Manet and Matisse open London's 'most thrilling art sales season - ever'

Sotheby's evening sale of Impressionist & Modern Art in London tomorrow, June 22, will bring together 51 lots, the quality and importance of which, according to the auction house, "will mark this season's sale as among the greatest of recent times."

The total pre-sale estimate of £101-148 million is higher than for any previous Sotheby's sale in London.

"London is about to witness one of the most thrilling seasons of sales it has ever seen," said Melanie Clore, Co-Chairman, Sotheby's Impressionist & Modern Art Department Worldwide, in a statement.

At the core of the sale are four works by Édouard Manet, Henri Matisse, André Derain and Chaïm Soutine - each one of which ranks among the most important in the respective artist's oeuvre.

Three of them have never appeared at auction before, while the fourth, Manet's superlative self-portrait, featured in the famous Jakob Goldschmidt sale in 1958 which heralded the modern art market.

Helena Newman, Vice Chairman, Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern Art Department Worldwide, also believes that confidence in the art markets in on the rise.

Matisse's Odalisques jouant aux dames

"The tremendous result achieved here in February this year, when Giacometti's L'homme qui marche I set a record for the highest price ever achieved at auction, is testimony not only to the strength of the current market, but also to London's pivotal position in that market," she said.

Among the sale's major highlights is Edouard Manet's Self-Portrait with a Palette, estimated at £20-30 million (US$29-43.4 million).

Painted circa 1878-79, at a point when Manet was enjoying unprecedented critical acclaim, this extraordinary work brings together all the qualities - subtle references to the Old Masters combined with an audacious, 'modern' handling of paint and immediacy - that mark him out as one of the greatest, and most influential, painters not only of his day but of all time.

Charles Moffett, Sotheby's Executive Vice President and co-curator of the 1983 landmark Manet exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, describes this painting as, "not only the greatest Manet portrait in private hands, but also one of the very greatest self-portraits in the entire canon of art history."

Important works by Manet seldom appear on the market, and self-portraits are even rarer. Self-Portrait with a Palette (Portrait de Manet par lui-même, en buste (Manet à la palette)) is in fact one of just two self-portraits by the artist, and the only one in private hands, the other being in the Bridgestone Museum of Art, Tokyo.

Also starring in the sale is Matisse's Odalisques jouant aux dames (estimated at £10-15 million/US$ 14.5-21.7 million) - never before offered at auction.

Edouard Manet's Self-Portrait with a Palette

Created during the artist's most accomplished period as a colourist, Henri Matisse's magnificent Odalisques jouant aux is iconic work painted in Nice in 1928.

It belongs to Matisse's celebrated 1920s series depicting nudes or female figures in exotic garments and lush interiors, from which other major examples are in the Baltimore Museum of Art and in the Moderna Museet, Stockholm.

A recurring theme in Western art, the Orientalist figure of the odalisque (a female slave or concubine in a harem) featured regularly in works by leading 19th -century artists such as Delacroix and continued to inspire modern masters, notably Matisse and Picasso.

This painting in particular is a powerful and bold rendering of the theme. The rich mix of exotic costumes, lavish interior and rich patterns of this work evoke Matisse's travels in Morocco in 1912-1913, which provided the artist with a life-long source of inspiration.

They also reveal the colourful, theatrical setting that he created in the confines of his studio in Nice, in which many of his paintings were executed.

The artist himself once proclaimed about this subject: "The odalisques were the bounty of a happy nostalgia, a lovely, vivid dream, and the almost ecstatic, enchanted days and nights of the Moroccan climate.

"I felt an irresistible need to express that ecstasy, that divine unconcern, in corresponding coloured rhythms, rhythms of sunny and lavish figures and colour."

Needless to say, all eyes in the art collecting world will be on the Sotheby's sale when it begins in London, tomorrow evening.


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