Chronology : 19th century 1880-1889 1888 1890-1899 1890 1903 1914 1915 1937
1888-1890 The Movements of the Tablecloth
2019 SOLD for $ 59M including premium
I recently discussed in this column one of the first still lifes of this phase, sold for £ 21M including premium by Christie's on February 27, 2019. The composition seems naively simple until we perceive the imbalance of the plate. The observer awaits the tilting that will roll the fruit onto the table.
The artist will then increase the complexity. Bouilloire et fruits, oil on canvas 49 x 60 cm painted between 1888 and 1890, offers the dynamic contrast between a heavy pot steadily placed on the table and the fruits in a precarious balance in the folds of the tablecloth.
Cézanne reworked each painting tirelessly, seeking a perfection that existed only in his own imagination. Sometimes he stops before it is finished. The handle and the body of the kettle are disjointed. A lemon or an apple that did not suit the artist left some traces without disappearing completely.
It does not matter: the variety of forms and the mingling of the colors that constitute the textures are already satisfactory. Cézanne accepts to sell this unfinished work to a collector.
Bouilloire et fruits was sold for £ 18M including premium by Sotheby's on December 7, 1999. This painting is listed as lot 18A by Christie's in New York on May 13. The press release of March 27 announces an estimate in the region of $ 40M. Please watch the very short video shared by the auction house.
Painted in 1893 with a similar inspiration, Rideau, cruchon et compotier, oil on canvas 60 x 73 cm, was sold for $ 60M including premium by Sotheby's on May 10, 1999. The fruit bowl is not placed on the table.
1889-1890 Cézanne playing with Apples
2013 SOLD 42 M$ including premium
Cézanne plays with apples like an infant with cubes. Fruits are grouped within small uneven piles in which their variety of colors brings an additional appeal. Sometimes a group is interrupted by the frame as if the model was unlimited.
If we consider that the real subject is the painting itself and not the peaceful fruit, Cézanne's apples anticipate abstract art. It puzzles the viewer by its original composition, as if it tried to tell a story or to evoke a feeling, like Kandinsky and Miro later. Each individual element is however realistic like an image by Chardin.
The group of apples for sale at Sotheby's on May 7 in New York is both simple and bold. This oil on canvas 38 x 46 cm painted in 1889-1890 is estimated $ 25M. Here is the link to the catalog.
Sold for $ 60M including premium at Sotheby's on May 10, 1999, another composition, 60 x 73 cm, painted four years later is more ambitious. The folds of the white tablecloth generate a complex interplay of fruit, the pitcher is the referee and the curtain states that the still lifes of Cézanne are indeed dramas.
POST SALE COMMENT
Cezanne's still lifes are the most remarkable modernist advances of their time. This painting was sold $ 42M including premium.
I invite you to watch the video shared by Sotheby's :
1890 Wild Flowers for Dr Gachet
2014 SOLD for $ 62M including premium
In May 1890 Vincent moved into a room at the local inn in Auvers. He did not have a studio and regularly attended the home of Gachet, a friend of the Impressionists and Cézanne.
Since he is sick, Vincent is terrorized by the idea of failure and by the risk of a new crisis of dementia. With the energy of despair, he gives a new impetus to his old ambition to become the best painter of all time, the only one capable of a synthesis of all genres. Gachet has a painting by Cézanne showing a bouquet of flowers. Vincent wants to do better.
Spring brings forth the flowers into the fields. On November 4 in New York, Sotheby's sells an oil on canvas 66 x 50 cm painted by Vincent on 16 and 17 June 1890, lot 17 estimated $ 30M. Executed in the clear intention to thank Gachet for his help, this artwork shows a vase filled with daisies and poppies.
The composition is powerful and the colors are gorgeous, dominated in the center by the fiery red poppies. The groups of flowers shine like some characters within the ultimate tragedy of Vincent.
I invite you to play the video shared by Sotheby's :
1893-1894 Rideau, cruchon et compotier by Cézanne
1999 SOLD 60 M$ including premium by Sotheby's
narrated in 2020
Cézanne no longer needs his art to earn a living and does not date his works. The chronology of his still lifes can only be based on the evolution of their complexity. His vision weakened by a diabetes identified in 1890 may have prompted him to seek these new solutions.
He tirelessly changes the position of the same objects, with the same varieties of fruit, seeking the extreme limit of balance. It is only by a very careful inspection that the observer discovers that a dish is not placed on the top of the table but bent over a hidden support.
The crumpled white tablecloth becomes an essential element of the composition, bringing the impression of the imminent fall of the objects and fruits that are placed on it. The arrangements are becoming increasingly complex.
In 1893 or 1894, Cézanne painted two similar compositions, with the same jug and stemcup on the same table, and the same curtain.
