Washington Life Magazine
Washington Life Magazine

Turning Heads

By Renee Harr ison Drake

A High Art Beauty Pageant Cap tures the Attention of Collectors oF Impressionist and Modern Art

Wa shing toni ans who a r e collectors of Impressionist and Modern art will be closely watching upcoming evening sales at Sotheby's and Christie's auction houses next month when portraits by two of the most celebrated painters in the history of art, Picasso and Van Gogh, will be put on the block. Each house will give serious collectors a chance to acquire works for prices that could climb as high as $50 million.

The battle to achieve the highest sale price for Impressionist and Modern works in the May sales will begin at Christie's on May 2 with Van Gogh's portrait of Madame Marie Ginoux, proprietress of the Café de la Gare in Arles, France. Executed in 1890 by Van Gogh while he was institutionalized in the asylum of St. Paul de Mausole in Saint- Remy-de-Provence, the work is an homage to his good friend Paul Gaugin. L'Arlesienne, Madame Ginoux comes from a series of five oils painted at that time and was intended as a gift for Gaugin. The two artists had previously collaborated on a number of works together of local residents, one of which was Madame Ginoux, and Van Gogh based this work on a sketch of the proprietress executed by Gaugin. Posed against a floral background and seated at a table with two books believed to be Charles Dickens Christmas Stories and Harriet Beacher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, Madame Ginoux looks relaxed and slightly amused by the artist.

The style of the work is more in keeping with Gaugin's style and is acknowledged as such by Van Gogh in a letter to Gaugin in which he wrote, "I tried to be respectfully faithful to your drawing, while nevertheless taking the liberty of interpreting through the medium of color the sober character and the style of the drawing in question. It is a synthesis of the Arlésiennes, if you like; as syntheses of the Arlésiennes are rare, take this as a work belonging to you and me as a summary of our months of work together." When the masterwork takes center stage on Christie's podium, experts there hope it will achieve a price exceeding $45 million. The following evening, a rare work by Picasso, Dora Maar with Cat, painted in 1941, will be unveiled and shown to the public for the first time in 40 years. The subject of the painting, the beautiful surrealist photographer and painter Dora Maar, was Picasso's mistress with whom he had a passionate yet turbulent relationship. Maar's spirited personality is reflected in her colorful clothing and knife-like fingernails that are draped over the chair in which she sits, erect and regal, with a black cat perched behind her right shoulder.

The work comes from an "undisclosed private collection" although art world insiders have openly speculated that it comes from the philanthropic Gidwitz family of Chicago. Estimated to fetch around $50 million, Sotheby's experts have high hopes that the work will eclipse Picasso's Seated Woman in a Garden sold in their rooms in 1999 for $49.5 million.

In this high art beauty pageant, the odds of winning the highest price seem stacked in favor of the younger, fiery mistress whose more modern beauty is depicted in a swirl of color and pattern. But don't rule out the underdog yet. Madame Ginoux's subtle smile may reveal that age before beauty will ultimately win the day.

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