Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Amedeo Clemente Modigliani (1884-1920) was an Italian artist born in Livorno of Jewish heritage, practicing both painting and sculpture who pursued his career for the most part in France.

In 1906, Modigliani settled in Paris, where he encountered the works of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Georges Rouault, and Pablo Picasso (in his "blue period") and assimilated their influence. The strong influence of Paul Cezanne's paintings is clearly evident, both in Modigliani's deliberate distortion of the figure and the free use of large, flat areas of color.

A fine example of Modigliani's figure paintings is a Reclining Nude (1917; Guggenheim Museum), an elegant, arresting arrangement of curved lines and planes as well as a striking idealization of feminine sexuality.

This Nudo Seduto belonged to the Henri Ford's II collection that went on auction in May 1980. Over 20,000 people visited the 5 days exhibition prior to the sale. It was sold on the 13th of May 1980 for $600,000.The total of the sale reached $ 18.3 million. Henri Ford II had said that he would come to the sale but then told the auctioneers that there was a strike in Detroit and that he preferred not to be seen at the sale :"It would look very bad, he said, if I was seen to have made 10 million (the amount of the estimate) or more while I was telling the automobile constructors to get stuffed for $1.5." When the autioneers told him the sale had made 18 millions, he was nonplussed and said:"Well done, Jesus, people are crazy."

Two comments that say a lot about the super-rich people's mentality.

Saturday, May 19, 2007


Claude Monet (1840-1926) was the founder of French impressionist painting and the most consistent and prolific practitioner of the movement's philosophy of expressing one's perceptions before nature, especially as applied to out-door landscape painting. The term Impressionism is derived from the title of his painting Impression, Sunrise.

After the outbreak of the franco-Prussian war in 1870, Monet took refuge in London in September 1870. While there, he studied the works of Constable and Turner, both of whose landscapes would serve to inspire Monet's innovations in the study of color. In the Spring of 1871, Monet's works were refused authorisation to be included in the Royal Academy exhibition.

In 1872, he painted Impression, Sunrise depicting a Le Havre landscape. It hung in the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874 and is now displayed in the Musée Marmottan in Paris. From the painting's title, art critic Louis Leroy coined the term "Impressionism". La Terrasse à Sainte Adresse (oil canvas 98x130cm) was painted in the summer of 1867 when Monet was in desperate financial straits and had to ask assistance from his father (seated in the canned chair in the picture).

The picture was eventually bought by the Reverend Theo Pitcairn, heir of a very wealthy family of Pittsburg (Pennsylvania), in 1926 for $ 11,080 from a dealer in 57th Street in New York. In 1967 David Bathurst, director at Christie's in London, spent a weekend at Bryn Athyn, a small village of Pennsylvania where Theo Pitcairn' s property was and where he had established the seat of the General Church of Jerusalem.

During his stay, David accidentally found that Theo Pitcairn had got in touch with David Wildenstein, the immensely powerful Parisian dealer, and Peter Wilson, Chairman of Sotheby's : he pressed Theo about giving the auction of La Terrasse to Christie's. Theo Pitcairn eventually agreed to let Christie's auction off "La Terrasse" which arrived in London in December 1967.

The American TV network CBS made a film for their program 60 Minutes about the London Art market and the arrival of the picture : the film went coast to coast and was invaluable publicity as La Terrasse sold for £ 650,000, just over $1,4 million to the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Theo Pitcairn gave the proceeds to the charity he had founded, the Beneficia Foundation.

Monet died of lung cancer in December 1926 at the age of 86 and is buried in the Giverny church cemetery.

Friday, May 18, 2007


Edward James was born August 16, 1907, the only son of William James, an American railroad magnate who moved to England and married Evelyn Forbes, a Scots socialite, who was reputedly fathered by the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII). James was educated briefly at Eton, and then at Le Rosey in Switzerland, then at Christ Church, Oxford, where he was a contemporary of Evelyn Waugh and Harold Acton. In 1912 he inherited the 8,000-acre (32 km²) West Dean Estate in Sussex, on the death of his father.

James is best known as a passionate and early supporter of Surrealism. He sponsored Salvador
Dalí for the whole of 1938 and his collection of paintings and art objects that subsequently came to be accepted as the finest collection of surrealist work in private hands. He also provided practical help, supporting Dalí for about two years and allowing Magritte to stay in his London house to do some paintings.

Before the war he chose to live in Mexico where he lived an eccentric and luxurous life, building fantastic residences and statues, notably Los Pozas ("the Pools") a gigantic sculpture garden ; in 1964 he gave his estate to the West Dean charity.

In 1981 he decided to sell the paintings
Le Sommeil (above ) by Dali and the print La Minotauromachie (right) by Picasso. Le Sommeil went for $ 813,000 et La Minotauromachie for $ 160,800. It is now at the MOMA in New York.

He died in 1984. The rest of his fabulous collection of Surrealists and Latin America paintings was auctioned off in 1986 by Christie's.


Pierre A. Renoir(1842-1919), one of the top three Impressionists fathers with Monet and Sisley, was born in Limoges, France, where he started painting decorations for the porcelain industry, gaining experience with the light, fresh colors that were to distinguish his Impressionist work and also learning the importance of good craftsmanship.

