Small and Big Cats
Chronology : Origin 14th century 1520-1529 1730-1739 1860-1869 1931 1940-1949 1941 1988 1994
5000 years ago - The Guennol Lioness, Elam
2007 SOLD for 57 M$ including premium by Sotheby's
narrated in 2020
This very finely chiseled stone figure 8.3 cm high has the head of a lioness on a human body. It certainly comes from the Iranian plateau and was sold in 1931 to a New York merchant. Its discovery thus precedes the excavations of Tell Agrab, begun in 1936 by a team from the University of Chicago appealed by other finds among the antique dealers of Baghdad.
Such hybrid representations between human and feline date back to prehistoric cultures. The ivory lion-man from the Hohlenstein-Stadel cave, dated ca 35,000 to 40,000 years ago by radiocarbon, is the oldest authenticated example of figurative art. The Chauvet cave, painted 30,000 years ago, also includes a lion-woman hybrid.
The Guennol Lioness was sculpted about 5,000 years ago. It belongs to the Proto-Elamite culture, characterized by the development of a proto-writing that has not been decrypted. It is several centuries earlier than the use of the sphinx as a necropolis guardian in Egypt.
It is one of a kind in the round, but is related to similar figures that raise mountains or huge trunks in two-dimensional sigillary iconography. These representations are therefore symbols of extreme power, confirmed in the Guennol Lioness by the hypertrophy of the muscles and the authoritarian position of the head. The head is pierced, allowing to hang it to the neck of a prominent character.
Its name and its exact role in the mythology of that time are not known. It must be analyzed alongside its male counterpart, a bull's head on a human body, of which a kneeling figure is kept at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Unlike the Guennol Lioness whose hands are joined on the abdomen, this proto-Elamite hybrid holds a liturgical vessel.
Guennol is the pseudonym chosen by the couple of collectors who acquired it in 1948 and entrusted its exhibition for almost 60 years to the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
1366 Two Lions at the Feet of the King
2017 SOLD for £ 9.4M including premium
The divine authority claimed by the legitimate heir is not sufficient to preserve and protect his power. Upon his accession Charles V multiplies the symbols of his superiority and of his prosperity. The lion is his emblem.
To maintain the chain of legitimacy they must also rehabilitate the ineffective Jean II. In the very first year of his reign Charles V decides to build the funerary monuments of Jean and of Jean's parents in the traditional necropolis of the Capétiens at Saint-Denis. He adds the commission for his own tomb, which is a considerable innovation for the time.
The contractor of the four monuments is the best sculptor of that period, known from a royal document as Andreu Bauneveu, André Beauneveu in modern French. The king is powerful and must be honored as a priority : his gisant (recumbent) is the best of the four with a beautiful polishing of the white marble. Beauneveu worked until 1366 on that site.
The royal monuments of Saint-Denis were dismantled in 1793. The outstanding pieces were recovered by the archaeologist Alexandre Lenoir, founder at the request of the government in 1791 of the Musée des Monuments Français for collecting artworks confiscated to the clergy by the Révolution. During the Restauration in 1816 King Louis XVIII obliged Lenoir to relocate to Saint-Denis what remained from the monuments of the necropolis including the gisant of Charles V by Beauneveu.
The monument of Charles V included a group of two addorsed lions which was placed at the feet of the king. This group was only known from one sketch drawing made by an antiquarian scholar. It has just been rediscovered in the descendance of an English collector who had acquired it in 1802, certainly bought to Lenoir whose financial backing was low at that time.
This group of lions is a marble of the same quality as its gisant and certainly executed by the same artist. The fixing points of this statue match exactly the distance of the associated points on the feet of the gisant.
The Beauneveu lions, 45 x 29 x 12 cm, will be sold as lot 10 by Christie's in London on July 6. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
later 1520s The Ordeal of the Lion
2015 SOLD for £ 9.3M including premium
The artist transposes a medieval ordeal with characters in clothes of his time. The mouth of truth is a lie detecting test to convict or release the adulteress. Included in the legends of Tristan and Iseult and Merlin, this story was previously used by illustrators including Altdorfer and Lucas van Leyden.
Each character has a role. The woman puts a hand in the mouth of the lion raised on a pedestal to be at her level. She is held at the waist by her supposed lover disguised as a fool. Two men wait to establish the minutes of justice.
The alleged cuckolded husband is on the far right of the picture, opposite to the lion. He is accompanied by two lovely ladies who are his witnesses. At his side, a last character sends a wink of complicity towards the viewer of the painting.
This is not a comic book and the verdict of the lion is not known. The lack of fear in the attitude of the woman tells that she wants to win the ordeal. The scene becomes a funny symbol of feminine cunning.
I invite you to watch the video shared by Sotheby's :
1735-1738 Imperial Soapstone Seal
2022 SOLD for HK$ 153M by Sotheby's
When he acceded to the throne in 1735 CE the Qianlong emperor was already a keen connoisseur of arts. He picked out for his own yulan shi bao a 7.8 cm square 10.7 cm high soapstone seal finial from the Kangxi-Yongzheng transition. This piece is carved in the round with a crouching mythical winged lion, fitted with flames on the body and dragon scales on the legs, mothering two small creatures. Its eyes are set with black gemstones.
