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Masterworks from the Collection of Antoni Tàpies

Offered in October 2017 and February 2018 — and featuring pieces by Alberto Giacometti, Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso and Mark Rothko — these passionately cherished works were closely affiliated to Tàpies’ own artistic practice

Antoni Tàpies (1923-2012) was celebrated for his exploration of the spirituality of the material world. Born in Barcelona in 1923, he grew up amid the violence of the Spanish Civil War and from destruction succeeded in forging one of the greatest bodies of abstract work of the 20th century. He was also one of the four founding members of the Art Informel movment alongside Willem de Kooning, Jean Dubuffet and Lucio Fontana.

In Spain, my country,’ says Christie’s specialist Guillermo Cid Pardo, ‘his life and work epitomises the cultural genome of the post-war years. Tàpies has come to be associated with our way of being and with the way the world looks at us.’

As well as being one of the leading post-war artists of his generation, Antoni Tàpies was also an avid collector. His personal collection spans vastly different eras and cultures: alongside examples of Khmer statuary there are abstract modernist paintings, dream-like compositions from the Surrealists, striking African idols and artefacts from antiquity. The collection was built on his desire to understand life’s unfathomable mysteries, and offers a unique insight into the powerful bond that existed between the artist and the paintings and sculptures he encountered over the course of his lifetime. 

Masterworks from the Collection of Antoni Tàpies will appear in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction (6 October, London), the Up Close  sale (3 October, London) and forthcoming Impressionist and Modern sales in February 2018. Including works by Alberto Giacometti, Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso and Mark Rothko, these highly intimate objects were closely connected to Tàpies’ own artistic practice, often acting as a catalyst for his creative impulses.

‘Tàpies chose these works carefully, building within his collection a group of exceptional artworks from the 20th century,’ says Olivier Camu, Deputy Chairman, Impressionist and Modern Art at Christie’s. ‘Of course, his interests extended far wider than this period, but each of the works presented here reveal something interesting about Tàpies as an artist and a collector. They speak to his Catalan heritage, to his roots in the Surrealist movement, to his place as a leading figure within the Post-War art world. It is fascinating to be reminded through this small selection how sharp, sophisticated, informed and sensitive his eye was.’

Gathering together artworks that were epochs and cultures apart, Tàpies collected passionately, and in a unique and idiosyncratic manner

Tàpies first came to prominence in the late 1940s, working in a Surrealist idiom that shared much with the ideas of artists such as Paul Klee and Tàpies’ fellow Catalonian, Joan Miró. A scholarship to Paris in 1950-51 led to a meeting with Pablo Picasso.

Informed by his interest in Zen philosophy as much as by the privation of post-war Spain, Tàpies deliberately chose commonplace materials to infuse with new significance, invoking a transformative alchemy that prefigured the Italian movement of Arte Povera.

Following his first American exhibitions in 1953, Tàpies represented Spain at the Venice Biennale in 1958. A celebrated solo show at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum followed in 1962, and another toured Europe in 1973-74. In 1984 he created the Tàpies Foundation, which holds his archives and more than 2,000 of his works, and which continues to this day to promote the interdisciplinary study of modern and contemporary art. Major retrospectives were held at the Jeu de Paume in Paris in 1994, at the Guggenheim in 1995, and at Madrid’s Reina Sofía Museum in 2000.

Gathering together artworks that were epochs and cultures apart, Tàpies collected passionately, and in a unique and idiosyncratic manner. The eclectic collection was formed in the Tàpies family home, built by the Catalan architect José Antonio Coderch in the early 1960s to the artist’s designs. Within this elegant, atmospheric setting, these artworks came to life, creating an immersive, kaleidoscopic environment in which the artist lived and worked.

These are the objects that captured his imagination, comforted him, inspired him and obsessed him on a daily basis

Each room was carefully curated by Tàpies and his beloved wife Teresa, the selection of objects within each of them chosen for their ability to imbue the space with a mysterious, enigmatic energy, and for the effect they created when seen in combination with one another. These are the objects that captured his imagination, comforted him, inspired him and obsessed him on a daily basis.

Highlights of the collection include Untitled (Orange and Yellow), a luminous vision dating from Mark Rothko’s celebrated final period. Executed in 1969, the year before the artist’s death, it belongs to the remarkable series of large-scale works on paper that number among his last and most poignant achievements.

Conceived in 1929, during one of the most exciting and experimental periods in the life of Alberto Giacometti, Homme (Apollon) belongs to a series of sculptures that brought the young artist’s work to the attention of Paris’s Surrealists. From this moment onwards, Giacometti’s sculptures would evolve to embrace an abstract, geometric style and a deeply haunting vision of humanity. Tapies’ Homme (Apollon) is one of an edition of six casts, of which others now reside in museum collections including the Kunstmuseum Basel and the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington DC.

Leading the group of works heading for the Impressionist and Modern Art auctions in February is another work of compelling force: Pablo Picasso’s Le coq saigné  (The Bled Cock, 1947-8). With an estimate of £2,200,00 to £2,800,000, it is celebrated as one of the most complex and arresting works of the large series of still-lifes that the artist painted during and immediately following the Second World War.

Further highlights of the collection include two works by Joan Miró. Peinture  (1926), with an estimate of £600,000-900,000, belongs to the artist’s famed series of ‘oneiric’ or ‘dream’ paintings — an enigmatic group of spectral compositions which the artist began in Paris in 1925. Tête d’homme  (estimate: £800,000-1,200,000) was one of a small group of 12 intimately sized, experimental oil paintings which emerged in 1932 at a pivotal moment in the artist’s career, following several years marked by what the artist termed a ‘crisis of personal consciousness’.

‘Tàpies’ collection transcends the merely aesthetic,’ says Guillermo Cid Pardo. ‘It exemplifies with astonishing detail the path travelled in the maturation of his art and of the art of his peers.’   

Masterworks from the Collection of Antoni Tàpies  will be on view at Christie’s King Street in London from 29 September, with highlights touring to Christie’s Rockefeller Center, New York (8-12 September), Hong Kong (18-21 September) and Madrid (19-20 September).