Renois is perhaps the best-loved of all the Impressionists, for his subjects---pretty children, flowers, beautiful scenes, above all lovely women---have instant appeal, and he communicated the joy he took in them with great directness. `Why shouldn't art be pretty?', he said, `There are enough unpleasant things in the world.' A view that should be shared by too many modern artists who think that Art must be ugly and provocative.

This exquisite picture painted in 1877 was one of the seven Goldsmith pictures which had blasted Sotheby's into orbit. It was bought in 1958 for 72,000 Pounds ($203,000) but in 1984 it was accepted by the Governement of Her Majesty The Queen Elisabeth II in lieu of tax from the Executors of the Jack Cotton Will Trust for a gross value of £2 million ($2.8 million).

The year 1984 was the start of a boom in Art prices and a period of mega-prices which continues to this day except for a decline from 1990 to 1993.
Renoir died in Cagnes, Cote d'Azur, at the end of WW1.

Thursday, May 10, 2007


Claude Monet (1840-1926) was a founder of French impressionist painting. He is regarded as the archetypal Impressionist in that his devotion to the ideals of the movement was unwavering throughout his long career.

After having experienced extreme poverty, Monet began to prosper. By 1890 he was successful enough to buy the house at Giverny he had previously rented and in 1892 he married his mistress, with whom he had begun an affair in 1876, three years before the death of his first wife. From 1890 he concentrated on series of pictures in which he painted the same subject at different times of the day in different lights like notably the Cathedral of Rouen.

This picture was made in 1872, it is an oil on canvas measuring 21 3/4 x 29 ins. It was sold in Paris in 1912 for the equivalent of £ 1,070, then it was acquired in 1970 by Mr Ronald Lyon, a rag-to-riches property tycoon for $ 605,000. In May 2005, it was bought again for $ 4,83 million.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007


Painted by George Seurat, "Les Poseuses" picture represents three models getting dressed up after a bath and a catwalk show. The artist worked on it from 1886 to 1888. Seurat was born in Paris in December 1859 and died there in March 1891.

He was a painter and a draughtsman and the founder of Neo-Impressionism. Young Seurat was strongly influenced by Rembrandt and Francisco de Goya.

In his short career as a mature artist (c . 1882–91), he produced highly sophisticated drawings and invented the Divisionist technique of painting known as Pointillisme, which was taken up by many of his contemporaries associated with Neo-Impressionism like Pissarro, Sisley and Signac. His application of scientific principles to painting and his stress on the surface quality of his work have had lasting effects on 20th-century art.

When one looks at the Pointillism that Seurat invented and marvels at the precision of thousands upon thousands of tiny dots of color -all created by one human hand! - it is mind-boggling to consider that he produced dozens of such labor-intensive canvases in the span of less than 10 years.

Seurat kept his life very secret and not until his premature death his friends and colleagues learnt about his mistress who was the model for his painting. In 1970, the picture was in the collection of Henry P. McIlhenny, a Philadelphia collector. When it came up for sale this same year, one critic said that it was one of the three or four most beautiful works of Art to come to the international Art market since WW2.

It was bought for $ 1,033 million by Artemis, a joint venture recently established between the Baron Lambert (Brussels) and Baron Elie de Rothschild (Paris) to buy art works, lend them to museums and after having been appreciated by the public and a lot of art dealers to resale them with a profit.

NB : This Artemis company must not be confused with the Artemis holding of Mr Francois Pinault who bought a controlling stake in Christie's auction house in 1998.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007


Vincent van Gogh (March 30, 1853 - July 29, 1890) is generally considered one of the greatest Dutch painters after Rembrandt, though he had little success during his lifetime. Van Gogh produced all of his work (some 900 paintings and 1100 drawings) during a period of only 10 years before he succumbed to mental illness (possibly bipolar disorder) and committed suicide. His fame grew rapidly after his death especially following a showing of 71 of van Gogh's paintings in Paris on March 17, 1901 (11 years after his death). Van Gogh sold only one painting during his lifetime, The Red Vineyard, which was created in 1888. It is now on display in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, Russia.

During his lifetime, Van Gogh's work was represented in two very small exhibitions and two larger ones. The great majority of the works by which he is remembered were produced in 29 months of frenzied activity and intermittent bouts with epileptoid seizures and profound despair that finally ended in suicide.

Le Pont de Trinquetaille in Arles (south of France) painted in 1888 was bought by a private collector in 1987 in London for £ 12.6 million ($20.2 million).

Saturday, May 5, 2007


Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas (or De Gas) (1834-1917), a keen observer, preferred to be called a Realist, although his style is related to that of Impressionists. His innovative composition, skillful drawing, and perceptive portrayal of movement is uniquely his own.

Degas also depicted social settings such as race courses, cafes, and music halls. He had a profound influence on later artists, Picasso and Toulouse-Lautrec, and made sketches from living models to capture their spontaneity, later completing the paintings in the studio.

In his late years Degas was chatting in his studio with one of his few friends and many admirers, English painter Walter Richard Sickert. They decided to visit a café. Young Sickert got ready to summon a fiacre, a horse-drawn cab. Degas objected. "Personally, I don't like cabs. You don't see anyone. That's why I love to ride on the omnibus-you can look at people. We were created to look at one another, weren't we?" Nothing could be better defining Degas that this casual comment.

In 1981, this portrait of Eugène Manet sold for $5.3 million.