Art Exhibitions and Art Sales

Art Exhibitions and Art Sales
▪ 1994


Art Exhibitions
      If the Matisse exhibition was the leading show in 1992, then its worthy sequel in 1993 was the exhibition of paintings from the Barnes Collection in Merion, Pa. The traveling exhibition of masterpieces of Impressionist and Postimpressionist art from that little-known private collection included some of the most splendid works by Matisse anywhere. Because the Barnes Foundation did not normally lend its paintings, the traveling shows seen at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., and the Orsay Museum in Paris in 1993 were especially notable events.

      The Barnes Collection had been in the news since the early 1960s, when legal challenges to the terms of its constitution were begun. It had always limited visiting hours, and the admission fee was pegged at just $1. Colour reproduction of any work from the collection was banned, and works of art were never lent. The 1993 exhibition evolved from the decision to renovate the 1922 villa that housed the pictures, since the works of art were to be taken down in any event. (See Sidebar (ART SALES: Deaccessioning ).) There was debate about whether loans should be permitted, but the financial advantages were tempting, and the need to raise some $7 million for building repairs was decisive. The show attracted some 500,000 visitors in Washington, and both the French and the Japanese provided substantial funds for the privilege of showing the paintings. (After appearing in Paris in the autumn and winter of 1993, the show would travel to Tokyo and to Philadelphia in 1994.) As a result, the first-ever colour catalog and book about the collection were published.

      Albert Barnes, a physician who had made his fortune by discovering and marketing an antiseptic, began to collect in 1912 and by his death in 1951 had amassed some 2,000 works of art. The great strength of his collection was in the Impressionists and Postimpressionists, many of whose works he had acquired in the early 1920s. In 1922 Barnes set up an educational foundation and began to allow limited access to his works of art. This early attempt at public exhibition was not well received by the critics, and as a result, Barnes began to limit access severely, imposing the lending ban and the prohibition on colour reproduction. This restrictive regime continued through the 1980s during the trusteeship of his successor. Thus, the Barnes Collection remained a secret collection, its existence known but its paintings rarely seen.

      During the renovation 80 works went on tour. They included several wonderful paintings, such as "The Card Players" by Cézanne and "Les Poseuses" by Seurat. In Paris the paintings could be compared with related works from the permanent collection of the Orsay Museum.

      If the "bidding" that preceded the selection of venues for the Barnes show provided further evidence of what big business art exhibitions had become—with significant political and financial ramifications—comments by New York City's mayor, David Dinkins, confirmed the importance of art exhibitions in attracting the tourist dollar. The mayor announced that four exhibitions held in late 1992 had attracted a total of more than 1,750,000 visits. These included the Matisse exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, shows devoted to Magritte and Ribera at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the exhibition devoted to Russian and Soviet avant-garde art at the Guggenheim Museum. The total viewing attendance was roughly equivalent to the total attendance at New York Mets baseball games during the 1992 season, and it was reported that nearly three-quarters of the visitors had come from outside New York City.

      Political and economic considerations continued to be foremost in 1993. In Britain concern was expressed that the country seemed to miss out on many of the leading international blockbuster shows. British gallerygoers were obliged to travel to Paris to see the Matisse and the Barnes Collection shows, as well as the 100-work Titian show in the spring. Major reasons seemed to be the perceived lack of a satisfactory temporary exhibition space in or near central London and the reduction in sponsorship that inhibited major shows from visiting more venues. It had been hoped that the Barnes Collection might have been seen at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, but in the end the ability of Paris and Tokyo to pay large sums prevailed. The Royal Academy had approached financial and governmental institutions as well as wealthy patrons in an effort to attract the show to London, but support was not found.

      The Matisse show at the Museum of Modern Art, which closed in early 1993, was the largest and grandest exhibition devoted to that artist ever, with more than 400 works on view. A substantial part of the exhibition moved on to Paris, where 130 works were on display at the Pompidou Centre from February to June. The scope, covering 1904 to 1917, was more limited than in New York. The "Bathers by a River" from the Chicago Art Institute, for many the highlight of the New York show, did not travel to Paris. The Matisse canvases from the Barnes Collection, seen in Paris later in the year, provided a fine comparison for visitors who had also seen the Matisse exhibition.

