her body.  The ridges and folds have a mountainous appearance, perhaps a subtle reference to the landscape and hills of Moore’s birthplace, Yorkshire. The solidity of the female form and her dignified backwards glance give the figure a timeless, eternal quality.

  • Max Ernst, La Conversion du feu, 1937. Estimate $5,000,000–7,000,000.
    Painted against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War and the rise of Fascism in Europe, Ernst responds to contemporary events in La Conversion du feu with some of his most striking motifs and techniques. The composition marks the birth of the mythical creature L’Ange du foyer (The Angel of Hearth and Home), a figure that would reappear in a subsequent series of paintings by Ernst. The artist saw the Angel as an unstoppable force that brought destruction to anything in its path, an apt allegory for the political climate of the time. Ernst used his unique grattage technique – covering the canvas with a layer of paint before placing it over an object and scraping off the pigment to reveal the patterned surface beneath – to create the unsettling illusion of the vegetation coming alive.

  • René Magritte, Le Jockey perdu, 1964. Estimate $2,000,000–3,000,000.
    From one of the artist's most riveting series, Le Jockey perdu returns to a recurring subject that Magritte first visited in a painting of 1926. The present work is one of the last recorded – and largest – renditions of the “lost jockey,” a characteristically mysterious subject. Magritte's imagery often thrived on semantic paradoxes, and Le Jockey perdu is no exception: the “lost jockey” is arguably an oxymoronic concept that urges the viewer to confront how a jockey, who seldom abandons his circular track, could have possibly lost his way.


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