Pichet et fruits sur une table is less dramatic because it does not include the tablecloth. The visual confusion is brought by the cup whose real position in relation to the table is not discernible because it is half hidden by the pitcher. This oil on paper 42 x 72 cm was sold for £ 11.8M including premium by Sotheby's on February 3, 2010.
Rideau, cruchon et compotier dangerously distributes the fruits in the folds of the tablecloth. The cup, with a spectacular stacking of fruit, is here hidden behind a rise in the tablecloth. All this will fall to the ground in a few moments. This oil on canvas 60 x 73 cm was sold for $ 60M including premium by Sotheby's on May 10, 1999. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
La Corbeille de pommes, oil on canvas 65 x 80 cm kept at the Art Institute of Chicago, illustrates similar conceptions : the lower part of the cup is hidden by some fruit. Here the very tilted position of the basket is partially explained by a thick wedge whose usefulness in real life is questionable.
1895 Fruits et Pot de Gingembre by Cézanne
2006 SOLD for $ 37M by Sotheby's
There is no still life by Cézanne for a few years from 1880. He restarts the theme around 1886, when he starts in Gardanne a new life that excites his creativity. This is the trompe-l'oeil phase, with a quest for the unbalance that manages to simulate a motion.
The trompe-l'oeil phase comes to an end in 1895. Afterward the still lifes become rarer for several years, mostly characterized by the addition of skulls. His creativity restarts once again at Les Lauves, when the still life participates to his obsession for the perfect color and luminosity.
Nature morte aux fruits et pot de gingembre is a masterpiece from the end of the trompe-l'oeil phase. Its terminus ante quem is its exhibition by Vollard in 1895, soon after its execution.
An interesting feature of this opus is the deep ultramarine underlining of the elements, reminding the underlining of the horizon of the Montagne Sainte-Victoire. A cut melon brings an unusual and much juicy freshness in its two parts, just open on the left side plus two slices on a plate at the central point of the still life. The symphony of rare colors includes intricate gradations from yellow to red.
This oil on canvas 46 x 61 cm was sold for £ 12M by Christie's on June 28, 2000, lot 10, and for $ 37M by Sotheby's on November 7, 2006, lot 18.
1902-1906 Breakfast at Les Lauves
2020 SOLD for $ 28.7M including premium
He is a perfectionist of geometric projection. The paper is flat but the fruits are volumes that the light reaches through their middle. Breakfast utensils, such as a teapot or sugar bowl, are also convex.
The work begins with a drawing of the outlines on a sheet of paper. Each surface is filled with colors that reflect the lighting zones without overlapping. This phase should be intermediate but Cézanne is never satisfied : the finished product, which is oil on canvas, becomes scarce. His rare visitors, like Emile Bernard, are disconcerted by the complexity and slowness of his creative process. His reinterpretation of nature is so innovative that he creates modern art.
On October 6 in New York, Christie's sells as lot 13 a still life in watercolor and gouache made in the largest paper size used by the artist, 48 x 62 cm. The focal point is the green melon, with its bright color and its central position in the image. It is however placed on the other side of the table, partially hidden by the milk jug and the sugar bowl. The press release of August 26 announces an estimate in the region of $ 25M.
A 32 x 48 cm watercolor from the same period was sold for $ 25.5M including premium by Sotheby's on May 8, 2007 from a lower estimate of $ 14M. This close-up still life is focused in similar conditions on a green melon behind a goblet.
'The greatest Cézanne watercolour to be offered in decades' — #Cézanne's Nature morte avec pot au lait, melon et sucrier from the collection of Edsel & Eleanor Ford House will be offered in the 20th Century Evening Sale on 6 October in New York: https://t.co/gJGcA3KMtr pic.twitter.com/Ss3mrhbAH9— Christie's (@ChristiesInc) August 30, 2020
1911 Les Coucous, tapis bleu et rose by Matisse
2009 SOLD for € 36M including premium by Christie's
narrated in 2020
Fauvism is a short but decisive phase during which he experiences the power of pure colors. Seeking exotic solutions, he travels to Algeria in 1906 and spends two months in Spain in 1910 studying Moorish art. At that time, collectors ahead of their time like Shchukin no longer support the traditional separation between art and decoration.
In 1910 in Madrid, Matisse bought in an antique shop a two-tone rug in fairly poor condition, whose arabesques were naturalistic without being identifiable. He was seduced by the expressive force of this anonymous textile, close by chance to the new style that he had developed for La Danse in 1909.
By varying the colors, he uses his rug as a decorative element in several paintings. In L'Atelier rose, oil on canvas 180 x 221 cm painted for Shchukin in 1911, it is spread over the large screen.
