On 9 May 2016, Sotheby’s Evening Sale of Impressionist & Modern Art in New York will feature a striking Pointillist painting of Saint-Tropez by Paul Signac (estimate $8/12 million*). Inscribed Op.237, the painting heralds from an important period for the artist, during which he designated his works with ‘opus numbers,’ much as a composer would name a masterful musical composition.
Painted in 1882 – his first year visiting the coastal town, to which he would return many times over the years –
Maisons du port, Saint-Tropez was created at the peak of Signac's time as the leader of the NeoImpressionist painters. Having never appeared at auction, Maisons du port, Saint-Tropez has remained in the family collection of Ambassador John Langeloth Loeb, Jr. since his parents acquired it in July 1958. It comes to auction this May with an estimate of $8/12 million.*
“The separated elements will be reconstituted into brilliantly colored lights.” — Paul Signac
Jeremiah Evarts, Head of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sales in New York, said: “With its effusive color and exquisite orchestration, Maisons du port, Saint-Tropez is a true manifesto of Pointillism. It was created at a time when Signac was inheriting the mantle of his friend and fellow Neo-Impressionist Georges Seurat, who passed away soon before this work was painted. Through this stunning view of Saint-Tropez, Signac is searching for the musicality and beauty in the world around him, and the resulting ‘Opus’ is the greatest we have seen come to auction in almost a decade.”
In April of 1882, Signac set sail on his boat Olympia from Concarneau to the south of France, in search of restorative sunlight and happier times following the death of his friend Georges Seurat the prior year. When he arrived at the port of Saint-Tropez, which at the time could only be accessed by boat, the visual splendor of the terracotta roofed houses made a lasting impression. The area continued to be a source of fascination for the artist over the next several decades, during which he produced several variants on the scene of the port.
The term ‘Neo-Impressionism’ was coined at the 1886 Impressionist group exhibition by the critic Félix Fénéon when referring to the paintings of Signac, Georges Seurat, and Camille and Lucien Pissarro. As the inheritors of the Impressionist tradition, these artists continued to depict the visual splendor of the modern world. Their approach, however, was decidedly more scientific, relying upon harmonious use of color and a precise application of paint known as Pointillism.
Spearheading this innovative technique in the late 1880s and the early 1890s, Signac was well-regarded as the leading spokesperson for this innovative style of painting. The present work, created when Signac’s technique was at its peak, epitomizes his bold stylistic innovation. It is rooted in a careful study of geometry, with particular focus on the horizontality of the port's architecture and its shimmering reflections on the water.
Maisons du port, Saint-Tropez is further distinguished by its exceptional provenance. Formerly in the collection of French writer and renowned collector Denys Cochin, it was acquired by the parents of Ambassador John Langeloth Loeb, Jr. in July 1958. John Langeloth Loeb, Jr. is a businessman, art collector, philanthropist and former United States Ambassador to Denmark (1981-1983). In addition to his innumerable contributions to society in the realm of politics and education, Ambassador Loeb is also a great patron of the arts. He served for nearly 30 years on the board of the Museum of the City of New York and has amassed what is arguably the greatest private collection of masterworks by Danish artists. Signac’s Maisons du port, Saint-Tropez has provided a centerpiece of his family’s collection for almost 60 years.
Two masterpieces by art history’s “Wild Beasts” will also appear at auction for the first time in Sotheby’s Evening Sale of Impressionist & Modern Art on 9 May 2016 in New York.
André Derain’s Les Voiles rouges (estimate $15/20 million*)
and Maurice de Vlaminck’s Sous-bois ($12/18 million) embody the explosive Fauvism movement of the early-20thcentury. The term was coined in 1905, when the critic Louis Vauxcelles derided the colorful canvases of Vlaminck, Matisse and Braque on display at the Salon d'Automneas the work of ‘les fauves’(wild beasts).
These radical artists continued to flood their compositions with bold, expressive color for another two years, creating an aesthetic that would influence artists for decades to come. Both paintings were acquired in 1954 by art patron and philanthropist Sarah Campbell Blaffer of Houston, Texas, and have remained in her family’s collection since.
Only four major Fauve paintings have sold at auction since 2010, when Sotheby’s set a new benchmark price for the movement: Sotheby’s London sale of Impressionist & Modern Art that June featured
a 1905 work by Derain, Arbres à Collioure, which sold for £16.3 million ($24 million), marking auction records for both the artist and for any Fauve painting.
The present is the finest Fauve work to come to auction since. Simon Shaw, Co-Head, Worldwide, Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Department, said: “Fauvism liberated color and the brushstroke – a seismic shift that changed painting forever. Truly seminal examples are available only rarely, so to offer two in one season is extraordinary. Both pictures are coming to auction for the first time, and enjoy an exquisite provenance from one of the great American collections.”
Vlaminck executed Sous-bois (Paysage)in the summer of 1905, only months before the Salon d'Automne. The canvas resonates with a passion and exuberance that characterizes the early Fauve paintings. Of all of the Fauve painters, Vlaminck was one of the most vocal about the expressive impact of vibrant color. He would frequently use musical and visual qualifiers interchangeably in his descriptions ofhis art, enabling him to express the powerful, multi-sensual experience he attempted to convey in his paintings. His fascination with brilliant, vibrant colors is beautifully reflected in Sous-bois, which depicts a scene near Chatou, along the Seine from Paris, where Vlaminck lived at the time.
He drew inspiration for his early landscapes from this region, many of them characterized by the red-tiled roofs typical of the surrounding villages. It was in Chatou, the birth place of André Derain, where the two artists met by chance in1900, and subsequently formed a partnership that became the core of the Fauve movement. Vlaminck and Derain shared a studio, and over the following years regularly painted together, often depicting the same views of the local landscape.
In 1906 Derain traveled to London. He was a mere 25 at the time, and was encouraged to make the journey from Paris to London by his dealer, Ambroise Vollard. Roughly 30 canvases were painted during Derain’s stay in London. Most of these compositions depicted recognizable sights such as the Palace of Westminster, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Charing Cross and the Tower Bridges; the present work, however, shows a wide section of the River Thames at Greenwich, featuring a traditional Thames sailing barge painted in a highly-keyed color palette.