• Property from the Collection o auction at Christies

    Sale 2410

    Property from the Collection of Mrs. Sidney F. Brody

    4 May 2010, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 1

    Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940)

    Autoportrait

    Price Realised  

    Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940)
    Autoportrait
    stamped with signature 'E Vuillard' (Lugt 2497a; lower right)
    oil on board laid down on panel
    13¾ x 10¾ in. (35 x 27 cm.)
    Painted circa 1890


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    Painted around 1890, the present self-portrait is an important work from the period of Vuillard's association with the Nabi circle, during which he produced the most challenging, sophisticated, and affirmatively modern work of his long career. The Nabi group, which took its name from a Hebrew word meaning prophet, was founded by a band of young artists--Maurice Denis, Paul Ranson, Pierre Bonnard, and Henri-Gabriel Ibels foremost among them--who objected to the conservative curriculum at the Académie Julian in Paris, where they were studying together. Denis, the most vocal proponent of Nabi ideas, dated the inception of the movement to the summer of 1888, when Paul Sérusier brought back from Pont-Aven a small landscape painted under Paul Gauguin's tutelage. It was rendered in pure, unmixed colors that do not transcribe natural appearances, but rather suggest the painter's emotions and sensations before nature. The Nabis called this magically auspicious painting Le talisman (Guicheteau, no. 2). Denis explained, "Thus was introduced to us for the first time, in a paradoxical and unforgettable form, the fertile concept of a flat surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order. Thus we learned that every work of art was a transposition... a passionate equivalent of a sensation received" ("L'influence de Paul Gauguin," 1903; quoted in H.B. Chipp, ed., Theories of Modern Art, Berkeley, 1968, p. 101).

    Vuillard met Denis and his compatriots at the Académie Julian in the fall of 1889 and began his most intense experimentation with Nabi theories the following year, which he described in his journal as "l'année de Sérusier" (quoted in G. Groom, Edouard Vuillard, Painter-Decorator: Patrons and Projects, 1892-1912, New Haven, 1993, p. 9). In a journal entry dated to the fall of 1890, he avidly proclaimed his adherence to the new movement: "What I should really be concerned with: the consolidation of an idea as a work of art, of which the existence would be the product of an idea (sensation and methodology). Let's be clear: I must imagine the lines and colors I apply and do nothing haphazardly; that's perfectly true. I must think about all my combinations. But even to attempt this work I must have a methodology in which I have faith" (quoted in ibid., p. 9).

    The present self-portrait is almost exactly contemporaneous with this journal entry; according to Guy Cogeval, it was probably painted in the summer of 1890, when Vuillard was working in a studio in Montparnasse that had been lent to him by a fellow Nabi painter, Paul Ranson. The painting shows Vuillard turned in three-quarter profile to the left, with his eyes cocked back to look directly at the viewer. The colors are bold and provocative: pink for the flesh, ginger for the beard, lemon-yellow for the hair, a spot of vermillion for the inside of the ear. The face is divided into two zones, dark on the left and light on the right, with the frontier abruptly delineated by a jagged contour that runs from the crown of the head down through the beard. Elizabeth Easton has described the present painting and a closely related self-portrait (Salomon and Cogeval, vol. I, no. II-25, on which see below) as "extraordinarily compelling works of Vuillard's Nabi style," and has declared, "In these paintings Vuillard reached the pinnacle of his Nabi achievement. Vuillard's face is composed of flat planes of solid color, as Maurice Denis prescribed, and these abstract, sinuous shapes represent in the brilliance of their colors the freedom of imagination that Sérusier encouraged his Nabi friends to explore" (op. cit., p. 20). Stuart Preston, likewise, has written about the present canvas, "This vivid, hallucinatory self-portrait... [carries] out, boldly and simply, Gauguin's advice about eliminating superfluous detail, and employing pure expressive color in boldly outlined areas, decorative and arbitrary schemes with no more than perfunctory reference to visual fact" (op. cit., p. 72).