      Late 19th- and 20th-century subjects remained popular for 1993 exhibitions. A charming but not so well-known group, the Nabis, was the subject of shows at the Kunsthaus in Zürich, Switz., and later at the Grand Palais in Paris. The artists of this group included Pierre Bonnard, Édouard Vuillard, and Félix Vallotton, and the last comprehensive exhibition of their work had taken place in Paris in 1955. The works of 12 artists, primarily dating from the 1890s, made up the show. The influence of Japanese printmaking on the group was illustrated by the inclusion of prints that had actually been owned by the artists. Vuillard had a particularly fine collection that included works by Hokusai and Utamaro. The show also included theatrical designs, graphic arts, and book illustrations as well as paintings.

      Late works by French Impressionist Camille Pissarro were shown in Texas at the Dallas Museum of Art and later traveled to Philadelphia and London. The subject matter was the painter's series of views of French cities, including Paris, Rouen, Le Havre, and Dieppe.

      An exhibition entitled "American Art in the 20th Century" was mounted at the Royal Academy in London in the autumn, having traveled there from Berlin. In London it took a slightly different form, with an associated show at the Saatchi Gallery concentrating on contemporary works. The wide range of subject matter led to criticism that the show was disjointed, and in particular there was debate as to the success of its coverage of contemporary subjects. The show focused on the third quarter of the 20th century, the period in which modern American artists had the greatest international influence. Most major figures within their respective movements were represented, including the Abstract Expressionists Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Mark Rothko. Separate sections were devoted to artists such as Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns. The emphasis on well-known names meant that, in Berlin at least, some less-high-profile artists were poorly represented. The wide variety of style and approach was stimulating and exciting if sometimes difficult to analyze historically. Because the theme of the show was very much American art as seen from the European point of view, artists whose influence was not notable tended to be underrepresented. Surrealism, Minimalism, and Pop were present, but Conceptual and West Coast movements were not.

      Another 20th-century art movement, Dada, was the subject of a major retrospective exhibition devoted to the work of Max Ernst, which was seen at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas, and the Art Institute of Chicago. Entitled "Dada and the Dawn of Surrealism," it covered the period from Ernst's early expressionistic works to his influential works in Dada and Surrealism of the 1920s. Art lovers who had visited the Matisse show could contrast it with Ernst's very different approach to Modernism. The artists, though contemporaries, could hardly have been more different in outlook, style, philosophy, or technique.

      Twentieth-century art was also featured in London at the Tate Gallery in a show entitled "Paris Post War: Art and Existentialism 1945 to 1955." That such an exhibition could be considered mainstream illustrated the extent to which deconstructivist criticism and philosophy had become established in the museum and art history worlds. The exhibition explored relations between painting, philosophy, and literature as well as politics and ideology. Artists represented included painter Jean Hélion and sculptors Alberto Giacometti and Germaine Richier.

      A major survey exhibition of the architecture and design of the 20th-century Dutch architect Gerrit Rietveld was on view at the Central Museum in Utrecht, Neth., and later in Paris at the Pompidou Centre. Entitled "Gerrit Thomas Rietveld 1883 to 1964," the exhibition was organized by the Central Museum, which holds the most important collection of his work. The version of the show in Paris was slightly smaller than that in the architect's home city, but it included one complete room, 43 pieces of furniture, 33 architectural models, and nearly 200 drawings and photographs. Rietveld was particularly noted for furniture made of wood and metal and for interiors that show a preoccupation with geometry and simplicity of line. His most famous house was the Schroeder House in Utrecht, designed in 1924. This project was well represented in the exhibition, which would travel after Paris to Antwerp, Belgium, and possibly to the Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

      Abstract Expressionism was the subject of a small show comprising 60 works on paper selected by the Metropolitan Museum of Art from its own collection. Included were examples of work by Robert Motherwell, Mark Tobey, Theodore Roszak, and Elaine de Kooning. The exhibition had been seen earlier in the year at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Ga.

      An exhibition in Venice at the Palazzo Grassi was devoted to relatively unfamiliar works by Modigliani, an artist also well represented in the Barnes Collection. Those on show in Venice were drawn from the collection of his first patron, Paul Alexandre, who had died at the age of 87 in 1968. Alexandre was a doctor with a practice in the Montmartre district of Paris, where he met and befriended many artists, including Modigliani. He amassed a collection of 430 drawings by Modigliani, nearly half of those in existence, together with much documentary material. The Venice show covered the period from 1906 to 1914, allowing an unprecedented appreciation of Modigliani's expertise as a draftsman.

      In Tokyo the National Museum of Modern Art mounted a survey show devoted to modern Japanese art. The pieces on display were selected from among the 6,000 or so works the museum had acquired since 1952. Few of them were normally on view.