The terminus ante quem of the face with the six character Qianlong mark is the 3rd year of the reign when the complete set of seals needed for the immediate use of the new emperor went to be complete. The soapstone in intaglio has been slightly worn by its extensive stamping use before the preparation in 1745 of the Shiqu Baoji inventory catalogue of the imperial collection.
Resurfacing in 1965 at auction by Sotheby's, the seal was again out of public view afterwards. It was sold for HK $ 153M by Sotheby's on April 29, 2022, lot 3801. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
The paintings bearing the imperial appreciation from that specific seal include among others Travelers among mountains and streams by Fan Kuan, Early spring by Guo Xi and A Thousand Miles of Rivers and Mountains by Wang Ximeng, plus many top level calligraphies.
The Qianlong emperor owned six other yulan shi bao connoisseur seals of various sizes.
1862 Portrait of the Artist as an Old Tiger
2018 SOLD for $ 9.9M including premium
The artist appreciates that passion is not a human exclusivity and he loves the powerful savagery of tigers and lions. A great admirer of Rubens, he is inspired by the whirlwind of his hunting scenes.
An artist needs real models, although Dürer's rhinoceros is a wonderful exception. Géricault is passionate about horses and Raden Saleh remembers big game hunting. For his tigers and lions, Delacroix looks at his pet cat and at stuffed animals in the Museum d'Histoire Naturelle. Fortunately the menagerie of the Jardin des Plantes hosts a tiger from 1847.
In 1862 the artist feels old and tired. The tiger remained his emblem and his friends flatter him by comparing his behavior with the anthropocentric emotions attributed to this animal. Delacroix imagines confrontations with reptiles. Facing the threat of the snake, the big cat no longer knows how he can still win.
On May 8 in New York, Christie's sells Tigre jouant avec une tortue, oil on canvas 45 x 62 cm painted in 1862, lot 3 estimated $ 5M.
As ever the animal behavior is fanciful. A fully grown tiger no longer plays because game is used by cubs to train in hunting. This one with a paw on the tortoise is stopping as if he waited some advice. The tortoise disturbed and threatened by the predator omitted to close its shell.
François de Ricqlès, President of Christie’s France, explains how this exceptional Romantic work that ‘marks the beginning of modernity’ also speaks to the Rockefeller family’s long and mutually admiring relationship with France. Check it out here: https://t.co/8QpCJrNHVH pic.twitter.com/alUUMid0bs— Christie's (@ChristiesInc) March 25, 2018
1931 The Trusting Leopard
2017 SOLD for HK$ 80M including premium
Supported by Henri-Pierre Roché from 1929 to 1932, Sanyu perfected his oil painting, experienced the drypoint engraving and found other themes.
On September 30 in Hong Kong, Sotheby's sells as lot 1018 Léopard, an oil on canvas 93 x 116 cm painted in 1931 which had originally belonged to Roché. The near life size leopard is sketched by the white lines delineating the body and by the circles of the spots in a figure that hardly stands out from a black background interspersed with irregular white stripes.
The four legs and the tail upwards, the wild animal offers its belly in the attitude of a trusting cat requesting a caress. At that time of crisis when financial difficulties arise for Sanyu, this artwork transposes his desire for a cosy well-being.
Accumulating the originality of the camouflaged line, the large size, the attitude of joy, the joint inspiration from classical China and modern Art Déco and the minimalism of black and white, this nice feline has few equivalents in the art of Sanyu. The auction house does not reveal the estimate.
Please watch the short video shared by Sotheby's.
1941 Dora Maar au Chat by Picasso
2006 SOLD 95 M$ including premium by Sotheby's
narrated in 2020
Contrary to the artist's usual practice, it is dated by the year without indication of the day, thus appearing beside the rest of the work. Picasso gathered here his admiration and emotion in front of Dora. He emotionally departed from Dora in 1943 and from this painting before 1947.
Throughout Picasso's career, the excessively abundant work is dotted with some dazzling illuminations in which he expresses his deep feelings. Dora Maar au Chat is one of these masterpieces, alongside for example Le Garçon à la pipe, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, La Minotauromachie and La Femme qui pleure.
It is war time. The armchair is a space that might seem open but is in fact an obstacle to freedom, like the throne of Innocent X by Velazquez. Dora is willing to react, with her elegant clothes and her big hat. She smiles.
And then there is the cat. It is very small. Perched on the back of the chair, it walks towards the woman who does not care at all about it. Black in the least contrasted part of the image, it is sneaky. Pablo and Dora did not like cats, these pets that scratch for a simple change of mood. They preferred dogs. For these reasons this tiny cat cannot be a personification of the artist. It is at best an unsolicited visitor, at worst the danger of the outside world.
The amalgamation between human and animal interested Picasso. In the same phase, he paints portraits of Dora with the muzzle of their Afghan hound. Here Dora's very long nails are in some way the claws of the cat.
