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Three works recently restituted to the heirs of Gaston Lévy are among the highlights of Sotheby’s Impressionist, Modern & Surrealist art Evening Sale. The jewel of the group is a Pointillist masterpiece by Camille Pissarro (illustrated above centre). Painted with enormous thought and dedication over a period of six months, Gelée blanche, jeune paysanne faisant du feu (1888) depicts a young woman and child building a fire on a cold winter’s morning, with dramatic brushstrokes bringing to life the movement of smoke in the wind. It will make its auction debut with an estimate of £8,000,000 – 12,000,000. This will be offered alongside Paul Signac’s luminous view of the Corne d’Or, matin (1907), bathed in an ethereal morning light, which carries an estimate of £5,000,000 – 7,000,000.

The third of the works – Signac’s Quai de Clichy. Temps gris (est. £600,000 – 800,000) – had been stored in the Lévy’s country home, the Château des Bouffards, but later found its way into the collection of the dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt, whose illicit hoard was discovered by the authorities in 2012.

Lévy was one of the most notable patrons and art collectors living in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s, and his collection was dispersed under the Nazi occupation. The Gelée blanche, jeune paysanne faisant du feu and Corne d’Or, matin were lost to the ‘Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg’ (an organisation dedicated to looted cultural property) in October 1940, and after the war were repatriated to the French state. They have now been restituted by the French Government to Lévy’s heirs, having been on display in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

The sale will mark the auction debut of two magnificent paintings by Fernand Léger from the collection of Roger Dutilleul. One of the first significant collectors of the twentieth-century European avant- garde, Dutilleul’s motto was ‘there is no such thing as abstract or figurative, there is just good painting’. He had a passionate love of Cubism, adorning the walls of his apartment with more than a hundred Cubist works, and played an essential role in supporting some of the most daring artists in Paris, including Léger, Picasso, Braque, Modigliani and Miró.

Le Buste (1925) (illustrated p.1 left) depicts a full, classical profile in a monochrome palette, whilst Nature Morte (1923) brims with life with a bright palette and domestic setting. Estimated at £1,300,000 – 1,600,000 and £2,200,000 – 2,800,000 respectively, both works defy the boundaries of traditional genres. The Day Sale will offer a further work by Fernand Léger, Gif-sur-Yvette (1954), juxtaposing a floral still life with the architecture of an industrial townscape (est. £300,000 – 500,000).

A powerful example of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s Expressionist style, Akt vor dem Spiegel (Nude at the Mirror) was begun in Berlin in 1915. Appearing at auction for the first time, with an estimate of £3,000,000 – 5,000,000, the work was a Christmas gift to his physician and major patron Dr Frédéric Bauer in 1937. With its bold colouration and avant-garde approach to a time-honoured subject, the composition embodies the importance of freedom of expression to the Die Brücke group. Kirchner’s primary concern during this key period in his career was the representation of the human form in its most primitive or uninhibited state, an aesthetic goal strongly represented by Akt von dem Spiegel.

Joan Miró’s Groupe de personnages (1938) is populated by a parade of figures that are among some of the most vividly imagined of the artist’s entire œuvre. The deftly articulated lines that delineate the figures reflect the confidence of the mature artist and Miró orchestrates the drama of these characters through passages of vivid colour. One of the early owners of the present work was Noel Evelyn, Lady Norton (née Hughes) - better known to her friends as ‘Peter’ - who was a pioneering figure in the British art world in the 1930s. Helped by Roland Penrose, she founded the London Gallery with her cousin Rita Strettell in 1936. This work has been in the same private collection since 1989, and was recently exhibited in the major Miró retrospective held at the Grand Palais in Paris in 2018.

The sale also offers a whimsical and witty composition by the artist, Personnages et oiseau devant le soleil (1952). The virtuosic work was given by the artist to Jean Célestin, an assistant who monitored the proofs of all Miró’s lithographs at the Mourlot printing studio. It remained in Célestin’s family until it was sold at auction in 1996 and will now be offered with an estimate of £1,500,000 – 2,000,000.

Franz Marc’s Zwei blaue Esel (Pferd und Esel) (1912) (est. £1,000,000 – 1,500,000) explores the key subject of the artist’s career – the animal world. In 1910, attracted by the tranquillity of its surroundings, Marc moved to a small town on the foothills of the Bavarian Alps and it was here that Marc’s wonderfully colourful artistic menagerie came to dominate his œuvre. It was acquired by the Zurich-based collector Dr Franz Stadler the year it was created and has remained in the same family to this day, on loan to the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery in Leicester for over twenty years.

  • 04.02.2020 - 05.02.2020
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    Evening Sale: 4 February │ Day Sale: 5 February

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