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Christie’s Paris Jacqueline Matisse Monnier Collection

April 18, 2022
Nymphe et faune rouge by Henri Matisse, painted in 1939 and sold at Christie's

Nymphe et faune rouge by Henri Matisse

Although Christie’s hosted a rather disappointing online nineteenth-century art sale on the 12th, the next day, Christie’s Paris more than made up for it with the auction of a prominent private collection. The collection was that of the late Jacqueline Matisse Monnier, who passed away last year, the granddaughter of the French modernist artist Henri Matisse. The seventy-eight-piece collection includes works given to her directly by her grandfather, but she also inherited many of them through her father. Henri Matisse’s youngest son Pierre operated as a prominent art dealer in New York who also owned his own gallery, exhibiting and representing some of the twentieth century’s greatest artists, including those whose works were featured in the sale like Jean Dubuffet, Joan Miró, and Alberto Giacometti. But by far, her grandfather was the undisputed star of the auction, with twenty-nine lots featuring works by Matisse, including the top two lots in the auction.

The screenprint Océanie, le ciel by Henri Matisse sold at Christie's

Océanie, le ciel by Henri Matisse

Nymphe et faune rouge, executed in 1939 using oil and crayon on canvas, is a dynamic study in primary colors. The bold red shapes reveal the curves of the lounging nymph and the satyr hunching over her playing a pair of aulos flutes. While estimated to go for anywhere between €1.8M and €2.2M, Nymphe et faune rouge nearly doubled the specialists’ expectations when it sold for €4.3M / $4.68M (or €5.19M or $5.64M w/p). Matisse got second place a few moments later with his nearly 5-by-12-foot screenprint entitled Océanie, le ciel. Despite the work’s size, it was valued at €1.2M to €1.8M, less than the much smaller Nymphe et faune rouge. It eventually reached €3.3M / $3.59M (or €4M / $4.36M w/p). It’s a companion piece to the similarly-sized work Océanie, la mer, also featured in the auction and sold for €1.7M / $1.83M (or €2.08M / $2.25M).  The sculpture Petit buste d’homme by Alberto Giacometti took third place despite specialists’ expectations. The bust is typical of Giacometti’s work, with its spindly neck, elongated head, and roughly-textured, almost crude exterior. Despite it being the highest-valued lot in the sale at €3M to €5M, the Giacometti fell just short of the minimum when it sold for €2.5M / $2.72M (or €3.04M or $3.31M w/p).

The bronze sculpture Petit buste d'homme by Alberto Giacometti, sold at Christie's

Petit buste d’homme by Alberto Giacometti

59% of the featured lots sold above their estimates, some going for exponentially higher hammer prices. The biggest surprise at this sale was P.M.12, a 1960 elliptical oil-on-canvas work by the French Canadian automatist painter Jean Paul Riopelle. The whole point of the Quebec automatist movement was to prevent the conscious mind from having any creative control, letting instinct and the unconscious mind dominate creation. The result is the dynamic, spontaneous, unpolished, and impasto-rich work similar to the abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock and Riopelle’s partner Joan Mitchell. While only predicted to sell for €50K to €70K, P.M.12 kept receiving bid after bid after bid until it hit close to six-and-a-half times the high estimate, with the gavel coming down at €450K / $489.7K (or €567K or $617K w/p). Similarly, Joan Miró’s bronze entitled Femme was only estimated to sell between €80K and €120K. So it came as a surprise when it went for three-and-a-half times that at €420K / $457K (or €529.2K / €575.9K w/p).

Christie specialists understood the collection’s value very well, estimating the entire sale to go for €20.62M to €30.4M. Because of the number of lots that sold above their estimates and that only five lots went unsold, the entire auction brought in over €2M more than expected. In total, the sale made €32.42M (or $35.1M). It was definitely a good day for Christie‘s, certainly making up for the underwhelming online sale the day before.