Auction  November 14, 2018

Record-Breaking Magritte Work Leads $315.4M Sotheby’s Sale

Courtesy Sotheby's

René Magritte, Le Principe Du Plaisir (detail), 1937

NEW YORK – August Uribe, Head of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Department in New York, commented: “Tonight we witnessed a healthy and intelligent market responding with enthusiasm to a sale unlike any we have assembled in recent memory. The offering was characterized by originality as well as rarity, bringing together the best examples remaining in private hands by artists not typically seen at auction, alongside important works by the leading Modernists. Bidding was truly global, evenly split between the US, Europe and Asia, which is a combination needed to drive a $300+ million total.”

Courtesy Sotheby's

René Magritte, Le Principe Du Plaisir, 1937. Oil on canvas. Estimate: $15/20 million. Sold: $26,830,500. Record for the Artist at Auction.

Julian Dawes, Head of Sotheby’s Evening Sales of Impressionist & Modern Art in New York, said: “Every sale has one work that helps to define its look and feel. This season, that was Ludwig Meidner’s arresting Apocalyptic Landscape – a painting that my colleagues have been pursuing for nearly two decades. This spectacular canvas from 1912 became the genesis for ‘The Beautiful & Damned’, a powerful group of works that together addressed the impact of the First World War on the course of modern art, fittingly on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Armistice. Within that theme, we were pleased to see the market react with enthusiasm to daring and sophisticated pictures by Kirchner, Kokoschka and Schiele, each of which was recently restituted to the heirs of collectors later persecuted during World War II.”

Tonight’s sale was led by René Magritte’s Le Principe du plaisir (The Pleasure Principle), which established a new world auction record for the artist when it sold for $26.8 million, well-exceeding its $20 million high estimate after a bidding battle between 7 collectors. Painted in 1937, the entrancing portrait depicts Edward James, one of the most influential patrons of Surrealist art, who was introduced to Magritte by Salvador Dalí in 1937. Commissioned directly by James, the work was rendered from a photograph of the patron that was taken according to the artist’s specifications by fellow Surrealist, Man Ray.

Courtesy Sotheby's

Wassily Kandinsky, Zum Thema Jüngstes Gericht (On the Theme of The Last Judgment), 1913. Oil and mixed media on canvas. Estimate: $22/35 million. Sold: $22,879,000.

The sale opened with a selection of 12 Fauve, Expressionist & Modern works from The Triumph of Color, which was 100% sold for a total of $111 million. The collection featured a trio of works by Wassily Kandinsky, each of which exceeded $20 million. The group was led by Improvisation auf Mahagoni (Improvisation on Mahogany) from 1910, which achieved $24.2 million. The collection also featured three exceptional works by Maurice de Vlaminck, led by his Fauve landscape Paysage au bois mort (Landscape with Dead Wood) from 1906, which brought $16.7 million.

Put together primarily in the 1970s and ‘80s, the collection today represents one of the finest assemblages of post-Impressionist and Modern Art in private hands. Several of the paintings were loaned to the Courtauld Institute of Art in London for over 15 years, where they provided a unique display of works from the Fauve movement, the Expressionists and the route to Abstraction in the early-20th century. Additional works from the collection will be offered in tomorrow’s Day Sale of Impressionist & Modern Art.

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Egon Schiele, Dämmernde Stadt (Die Kleine Stadt II) (City in Twilight (The Small City II)), 1913. Oil and black crayon on canvas. Estimate: $12/18 million. Sold: $24,572,500.

Sotheby’s was honored to offer a number of recently-restituted masterworks this November, led by Egon Schiele’s 1913 townscape, Dämmernde Stadt (Die Kleine Stadt II) (City in Twilight (The Small City II)), which sold for $24.6 million after a 6-minute bidding battle between 5 collectors. Painted during a pivotal year for the artist, Dämmernde Stadt was purchased in 1928 by Elsa Koditschek, a young Jewish widow living in Vienna. During the course of her harrowing persecution by the Nazis following the annexation of Austria in 1938, the work was forcibly sold in payment of alleged debts to the very person who helped Elsa survive. Sotheby's presented the work through a private restitution agreement between the present owners and Elsa’s heirs.

A pair of recently restituted masterworks from the collection of art-world luminary Alfred Flechtheim were also among tonight’s highlights, with Oskar Kokoschka’s portrait of Joseph De Montesquiou-Fezensac achieving $20.4 million – 5 times the previous world auction record for the artist. A masterpiece from the pinnacle of Kokoschka’s early portraiture, the portrait is a harbinger of Expressionism and a token of the seismic shift that occurred in the visual arts at this time, which would only be shaken by the destruction of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I.

Courtesy Sotheby's

Oskar Kokoschka, Joseph de Montesquiou-Fezensac, 1910. Oil on canvas. Estimate: $15/20 million. Sold: $20,395,200. Record for the artist at auction.

Courtesy Sotheby's

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Das Soldatenbad (Artillerymen), 1915. Oil on canvas. Estimate: $15/20 million. Sold: $21,975,800.

In addition, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s Das Soldatenbad (Artillerymen) bested its high estimate to sell for $22 million. Painted in 1915, immediately following Kirchner’s release from military service, the arresting canvas represents the psychological realities of war. Executed in his fully developed Expressionist pictorial style, the monumental work daringly explores the anxieties brought on by modernization in the early-20th century, while continuing to develop the artist’s preoccupation with the human body that he held since his earliest days as a member of Die Brücke. Prior to its voluntary restitution earlier this year, Das Soldatenbad had resided in the collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York for three decades. As in the past, the Flechtheim heirs are expecting to use some of the proceeds for charitable causes, and for Holocaust remembrance and education purposes.

An anchor of The Beautiful & Damned, Ludwig Meidner’s harrowing Apokalyptische Landschaft established a new world auction record for the artist when it sold for $14.1 million. Executed in 1912 near the brink of the Great War, Apokalyptische Landschaft is a cataclysmic and arresting urban scene that reflects the social, political, emotional and artistic upheaval in Germany at the time. The harrowing dual-sided image is one of approximately 15 paintings from Meidner’s series of apocalyptic landscapes executed between 1912 and 1916. Strikingly modern, the works from this series show Meidner looking at the formal experiments of both the German Expressionists and the Italian Futurists and act as a testimony to the incredible artistic innovation of this period. There are very few works from the series remaining in private hands, with important examples in international institutions including the Neue Nationalgalerie Berlin, the Saint Louis Art Museum in Missouri and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

Courtesy Sotheby's

Ludwig Meidner, Apokalytpische Landschaft (Apocalyptic Landscape) - Recto Junger Mann Mit Strohhut (Young Man with Straw Hat), 1912. Oil on canvas. Estimate: $12/18 million Sold: $14,072,800. Reocrd for the artist at auction.