    The present painting is one of three closely related self-portraits, all of which have the same distinctive, undulating shadow across the face. It was probably the second in the series to be painted. The first (S. and C., vol. I, no. II-23) uses a more traditional, unified palette of browns and golds and depicts the artist at a slightly greater distance. In the present canvas, Vuillard increased the chromatic intensity and the flamboyance of the color contrasts, as well as framing the face more tightly to heighten the potency of the image. For the third version (S. and C., vol. I, no. II-25; fig. 1), painted on an octagonal canvas, he replaced the auburn of the beard with a more strident orange and added a shower of complementary red dots across the green-brown background. He also adjusted the transition around the ear, joining the hair and beard in the form of a sideburn that completely encircles the face. Cogeval has written about the present Autoportrait, "This was something of a dress-rehearsal for Octagonal Self-Portrait, as the last minor adjustments are made before the explosion of pure Synthetist provocation. All the elements found in the following entry are present against a background composed of violent, criss-cross strokes. And we can already see, bursting through the picture, that disturbing invention: a collage of lemon-yellow hair and orange beard" (op. cit., 2003, p. 89).

    The genre of self-portraiture held a powerful appeal for the youthful Vuillard. Between 1887 and 1889, he painted no fewer than a dozen self-portraits (S. and C., vol. I, nos. I-76 through I-86, II-1), as well as a large double portrait of himself and his friend Waroquy (S. and C., vol. I, no. I-97; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Executed before Vuillard had adopted the unfettered color and bold, interlocking shapes of the Nabi, these early self-portraits are characterized by a muted palette and naturalistic approach to form. The contrast with the present canvas, painted just a year or two later, is striking. John Russell (who dates our painting to 1891) has declared, "Fourteen years before the revelation of Fauve painting at the 1905 Salon d'Automne, Vuillard had dared all. If it is true that Madame Matisse, when she was posing for the Woman with Hat of 1905, wore a black dress and a black hat against a plain white wall, only to be transmogrified in total defiance of naturalism, the feat was no more remarkable than that accomplished by Vuillard when he moved from the Self-Portrait in a Straw Hat [circa 1888; S. and C., vol. I, no. I-83] to the self-portraits of 1891" (exh. cat., op. cit., Toronto, 1971, p. 22).

    The present self-portrait also reveals a new self-confidence in comparison to the earlier images. Vuillard's expression in the pre-Nabi works is dreamy and introspective; in several, he depicts himself in a mirror, a distancing device that contributes a sense of artifice and calculation to the image. The 1890-1891 self-portraits, in contrast, are vibrantly direct. The monochrome background, harsh light, and tight framing (elements borrowed from Italian Renaissance portraits that Vuillard had admired in the Louvre) thrust the face into the foreground; the artist locks eyes with the viewer, his gaze bold and unflinching. Cogeval has written, "The silent, half-turned torso not only reveals a growth in self-confidence when compared with the earlier portraits, but works in tandem with the provocatively full colors: the yellow hair, pink skin, orange beard and blue neck, like carefully calculated pieces in a hallucinogenic jigsaw puzzle. As always, though, the boldness is tempered by the melancholy gaze of the eyes lost in shadow, the shadow that renders a map of doubt, breaking up the forehead and laying bare the inmost contradictions of the artist. Amongst comparable works from the same period, only Gauguin's Self-Portrait with Yellow Christ [Wildenstein, no. 324; fig. 2] and the Self-Portrait painted by Van Gogh at Saint-Rémy [de la Faille no. 627; Musée d'Orsay, Paris] achieve a similar intensity--religious and Syncretist in the one, expressionist and fraught with anxiety in the other" (op. cit., 2003, p. 91). Although Vuillard had probably not seen Gauguin's celebrated self-portrait from 1889 at the time that he painted his own, he would eventually come to know it well. Maurice Denis, the painter and Nabi theoretician, bought the picture in 1903 and kept it all his life; a painting by Vuillard shows it shortly after its purchase, in situ on the wall of the Denis dining room (S. and C., II, VII-399; Musée d'Orsay).

