Christie’s has secured The Collection of Eileen and I.M. Pei, an which includes 59 paintings, drawings, works on paper and sculpture assembled by the world-famous architect and his wife throughout their 72-year marriage. Both Eileen and Ieoh Ming (I.M.) Pei were the children of notable Chinese families. Eileen’s grandfather had been an ambassador to the United States in the early 20th Century. I.M. Pei’s own family’s fame stretched back farther to the Ming Dynasty which ended in the 17th Century. Even with such prestigious families at home, the couple married in Massachusetts after both graduated from Boston schools. She from Wellesley; he from MIT where he studied architecture. Pei opened his own architecture office in 1955 and subsequently built such famous structures as the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong, the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, as well as the world-famous glass pyramid at the Louvre in Paris.
A blend of Eastern and Western artworks, the Pei’s collection will be offered at auctions in New York, Hong Kong, and Paris this fall. The overall value of the collection is estimated at $25m. The Peis’ art will be sold in sales ranging from Impressionist & Modern Art, Post-War & Contemporary Art, Asian 20th Century Art, and Chinese Paintings.
The sit-up-and-notice lots are works by Barnett Newman, Jean Dubuffet, and Zao Wou-Ki. Each of these artists had personal friendships with the architect and his wife formed over many years within a close community of architects, artists and intellectuals.
In addition, there are works by Franz Kline, Zhang Daqian, Qi Baishi, Willem de Kooning, Henry Moore, Jacques Lipchitz, Xu Shiqi and Isamu Noguchi highlight the diversity of the couple’s aesthetic interests and influences.
Liane Pei, daughter of Eileen and I.M. Pei, said: “My parents’ collection is a personal reflection of how they lived. They shared a deep curiosity about the world and I have wonderful memories of traveling with them. No matter the country, they always seemed to have friends, many of whom were artists, architects, gallerists and museum directors, ready to welcome them. There was always a deep feeling of mutual respect, warmth and friendship. Whenever we were in Paris, we would visit Zao Wou-ki, whom I always referred to as ‘Uncle Wou-ki,’ to see his latest paintings. Years later, I recall a splendid trip to Venice with Annalee Newman, whom I adored as a grandmother. She and Barnett Newman, along with friends such as Tony Caro, Isamu Noguchi, and Pierre and Tana Matisse were often invited to our home. ”
Marc Porter,Chairman, Americas commented:“The Pei name is one that resonates around the world, integrated into the landscape of the dozens of cities that feature a Pei-designed art museum, concert hall, university, hospital, office tower or civic building.”
Johanna Flaum, Senior Vice President, Head of Sales, Post-War and Contemporary Art, added:“The Barnett Newmans came from his wife Annalee Newman a few years after Newman passed away and many of the Jean Dubuffets are inscribed specifically to the Peis. Their collection was a significant part of the couple’s self-designed home, which speaks very much to the dialogue they had between top artists of the 20th century and I.M Pei’s aesthetic eye as their contemporary in the field of architecture.”
Jean Dubuffet’s La Brouette (The Wheelbarrow) (Estimate: EUR 350,000 – 550,000) is at the heart of the artist’s Hourloupe cycle, which started in 1962 and would occupy him for 12 years. During this long cycle of creation, Jean Dubuffet employed the use of everyday objects and utensils (first two- dimensional and later in three dimensional sculptures) — gas ovens, chairs, boats, stairs, coffeemakers, teapots or the wheelbarrow, which would become emblematic of the artist. The wheelbarrow is also reminiscent of Dubuffet’s interest in the agriculture, which was already present in his 1940s agronomic scenes and his “texturologies” and “matériologies” (materializations) of the 1950s. A close friend of the couple, I.M. Pei commissioned Dubuffet to create a unique work for display in the East Building at The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., which the architect designed and unveiled in June 1978.
Barnett Newman’s Untitled 4,1950 and Untitled 5, 1950 belong to a limited group of paintings that Newman executed in 1950. Indeed, this can be seen in Untitled 5, 1950 (Estimate: in the region of US $5 million) as the underlying black ground extends beyond the front plane to envelop the sides and upper and lower turning edges. Untitled 4, 1950 (Estimate: in the region of US $8 million) is made up of three perpendicular bars of pigment, two darker reddish brown bars that surround a much warmer, reddish central core. This middle stripe appears to be painted on top of the darker layer, giving it a richer, more luxurious quality. These two works come from a series of six Newman created in that year, of which three are in museum collections including MoMA, Art Institute of Chicago, and Menil Collection, Houston. Alongside the grand gestural abstractions of peers such as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Clyfford Still, Newman’s canvases might appear restrained, yet they are carefully constructed and considered manifestations of their creator’s psyche. Both paintings were acquired by Eileen and I.M. Pei in the mid-1970s directly from Newman’s widow Annalee, who remained a close friend of the Pei family after her husband’s passing in 1970.
Zao Wou-Ki, also a close friend of the Peis, bridged the divide between Eastern and Western traditions, which can be seen in the two evocative works being offered. Born in Beijing, the artist and his wife, Lalan, relocated to Paris where he continued to be influenced by Western modernism and the work of Impressionists and Expressionists. It was after his move to Paris that his paintings began to shift towards abstraction. As Zao’s work grew increasingly abstract during the 1960s, he began to move away from the detail-heavy style that characterized his oracle-bone period towards a bolder, more energetic mode of painting. By 1971, Zao had returned to the brush-and-ink technique he learned in China, with work that reflected its sources in Chinese traditions but also his conceptual roots in Western abstraction. Major institutions that hold his paintings in their permanent collections include the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim, and Tate Modern.