      In Belgium, Antwerp celebrated its year as cultural capital of Europe with a series of art exhibitions, the most important of which was devoted to the work of Jacob Jordaens. It was a complete overview of the artist's work, including 93 paintings, 6 tapestries, 67 drawings, and 31 prints. Jordaens, less well known than his great contemporaries Rubens and Van Dyck, was represented by a carefully selected group of varied and high-quality works. Religious subjects, portraits, and oil sketches were on display. Notable lenders included Eastern European collections such as the Hermitage in St. Petersburg and museums in Moscow as well as in Poland and Romania.

      A show at the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp comprised important carved and painted altarpieces from that city, made in the 15th and 16th centuries. It enabled visitors to appreciate how rich and varied was the interior of the cathedral before its catastrophic fire of 1533. On view were 23 retables and 25 sculpted fragments, illustrating a neglected aspect of Netherlandish art. Many of the sculptures were normally hidden away in parish churches throughout Europe and had not before been assembled. They enabled the visitor to appreciate how the church might have looked before the Reformation. During this early period Antwerp was becoming the commercial and artistic centre of northwestern Europe, an ascendancy that ended with the Reformation, when these carved wood and painted altarpieces were removed. Other exhibitions in Antwerp included "The Panoramic Dream," on view in the summer and commemorating the international expositions held in that city in 1885, 1894, and 1930, and a show devoted to contemporary European sculpture.

      In France, Colmar's Unterlinden Museum, best known for the Isenheim altar by Matthias Grünewald, mounted a fascinating exhibition illustrating how artists of the 20th century have been influenced by that harrowing work of art. Artists represented included American, British, and European painters such as Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, Mark Rothko, and Graham Sutherland. The 22nd Council of Europe exhibition held at the National Museum in Copenhagen was entitled "From Viking to Crusader" and focused on Scandinavian art and its European connections during the Dark Ages. Many works were lent by international collections.

      An important international loan exhibition devoted to 5th-century BC Greek sculpture was seen in Washington, D.C., at the National Gallery of Art and later at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The show was called "The Greek Miracle: Classical Sculpture from the Dawn of Democracy," with 22 key works lent by the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

      "Gates of Mystery: The Art of Holy Russia" was an exhibition comprising liturgical objects and icons borrowed from the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg that toured the U.S. and also traveled to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It comprised the most important collection of medieval Russian art and icons to travel to the West in more than 60 years and included many works never before seen outside Russia. Some had survived as a result of being hidden when churches and monasteries were closed after the Revolution of 1917. Included was a famous 15th-century icon depicting Saint George and the Dragon.

      In Stuttgart, Germany, the sesquicentenary of the founding of that city's Staatsgalerie was commemorated by a show of some 300 works of art commissioned between 1770 and 1830. The exhibition included many works influenced by artists working in Rome and Paris, and relatively unfamiliar artists such as Valentin Sonnenschein and Friedrich Füger were included. Realism and naturalism characterized many of the pieces on show, and documents and literary quotations illustrated the spirit of the times. Fascinating parallels were apparent between these works and the works of French artists of the period.

      An unusual exhibition showing the range and quality of French painting in the 17th century, entitled "Le Grand Siècle," was on view at two French provincial museums, the Museum of Fine Arts and Archaeology in Rennes and the Fabre Museum in Montpellier. It had previously been seen at the Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal with the title "Century of Splendour." On view were approximately 130 works covering the whole of the 17th century. Most of the exhibits came from French provincial museums, but there were a few church loans and paintings by Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin sent by the Louvre. That a show of this size and quality could be mounted by provincial French galleries (it was organized by those in Rennes and Montpellier) illustrated the recent renaissance of such French museums, many of which had been recently refurbished and extended and their collections restored and increased. For Parisian exhibition visitors the splendid French railroad system meant that it was possible to travel to Rennes in less time than it might take to queue for admittance to one of the major Paris shows.

      The Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace was the venue for "A King's Purchase," a show chosen from works acquired for the royal collections by George III from the collection assembled in Venice in the mid-18th century by Joseph Smith. At the National Gallery in London, 10 of the most notable canvases from the Wellington Museum at Apsley House were on show, while that museum was closed for renovation. Paintings by Velázquez and Correggio were included.

      A show devoted to Spanish cubist painter Juan Gris, a contemporary of Braque and Picasso, was seen at the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart in the winter and at the Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller in Otterlo, Neth., following a showing at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London. Worthy of note were the paper cutouts and the generally monochromatic palette characteristic of the artist.