    If the sources for the present self-portrait are rich and varied (Italian Renaissance portraiture, Japanese prints, the art of Sérusier and Gauguin), its resonance in the art of the twentieth century is even more striking. The blunt separation of the face into contrasting zones of color paves the way for Matisse's iconic Fauve portrait of his wife, La raie verte (fig. 3), while the provocative treatment of color anticipates the bold, palette and silk-screen techniques of Pop portraits such as Warhol's Orange Marilyn. Indeed, the radical pictorial and spatial experiments of Vuillard's Nabi work may be seen to herald many of the most important artistic developments of the modern era. Claire Frèches-Thory has concluded, "The bold opposition of violent colors announces the Fauves; the juxtaposition of planes, seen from different angles, prefigures the geometric constructions of the Cubists; the forms are sometimes distorted to the point of being virtually Expressionist; details take on the force of emblems and blazons branded onto the surface of the painting...like a sort of collage. [The Nabis'] numerous inventions, discoveries, reflections and premonitions were extraordinary when we evaluate them in the context of the 1890s" (The Nabis: Bonnard, Vuillard, and their Circle, New York, 1990, p. 27).


    (fig. 1) Edouard Vuillard, Autoportrait, 1890. Private collection, France.
    (fig. 2) Paul Gauguin, Autoportrait au Christ jaune, 1889. Musée d'Orsay, Paris.

    (fig. 3) Henri Matisse, Portrait de Madame Matisse (La raie verte), 1905. Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen.


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    Provenance

    Estate of the artist.
    Sam Salz Inc., New York.
    Acquired from the above by Mr. and Mrs. Sidney F. Brody, 1 June 1953.


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    Pre-Lot Text

    Property from the Collection of Mrs. Sidney F. Brody

    The Property of Mrs. Sidney F. Brody: A Personal Reminiscence by Christopher Burge, Christie's Honorary Chairman

    I was privileged to meet Frances Brody for the first time at her elegant Los Angeles house, in the fall of 1978. The meeting began inauspiciously as she was convinced, in spite of my letter of introduction, that I was a jewelry specialist; and she had laid out her diamonds on the dining table for my inspection.

    Once we had cleared this awkward hurdle, she graciously took me through the house to admire, as I did unreservedly, her magnificent paintings and sculpture. I was, of course, well aware that some of the collection had been sold a year earlier, in October 1977: indeed, I had attended the auction at Parke-Bernet, which included, amongst many others, important paintings by Matisse and Courbet, a gorgeous Tahitian Gauguin fan and perhaps Modigliani's chef d'oeuvre, his outsized portrait of Jeanne Hébuterne in a brilliant red shawl. It was all the more astonishing, therefore, to find the California house still replete with art of the greatest distinction.

    Here was Picasso's erotic but tender love poem to Marie-Thérèse Walter. Executed in the largest scale Picasso used at this time, the Brody picture is one of a number of superb portraits of her the artist made in 1932 when, having just turned fifty, he was preparing for his major retrospective at the Galeries Georges Petit in Paris. This is a tour de force even by Picasso's standards, driven as he was to prove to the world that he was as creative as ever at this age. One "of the most memorable paintings of a memorable series," as John Richardson has written, it is a masterpiece by any measure.

    Nearby hung another extraordinary work of art: Matisse's Nu au coussin bleu of 1924, the Michelangelesque seated nude with her elbows raised behind her head in a favorite pose, one used again by the artist for a celebrated lithograph of the identical subject and also for one of his most important sculptures, the Grand nu assis. This was as good a Matisse oil as any in a private American collection at the time.

    Every room revealed fruits of sophisticated connoisseurship: Vuillard's striking early self-portrait, for one; Ensor's charming small still life for another, a great late Braque still life of 1954 is only now coming in to its own.

