Souren Melikian makes the argument that this week’s sales were dominated by simplified works that emphasized striking color. The van Dongen Jeune Arabe and Derain’s harbor scene being exhibits A and B. But the erudite Melikian teases his line further through the content of both house’s sales. He brings it all home with this list of stunning–more subtle–works that were bought for great bargains:
The corollary of the precedence now given to any work that is strident in its color scheme and oversimplified in its linear construction is a complete indifference to delicate nuances in the material execution of paintings or a subtle mood achieved through atmospheric effects.
- At Christie’s, one of Corot’s most poetic landscapes painted in the Ville d’Avray area, where the master had his home, cost only $866,500. While this was well in line with Christie’s higher expectations, it is a laughable figure for a masterpiece of the late 1860s by one of the towering figures of French painting.
- Two lots down, a Pissarro river view painted around 1873 at Pointoise, with the railway bridge visible in the distance, elicited no response and crashed unsold.
- At Sotheby’s, Sisley’s very fine view of “La Seine à Argenteuil” (The River Seine at Argenteuil) sold only just for $1.53 million and failed to match the lower end of the estimate.
- A cityscape of Paris under snow with the south west wing of the Louvre and the Tuileries gardens in the foreground painted by Pissarro in 1899 did better than that as it brought $2.77 million, exceeding Sotheby’s high estimate by half. However, if one adds that the picture, consigned by the descendants of Paul Durand-Ruel, who acquired it from Pissarro on May 18, 1899, is in mint condition and ranks among the most subtle masterpieces of the Impressionist painter, the price is modest.
As the market takes off afresh, there will be some marvelous coups to be made by those whose attention span goes beyond a few seconds.
A Rally Marked by Broad Strokes (New York Times)