Female Impressions

Sotheby’s
evening sale of Impressionist and Modern Art to be held on Tuesday,
February 8, 2005 features an array of works by artists for whom
the female form was a central theme. From Degas’ studies of
ballet dancers through to Delvaux’s depiction of Venus, the
selection of paintings demonstrate what a vital element women
played to some of the most important artists of the 19th and
20th centuries.

The sale includes two particularly good works on paper by Edgar
Degas (1834-1917) of one of his most familiar subjects, ballet
dancers. Les Trois danseuses jaunes (right), dates from circa
1897, and with its vivid colours and spontaneous application
of pigment, it is a particularly vibrant example of the artist’s
later style, with its more impressionistic approach and explosions
of colour. It is estimated at £1,200,000-1,800,000. The
second work, Étude de danseuses, closely relates to Degas’
most famous sculpture, Petite danseuse de quatorze ans, which
Sotheby’s sold last February for £5 million and which
is now in the Royal Academy in London. This drawing shows the
dancer in the same pose, from slightly different angles, as
the finished sculpture, and represents a fascinating insight
into the most important Impressionist sculpture. Executed in
1878-79, it is estimated at £250,000-350,000.

The theme that preoccupied Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920) in
Paris prior to the First World War was the Caryatid. According
to legend, these female figures employed as weight-bearing elements
in architecture, symbolized the punishment of the women of Caryae,
a town near Sparta, for betrayal in the Graeco-Persian Wars
(480-479 B.C.). In depicting this pair of female nudes, the
artist was less interested in anatomical details than in the
highly stylized forms. Examples of Modigliani Caryatids in oil
are particularly rare, so the fact that a pair is appearing
at auction is unique in recent saleroom history. The estimate
for the pair is £800,000-1,200,000.

Kees Van Dongen’s (1877-1968) Les Escarpins mauves of 1921
shows the painter moving into a new phase in his artistic development.
After the First World War, Van Dongen’s vibrant style became
refined into a brilliant technique for the depiction of fashionable
Parisian womanhood. In this painting he is at the peak of this
form, and it is easy to understand how his popularity reached
a climax in these years. It is estimated at £750,000-1,000,000.

One of the greatest painters of women in informal, domestic
settings is Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947). His Dans le cabinet
de toilette of 1907 is a classic portrayal of a bathing nude,
simultaneously combining intimacy with monumentality. It is
expected to fetch £2,000,000-3,000,000.

Executed
in 1947, Femme au chapeau belongs to a period of Pablo Picasso’s
(1881-1973) work characterised by an increasing energy and artistic
freedom after the war years. The sitter is the young painter
Francoise Gilot whom Picasso first met in May 1943 and whose
youthful spirit inspired him towards a new direction in his
portraiture. He gradually a bandoned the grey, monochromatic
palette of wartime and, stimulated by a new optimism, the light
of the Cote d’ Azur, and his beautiful muse, he began to embrace
a much lighter, livelier colour scheme. It is estimated at £2,500,000-3,500,000
(left).

Among the German and Austrian paintings in the sale is a major
work by Max Beckmann (1884-1956), Dame mit Spiegel painted in
1943 during the artist’s years in Amsterdam, which were among
the most productive and innovative in his career. The long,
narrow format of the work is characteristic of this period,
combining the artist’s feelings of confinement with a subtle
sensuousness. Dame mit Spiegel is estimated at £2,500,000-3,500,000.

One of a number of works by Egon Schiele is Sitzende mit angezogenem
linken Bein (Torso), a fine example of the artist’s recurrent
obsession with the female figure. Although depicted clothed,
the woman’s suggestive pose and brilliantly painted flesh give
this work a seductive, erotically charged quality. Signed and
dated 1917, it is estimated at £350,000-450,000.

From
the Surrealist sale is an important work by the leading Belgian
Surrealist Paul Delvaux (1897-1994), La Naissance de Vénus.
Painted in 1947, at a high point in Delvaux’s career, it presents
a modern interpretation of one of the most familiar themes of
Classical mythology, echoing Sandro Botticelli’s famous painting
from the 15th century. It is expected to fetch £1,800,000-2,500,000
(right).

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