    And then there was the sculpture: two of Giacometti's greatest bronzes, his Le Chat (then prowling in the garden!) and his Grande tête mince, two inspired acts of collecting confidence at the time of purchase; a beautifully chosen array of Henry Moore at his very best, a perfect hand worked Marini bronze of a horse and rider, fine works by Degas and Calder, and not to be forgotten, the great Matisse ceramic tile composition, La Gerbe, in the courtyard outside, the unifying force in this harmonious synthesis of art and architecture.

    It was only later that I learned of the "dynastic" collecting tradition in the family, initiated by Frances Brody's parents, Albert and Mary Lasker, whose extraordinary Impressionist and Modern painting collection was one of the finest in the United States. But whatever influence the Laskers, and others, may have had on the Brodys' fledgling forays into the art market--a profound shared interest in the work of Matisse seems to be the most obvious--Sidney and Frances Brody struck out on their own to create a markedly beautiful and original collection, as original, in fact, as the daring modernist house, in which it was shown to such advantage. I was privileged to have seen it then and am honored to work with it now, together with my colleagues worldwide and Susan L. Brody, Special Art Trustee, to aide in its dispersal to a new generation of collectors.

    A History of the Brody Collection

    One cannot fully appreciate the Brody collection without first considering the tremendous legacy of collecting which informs it. When Albert and Mary Lasker acquired two oil paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir in 1944, a commitment to collecting the finest examples of European art from the 19th and 20th Centuries was born. The Lasker Collection was built in a short eight year span, demonstrating a dedication to collecting and building a family tradition which is the foundation of the Brody Collection as it appears today.

    It was Albert and Mary who suggested Frances and Sidney collect art, but it was Frances's work as an advocate for the arts that provided the impetus. While working for the UCLA Arts Council, which she helped found in the 1950s, she fell in love with a Henry Moore sculpture. "Sid put it under the Christmas tree. And well, by then I guess we were hooked," she told The New York Times in 1969.

    Frances and Sidney had an appreciation for masterpieces of the Impressionist period but were true Modernists at heart. Their all-consuming immersion in the world of art was expressed vividly in their tour-de-force Modernist home. Commissioned in 1949 from the architect A. Quincy Jones and the interior designer Billy Haines when Frances and Sidney were just a young couple in their early thirties newly arrived in Los Angeles, the house combined two fashionable contemporary styles: California mid-century Modernist architecture and sophisticated Hollywood Moderne décor. The house is as much a revelation today as it was when it was built. As Sarah Medford has observed: "Among the young princes of film and fashion there is no hotter acquisition right now than a flat-roofed, steel-framed house sheathed in glass And while many buyers want to retrofit these austere light boxes with Fifties-era George Nelson sofas and Eames recliners, a growing number of people are seeking out the more luxurious, high-style furniture if that time, especially 'cocktail modern' pieces custom-designed for Hollywood projects by Billy Haines and his contemporaries" (S. Medford, "A Modern Classic: Frances Brody's Los Angeles House Exemplifies 1950s Era Architecture," in Town and Country Magazine, 1 October 1999, p. 200).
    Shortly after the house was completed, the Brodys had an idea for how to put the perfect finishing touch to their courtyard. In 1952 they commissioned Matisse to execute a massive ceramic-tile wall mural, one of few the artist ever made, and in 1953 they traveled to France to review his preliminary maquette. The story of Frances's polite resistance to Matisse's first cut-out design and how she persuaded the artist to provide alternatives is now legend. Frances and Sidney were already at this young age self-directed and confident in their taste. The final result, twelve feet long and eight feet high, is a masterful late work--multi-hued palm fronds with organic contours playfully rise and splay out from the lower center against a stark white background. The Matisse mural signaled the Brodys' greater affinity for the art of their own century which would come to distinguish their collection. Of particular interest in this regard are those artists first collected by the Brodys, such as Pierre Bonnard, Jean Metzinger, and James Ensor. More striking even is the Brody devotion to sculpture which extends from early figurative works by Honoré Daumier and Edgar Degas, to bronze masterpieces by Alberto Giacometti and table-top pieces by Alexander Calder.

