A time capsule of modern art, unseen for over a half a century to be offered by Sotheby's
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A time capsule of modern art, unseen for over a half a century to be offered by Sotheby's
Pablo Picasso, Nature morte à la cafetière, oil on canvas, 1943 (est. €800,000-1,200,000). 'Courtesy Sotheby's'.

PARIS.- “This collection was put together by a sophisticated collector focusing on avant-garde works of the finest quality painted at the end of the 1930s and the 1940s, resulting in a coherent group that perfectly reflects the taste of a moment in time. Purchased in the most prestigious galleries, the works hung together on the walls of an apartment in Paris for almost sixty years, and their emergence on the auction market for the first time marks a unique opportunity for today’s collectors.” - Aurélie Vandevoorde, Sotheby’s France Head of Department Impressionist & Modern Art.

Uncovering a time capsule of avant-garde art by some of the 20th century greatest masters, ‘Le Souffle Moderne’ is a dedicated sale of works that have never been at auction, housed in the same Parisian collection for over sixty years. The group is a treasure trove of discovery, with all but one of the works never having been exhibited, and its star lot – a rare masterpiece by Joan Miró – finding its original title in the process.

The auction is in partnership with François de Ricqlès Conseil, and will take place at Sotheby’s Paris ahead of the ‘Art Impressioniste et Moderne’ Evening Sale on 19 April.

 The auction is led by a rare work by Joan Miró, appearing on the market for the first time. Prefiguring the cosmic mythology of the artist’s magnum opus, the Constellations of 1940-41, it is populated by dreamlike creatures and animated forms against a vibrant, volcanic backdrop. The whimsical work is inspired by the world of the circus, one that fascinated Miró, with a tightrope walker progressing on his wire as other characters perform below in the ring. Painted at the height of the Spanish Civil War and on the eve of World War II, it is one of a group of works that expresses his anger and anguish, but also optimism and hope.

Listed in the artist’s catalogue raisonné as an untitled work painted circa 1939, L’oiseau du matin’s poetic name was rediscovered on the back of the canvas in the process of unframing it ahead of the auction. This was written in Miró’s handwriting the alongside the exact date he had executed it: 16 August 1939 – bringing its creative journey to full light.

Another work that has never been offered at auction is Picasso’s war-time still life, purchased just a few years after it was painted. In German-occupied Paris, Picasso bravely persevered and continued his work in his studio at rue des Grands-Augustins – despite the encouragement of his friends to leave the capital. During this time, he embarked on a series of still lifes, a form of escape from the destructive reality of war that was nonetheless imbued with a complex symbolism, mixing hope and despair.

The intense focus on reinventing the time old tradition of the still life documents the most accessible and personal subjects during this time of duress and restricted movement. The most striking element of this canvas is the severe palette. During this time of rationing and curfews, Picasso made a habit of painting at night or behind blocked-up windows, and so the restricted colours reflect this oppressive atmosphere.

An outstanding example of Fernand Léger’s artistic experimentation in the 1930s, in this work the artist definitively frees his objects from traditional geometric structure. At the heart of the painting are two faces in profile to each other, amidst objects and organic forms in bright colours levitating in harmony. In an avant-garde Léger of the painting, and lets them float. This almost Surrealist canvas prefigures the use of everyday objects that would prove central to Pop Art a few decades later.

One of the few works in the collection that has been seen in public over the years, this major work by Nicolas de Staël was last on view at the Fondation Maeght in Saint-Paul-de-Vence and Madrid’s Reina Sofia museum in 1991. Works from the same series are held in prestigious institutions internationally, including the Tate Modern, London, Art Institute of Chicago and Paris’ Centre Pompidou.

Painted in 1948, Composition is characterised by dark tones and a dense composition, evoking the troubled context in which it was painted, as well as the personal suffering of the artist whose wife had died only two years earlier. A glimmer of hope is provided by the flashes of light that permeate the canvas, hinting at a psychological shift.

The historic work marks a decisive turning point in De Staël’s career, as he had signed a contract with Parisian art dealer Louis Carré, putting an end to his financial difficulties and allowing him to find a place to work after years in a succession of cramped studios.

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