Art Sales
      As the recession eased slightly during 1992-93, the super-rich began to buy art again, but with caution. Auctioneers' seasonal turnover, measured in dollars, changed very little compared with the previous year. Christie's recorded a 1% improvement on the 1991-92 season and Sotheby's 4%. These figures were much in line with the January-to-July sales totals announced by Paris auctioneers, which were up 3% over 1992 in terms of French francs. American collectors were the strongest art buyers over the year. Their return to the market led to a revival in the Impressionist and modern markets. In contrast, economic turmoil in Italy and Spain led their nationals to withdraw from the market, leaving many Old Master pictures unsold.

      The 1980s boom had been particularly concentrated in Impressionist and modern pictures, as was the fall in prices in 1990-91. Fears that this market would not recover were put to rest in May 1993 when Sotheby's sold a Cézanne still life, "Nature morte—Les Grosses Pommes," for $28.6 million, double the presale estimate. Shortly afterward the most expensive art deal ever struck outside the auction room was announced. Walter Annenberg, the American publishing tycoon, had bought Van Gogh's "Wheat Field with Cypresses" for $57 million from the family of the Swiss arms manufacturer Emil Bührle, who died in 1956. Bührle's magnificent collection of modern masters is housed in a private museum in Zürich, Switz. Annenberg bought the picture as a gift for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, to which he had promised to bequeath his own collection.

      The recovery in prices for lesser works still had a long way to go, however. The November 1992 forced sale of pictures that the flamboyant Paris dealer Alain Lesieutre had used as collateral with his bank in the boom times starkly underlined the problem. The paintings were auctioned in Paris without reserve and made between one-third and one-fifth of the prices Lesieutre had paid in 1989-90. Dubuffet's great circus picture, "La Calipette," which had set an auction record for the artist's work when Lesieutre paid £2.3 million for it in April 1990, was down to F 6 million; a Degas "Dancer" was down from F 4 million to F 1.5 million; and a Miró pastel, from F 3.2 million to F 550,000. The first signs of recovery came at the New York sales in November 1992 when Sotheby's sold one Matisse, "L'Asie," to the Kimbell Museum of Fort Worth, Texas, for $11 million and Christie's another, "Harmonie jaune," for $14,520,000—reputedly to an American businessman.

      The new American confidence was also reflected in prices for flashy Victorian pictures—which had a strong following in New York City—and 19th-century paintings by American artists. The French artist James Tissot and the Dutch painter Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema—both of whom worked in Queen Victoria's England—turned out the top runners. Tissot's sentimental "L'Orpheline"—a woman and a little girl on an autumn riverbank—made $2,970,000 at Christie's New York in February and Alma-Tadema's orgiastic Roman banquet scene, "The Roses of Heliogabulus," £ 1,651,500 at Christie's London in June. Their American contemporaries proved even more expensive. Childe Hassam's "Room of Flowers" made $5.5 million and a pastel of "Peonies" by William Merritt Chase, $3,962,500.

      In the Old Master field, the J. Paul Getty Museum of Malibu, Calif. (whose collections were threatened by the southern California wildfires in October), managed to carry off almost all the great works on offer with little competition. Its most sensational purchase was a drawing by Michelangelo of "Holy Family with the Infant Baptist on the Rest on the Flight into Egypt," which cost £4,181,500 at Christie's in July, the highest price ever paid for a drawing. The handsome compositional sketch had been hidden away in an English country house, Great Tew in Oxfordshire, since 1836, and its existence was virtually unknown. In December 1992 the Getty Museum spent £4,950,000 on a Goya, and in May 1993 it spent £ 2.3 million on a landscape by the German painter Caspar David Friedrich. In between it bought, for an undisclosed sum, a Rubens "Entombment" that the American collector-dealer Alfred Bader had picked up at Christie's in December 1992 for a bargain £ 1,045,000.

      It was a relatively quiet year for the decorative arts, broken here and there by the emergence of a particularly sensational object or collection. While prices for Georgian furniture drifted lower, the £1.8 million sale of a magnificent Regency desk made for the Marquess of Anglesey—who led the cavalry at the Battle of Waterloo—set a new auction price record for English furniture.