    The Brodys' interest in Contemporary art went hand-in-hand with their dedicated work as patrons of the arts. They were founding benefactors of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which opened in 1965. Frances was also extremely active on the UCLA Arts Council, where she served as President, and where the Brodys donated the final maquette for Matisse's La Gerbe. Under her leadership, the council mounted an exceptional exhibition of Picasso works to celebrate his 80th birthday in 1961. On this occasion, the Brodys lent Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, for the first and last time. In 1966, Frances was instrumental in organizing a Matisse retrospective at UCLA with an unprecedented volume of loans from the artist's family, lauded by Los Angeles Times critic Henry J. Seldis as "one of the most ambitious exhibitions ever organized locally." Sidney was also deeply involved in the cultural life of Los Angeles; he served as Trustee, President and then Board Chairman of LACMA, as well as participating in various other arts and medical organizations, and was ultimately appointed to the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities by President Reagan. The Brodys were nationally recognized as civic leaders in the Los Angeles area as well as pioneering collectors of Modern art.

    The sale of select works from the Brody collection in 1977 was a notable event, comprising twenty-one works, a representative grouping spanning Impressionist and Modern art of all media. The Collection today is defined by those works the Brodys chose to keep in 1977 and which Frances was then left after Sidney's passing in 1983. This grouping is the most emphatically Modern of the three generational incarnations and, therefore, also the most internally coherent.

    The collection is emblematic of Frances Brody's indomitable vitality. In Sidney's absence, the art itself became her abiding companion. Still the avid civil servant, she continued her work with arts organizations and became increasingly involved with the Huntington Library, Arts Collections and Gardens in San Marino, California, which, because of Frances' passion and generosity, will receive a portion of the proceeds from this sale. Right until the end of her life Frances was overseeing the Huntington's multimillion-dollar campaign to build a new botanical complex.

    Frances' favorite work, the Matisse mural La Gerbe, remained the perennial backdrop on the Los Angeles social horizon as Frances continued cheerfully entertaining her community. This work has been gifted to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art where it will be prominently displayed as an homage to Frances and Sidney, honoring their contributions to the arts community for generations to come.


    Literature

    C. Schweizer, Die Bildraumgestaltung, das Decorative und das Ornamentale im Werke von Edouard Vuillard, Zurich, 1949, pp. 102-103.
    S. Preston, Edouard Vuillard, New York, 1971, p. 72 (illustrated in color).
    A. Georges, Symbolisme et décor, Vuillard, 1888-1905, Ph. D. diss., Paris, 1982, p. 64.
    E. Daniel, Vuillard, l'espace de l'intimité, Ph.D. diss., Paris, 1984, p. 379 (illustrated).
    P. Ciaffa, The Portraits of Edouard Vuillard, Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1985, pp. 107-108 (illustrated).
    E.W. Easton, Edouard Vuillard's Interiors of the 1890s, Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 1989, pp. 91-95 (illustrated).
    A. Salomon and G. Cogeval, Vuillard, The Inexhaustable Glance, Critical Catalogue of Paintings and Pastels, Paris, 2003, vol. I, p. 89, no. II-24 (illustrated).


    Exhibited

    New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Edouard Vuillard, April-June 1954, p. 101 (illustrated in color).
    Los Angeles, UCLA Art Galleries; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and The Cleveland Museum of Art, Years of Ferment. The Birth of Twentieth Century Art, 1886-1914, January-August 1965, no. 23 (illustrated).
    Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario; San Francisco, California Palace of the Legion of Honor and The Art Institute of Chicago, Edouard Vuillard, September 1971-March 1972, pp. 21-22, no. 9 (illustrated).
    Houston, The Museum of Fine Arts; Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection and The Brooklyn Museum, The Intimate Interiors of Edouard Vuillard, November 1989-July 1990, no. 6 (illustrated).
    Los Angeles County Museum of Art (on extended loan).