Les coucous - tapis bleu et rose, oil on canvas 81 x 66 cm painted in spring 1911, appears as a preparatory work for L'Atelier rose. On the table, the vase of primroses (coucous) is the pretext for this image, but the rug used as a tablecloth is indeed the main theme by its invitation to abstraction. The turquoise wall at the back is enhanced with pink reflections.
Yves Saint-Laurent saw in the image of this fabric a precursor to his own work. This painting which offers a link between two great designers went to be the most expensive lot of the sale of his collection by Christie's on February 23, 2009 : it was sold for € 36M including premium over a lower estimate of € 12M, lot 55.
1914 Invention of the Mixed Media
2018 SOLD for $ 32M including premium
This hermetic art does not satisfy its own inventor Picasso. In 1912 he sticks real ordinary materials in a composition : ropes and oilcloth. Curiously he does not exhibit this first experience that nevertheless launches the cubist collages. Braque, Picasso himself and Gris continue this exploration of a new artistic language conducive to show the everyday surroundings of table settings and still lifes.
The collage of newspaper clippings is a basic element of the new compositions. Easy to simulate also with the brush, the piece does not break the coherence of the work. It draws the attention of the viewer who seeks some meaning to the words in the context of the image, long before the Dada and Merz revolutions. It is also a fun method to date an artwork.
From December 1913 Juan Gris is the champion of this new evolution of cubism which finally retrieves perspective and color while respecting the primary objective of assimilating the represented object and its support. In the following months Malevich reaches the most extreme abstract art : the uselessness of the image in its support is another seminal advance of modernism.
On May 8 in New York, Christie's sells as lot 2 La table de musicien, oil, gouache, pencil and collage of paper on canvas 82 x 60 cm made by Gris in May 1914.
The table is the support of the arrangement. It is shown at an angle in an aerial view. In a subtle balance the collages participate in three different ways : the newspaper on the table, the wall paper and the stylized musical staves drawn on a white paper. The perspective effect allows the drawings of bottle and violin to overlap the painted and glued areas. Transparency effects disrupt the surfaces.
Executed in the following month in a similar technique, a 46 x 27 cm artwork titled Tabac, journal et bouteille de vin rosé was sold for $ 8.8M including premium by Sotheby's on November 6, 2013.
The war stops this playful phase when Kahnweiler with whom Gris was in contract in Paris is obliged to leave for Switzerland. In the following year Gris gives up his mixed technique and returns to oil on canvas with brilliantly colored compositions that imitate his collages. Nature morte à la nappe à carreaux, 116 x 90 cm, was sold for £ 35M including premium by Christie's on February 4, 2014.
1915 Inventory on a Checked Tablecloth
2014 SOLD 35 M£ including premium
In 1915, the art of Gris suddenly separates from Picasso and Braque. Gris gathers the objects of his everyday life. Arranged on the table, they make up his universe. Outside, in Paris, it is war. His objects are playing to constitute a new theater, like Cézanne's apples or Arcimboldo's vegetables.
In this sense, Gris is a precursor of surrealism. Painted in March 1915, Nature morte à la nappe à carreaux is a complex and colored composition, where the arrangement in a triangle forms a mask over the comforting support of the tabletop. This oil on canvas 116 x 90 cm, is estimated £ 12M, for sale by Christie's in London on February 4.
1915 is the year of the highest creativity for Gris. Staging a lesser variety of objects, two less dreamlike paintings had been discussed earlier in this column.
Livre, pipe et verres, 73 x 91 cm, was sold for $ 21M including premium at Christie's on November 6, 2008. Le Livre, 73 x 60 cm, was sold for £ 10.3 million including premium at Christie's on February 7, 2012 .
POST SALE COMMENT
By its bold composition and vivid colors, this painting is a masterpiece of Cubism. It was sold for £ 35M including premium.
I invite you to play the video shared by Christie's announcing the still life painting of the 2014 sale. The image is shared by Wilimedia.
1937 Odalisque Harmonie Bleue by Matisse
2007 SOLD for $ 33.6M by Christie's
Coming back to a Fauviste expression, he then seeks to associate the rarest and most spectacular colors which he uses to display the clothes of his sitters and the wallpapers. The effect is more important than the image, and the composition has the audacity of a Degas.
This trend results in 1937 in a restart of the Odalisques as a series of five paintings.
L'Odalisque, Harmonie bleue, oil on canvas 60 x 50 cm, was sold for $ 33.6M from a lower estimate of $ 15M by Christie's on November 6, 2007, lot 24. The title of the artwork had been defined by the artist.
The young woman is surrounded with decorative elements, without the titillation generally associated with the odalisques.. She looks with a close attention at a big bouquet of anemones which may be the major theme of the composition. Its vase is posed beside two oranges and one lemon on the top of a low octagonal column.