      Islamic art, which had been in little demand since the 1991 Gulf war, staged a recovery in April. One of the earliest products of the Turkish potteries at Isnik, a blue and white candlestick made around 1480, sold for a record £ 617,500, while a 17th-century silk and metal thread "Polonaise" became the world's most expensive Persian carpet at £ 441,500. The auction market in Chinese art suffered from a lack of Japanese and American buyers, but a Hong Kong financier, Joseph Lau, set a new auction price record for Chinese ceramics when he paid $2,860,000 for a 46-cm (18-in) wine jar with a Jiajing reign mark (1796-1820) at Sotheby's New York in December 1992.

      Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis of Germany, selling off a miscellany of unwanted silver and jewelry to shore up the family finances, struck an exceptionally strong market in October 1992. A jewel-encrusted snuffbox made for Frederick the Great of Prussia around 1770 set an auction record at Sw F 2,530,000, while the Société des Amis du Louvre spent Sw F 935,000 on a pearl and diamond tiara made for the Empress Eugénie's wedding but subsequently acquired for a Thurn und Taxis bride.

      Meanwhile, the year's most sensational auction muddle was Christie's sale of an early 19th-century gilt and lacquered brass mechanical calculator by J.C. Schuster, which, although estimated at £ 20,000, brought £7.7 million. The successful bidder, the well-known Swiss dealer Edgar Mannheimer, told Christie's that his client did not intend to pay; the underbidder, Bernhard Korte, director of the Research Institute for Discrete Mathematics in Bonn, Germany, later revealed that his museum's price limit had been £ 200,000 but declined to reveal why he had continued bidding up to £7 million.

      The recession began to be felt in the book market in 1992-93, a good two years behind other market sectors. It made owners reluctant to sell and produced a thin year; prices, especially for major rarities, were off the top, but there was no dramatic fall.

      Americana was the exception to the rule, where prices actually rose and remained strong all year. On Nov. 20, 1992, Christie's set a new auction price record for American manuscript material when they sold an album kept by Caroline Wright, a friend of Abraham Lincoln and the wife of the governor of Indiana, for $1,320,000. Lincoln had copied the concluding paragraph of his second inaugural address into the album—the famous lines beginning "With malice toward none; with charity for all"—and signed it. Christie's had been estimating $300,000-$400,000 before the sale. Sotheby's had a similar estimate on a single leaf inscribed with a draft of Lincoln's "house divided" speech, probably written in the winter of 1857-58, which was offered one month later and revised the manuscript record upward to $1,540,000. It was bought by the Gilder Lehrman collection, an assembly of historic Americana that investment bankers Richard Gilder and Lew Lehrman were forming.

      In Sotheby's May sale of Americana, Visual Equities Inc. of Atlanta, Ga., a troubled art-investment group, offered the early printing of the Declaration of Independence for which it had paid $2.4 million two years before. This time the bidding failed to reach the $2 million low estimate, and it was sold after the sale at an undisclosed price to Kaller Historical Documents.

      The only other deal that stretched into seven figures was Lord Shelburne's sale of the papers of Sir William Petty (1623-87) to the British Library, negotiated by London book dealers Bernard Quaritch. Petty was a pioneer of theoretical economics, and his survey of Ireland, which underpinned the Cromwellian land settlement, was the first scientific, district-by-district, survey of any country. Quaritch also negotiated the sale of Lord Harlech's collection of medieval manuscripts to the National Library of Wales.

      Among the most expensive failures of the year was a group of 43 letters written by the Earl of Essex to Queen Elizabeth I in the 1590s. Sotheby's had expected to make £ 500,000, but no bidder appeared. Christie's was expecting the same kind of price for a copy of the first book printed in English, William Caxton's English translation of a text by Raoul Lefèvre entitled The Recuyell of the Histories of Troy, but it was also left unsold.

      Named collections, as usual, made for successful sales. Christie's offered the library of the late John Sparrow, warden of All Souls College, Oxford. Although the Bodleian Library and several Oxford colleges had been allowed to pick what they wanted beforehand, the sale made 50% above estimate. The remainder of the library of the earls of Granard—most of which was burned out in the 18th century—attracted similarly enthusiastic bidding at Sotheby's. The collections of two famous book dealers reached the sale room. The private collection of the late Alan Thomas, which had never been for sale, met an enthusiastic reception. The remaining stock of E.P. Goldschmidt was more difficult to sell since it had been available to the market, but Goldschmidt's bibliographical reference library was fiercely fought over.

      This updates the articles painting, history of (painting, Western); sculpture, history of (Western sculpture).

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Universalium. 2010.

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