Dora Maar au Chat was sold for $ 95M including premium by Sotheby's on May 3, 2006. The low resolution image is shared for fair use by Wikipedia.
1955 The Walking Cat
2010 SOLD 21 M$ including premium by Christie's
2018 SOLD for £ 12.6M including premium
A copy of the bronze figure of Le Chat was withdrawn from the New York evening sale by Sotheby's on May 14, 2018. This copy resurfaces in London. I did not change my discussion here below excepted for the informations related to the auction.
The existentialist universe of Alberto Giacometti was started with his Trinity in 1947. The artist will then have to complete this staging. L'Homme au doigt is not continued, leaving face to face L'Homme qui marche and La Femme debout. The meaning of isolated organs like La Main or Le Nez is rather hermetic. Alberto prepares assemblies like La Forêt, La Clairière or La Place. The busts of Diego are in the position of an idol.
The human being does not have the monopoly of existence. In 1951 the artist decides to add the animals. This theme does not excite him : he will not make Noah's ark and will start with some familiar specimens, the cat, the dog and a group of two horses. It is said that he made the three plasters in the same day.
The horses are too big to stay in the workshop. The rain returns them to the clay. He will not try again. The dog is ugly, altogether filiform and skeletal. His head bent to sniff, he has no dynamism and no presence. Alberto will later say to Genet that he wanted to identify himself with this sad street dog. We believe him or not.
The cat has a better personality. It is built on a horizontal 81 cm from head to tail mounted on its two pairs of high legs in the position of walking. The heavy head in line with the wiry body expresses the desire to move forward.
Bronzes of cat and dog have been edited. Le Chien has never been highlighted at auction. A Le Chat cast by Susse in 1955 and coming from the Brody collection was sold for $ 21M including premium by Christie's on May 4, 2010. It will be sold by Sotheby's in London on June 19, lot 13. In the same 2010 sale the Grande Tête Mince was sold for $ 53M including premium.
This experiment of animal figures is the only one attempted by Alberto. He will leave complacently to Diego this theme that indeed did not appeal him.
Please watch the video shared by Sotheby's.
1988 The Artist's Proof of the Pink Panther
2011 SOLD for $ 16.9M including premium
2014 SOLD for $ 16M including premium
On May 10, 2011, Sotheby's sold for $ 16.9M including premium the artist's proof of the Pink Panther by Jeff Koons. This result went below the lower estimate of $ 20M which had been highly ambitious for a porcelain.
This piece is now listed in the evening sale of Christie's in New York on November 12 with an estimate range of $ 8M to 12M.
Here is my previous discussion :
Jeff Koons became famous in 1988 by projecting into art his idea of the kitsch. Precisely, the most complex and most famous of his works of these series comes for sale.
Upon such a prelude, the apologists of Koons understand that the theme of today is the Pink Panther. Look at it in the illustration of the press release shared by Artdaily (in 2011).
A young blonde woman is shown at mid-length, naked above the waist (but dressed below). She is closely pressing the pink panther on her breast. It is a porcelain group 1.04 meter high, life size, from an edition of three plus the artist proof coming in this sale.
This embracing couple is not Rodin's Kiss: it indeed has humor in addition. The contrast is striking between the ecstatic attitude of the pin-up blonde and the boring mood of the animal wondering if he really did well in superseding Teddy Bear for the outbursts of feelings of his partner.
Appropriation, banality, false naivete, humor in the style of Playboy magazine : all these features enable to qualify this sculpture as iconic.
I add a word to my French speaking friends who often believe that the Pink Panther is a female due to of an ambiguity in the French language. This character is a male in his adventures in comics and movies, and there is no homosexual message in this masterpiece of Koons.
1989-1994 Le Chat au Miroir by Balthus
2021 SOLD for RMB 167M by Yongle
Le Chat au miroir is a series of three completed works from that period of semi retirement.
The main character is a girl seated on a sofa. On the other side a cat is watching. The girl turns her eyes to look at the pet through a translucent hand mirror held by her stretched arm.
The peeping cat is featuring the artist himself since the 1935 roi des chats. The awkward pre-adolescent girl is reminiscent of the series started in 1936 with an 11 year old Thérèse. The mirror between them is both a helper and a liar, reminding Alice's Wonderland.
In Le Chat au miroir I, painted in 1980, the smiling girl is nude excepted an underwear on an arm. The cat is ready for an attack with its raised ears and mewing mouth. In the opus II, painted in 1986, the barefoot girl is clothed in a tight shirt revealing the torso with the growing breast.
The opus III is the culmination of the series and even of the career of the artist. Started in 1989, it is considered as his latest finished large work, completed five years later in 1994 when he was 86 years old.
The still barefoot girl is now fully clothed in saturated colors. The dark cat with piercing eyes is more threatening than ever. The Japanese words reading cat and mirror constitute a title in nearly imperceptible blue lines.
Le Chat au miroir III was sold for RMB 167M by Yongle on December 3, 2021, lot 2035. Please watch the video shared in 2018 by VernissageTV during its exhibition by Fondation Beyeler at Martigny.