Object lessons

Object lessons: from a Modigliani drawing to a whimsical automaton

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Our pick of highlights from upcoming auctions and fairs

Osman Hamdi Bey, Young Woman Reading (1880) 19th-century European, Victorian and British Impressionist Art, Bonhams, London, 26 September Estimate £600,000-£800,000
Osman Hamdi Bey, Young Woman Reading (1880). 19th-century European, Victorian and British Impressionist Art, Bonhams, London, 26 September. Estimate: £600,000-£800,000 © Sotheby's

The Constantinople-born artist Osman Bey possessed a remarkable eye for detail and an impressive CV—he worked as an archaeologist, lawyer, public administrator and museum director, and even drafted the first law to prevent smuggling of goods out of the Ottoman Empire. This painting depicts a woman reading a book of poetry in the library of a mosque. While her ornate kaftan suggests wealth, her apparent literacy is not a clear marker of an elite position as, eight years earlier, education had been made mandatory in the Ottoman Empire. A pupil of the French 19th-century Orientalist painters Jean-Léon Gérôme and Gustave Boulanger, Bey merges Western techniques with an intimate knowledge of Islamic culture. Fewer than 10 of his works have been seen at auction in the past 20 years.

Amedeo Modigliani’s love of Egyptian art, kindled by regular visits to the Louvre, is evident in this pencil sketch, a preliminary drawing for his limestone piece Tête (1910-12), which set a record for the most expensive sculpture ever purchased at a French auction when it was sold by Christie’s Paris for €43.2m in 2010. The sketch is one of six Modigliani drawings once owned by the Armenian antiques dealer Joseph Altounian (1890-1954), who was a close friend of the artist. Altounian’s eclectic collection will be sold in a two-day standalone auction this month at Artcurial, with more than 400 lots including works of Modern art, furniture, antiquities and Haute Epoque sculptures. Three of the six drawings bear Modigliani’s signature and are dedicated to Altounian, including a seated portrait that Modigliani made of the dealer, bearing the inscription: “I certify that this is the portrait done of Altounian by Modigliani in 1917.” Altounian moved to France from his native Armenia in 1908, later opening two galleries in Paris, where he befriended several artists including Modigliani. Though in later life he became interested in the Haute Epoque, Altounian, like Modigliani, was an Egyptophile, and a trip to Cairo with the Dutch-French painter Kees van Dongen brought him back to his first love, the Ancient world—he was later recommended to Auguste Rodin to acquire the collection of Egyptian antiquities now held in the sculptor’s eponymous Paris museum. The Altounian collection has remained in the family since the dealer’s death. While this sketch is the most expensive Modigliani drawing in the sale, its estimate appears conservative—earlier this year, another Tête drawing by Modigliani, depicting a woman’s profile, sold for $1.1m at Sotheby’s, almost double its high estimate. K.J.
Amedeo Modigliani, Tête (1911-12). Joseph Altounian collection, Artcurial, Paris, 17-18 September. Estimate: €250,000-€350,000 ©Artcurial

Amedeo Modigliani’s love of Egyptian art, kindled by regular visits to the Louvre, is evident in this pencil sketch, a preliminary drawing for his limestone piece Tête (1910-12), which set a record for the most expensive sculpture ever purchased at a French auction when it was sold by Christie’s Paris for €43.2m in 2010. The sketch is one of six Modigliani drawings once owned by the Armenian antiques dealer Joseph Altounian (1890-1954), who was a close friend of the artist. Altounian’s eclectic collection will be sold in a two-day standalone auction this month at Artcurial, with more than 400 lots including works of Modern art, furniture, antiquities and Haute Epoque sculptures. Three of the six drawings bear Modigliani’s signature and are dedicated to Altounian, including a seated portrait that Modigliani made of the dealer, bearing the inscription: “I certify that this is the portrait done of Altounian by Modigliani in 1917.” Altounian moved to France from his native Armenia in 1908, later opening two galleries in Paris, where he befriended several artists including Modigliani. Though in later life he became interested in the Haute Epoque, Altounian, like Modigliani, was an Egyptophile, and a trip to Cairo with the Dutch-French painter Kees van Dongen brought him back to his first love, the Ancient world—he was later recommended to Auguste Rodin to acquire the collection of Egyptian antiquities now held in the sculptor’s eponymous Paris museum. The Altounian collection has remained in the family since the dealer’s death. While this sketch is the most expensive Modigliani drawing in the sale, its estimate appears conservative—earlier this year, another Tête drawing by Modigliani, depicting a woman’s profile, sold for $1.1m at Sotheby’s, almost double its high estimate.

Thanks to the internet, auction houses rarely receive casual valuation enquiries about something truly special. But that was the case here when a European collector emailed Sotheby’s asking for a valuation of Edvard Munch’s lithograph Le Soir (Angst) before casually mentioning they had the full portfolio of 22 prints from the Album des Peintres-Graveurs, published in 1896 in Paris by the dealer Ambroise Vollard. Purchased in Paris in 1920, it has remained in the same family ever since. “I think the owner had some idea of the importance of Munch, but I don’t believe they understood the huge significance of owning all 22 prints,” says Séverine Nackers, the head of Sotheby’s prints department in London. It was the first multi-artist portfolio of lithographs produced by Vollard to promote the painters he championed, and includes specially commissioned prints by the likes of Pierre Bonnard, Odilon Redon, Pierre-August Renoir and Edouard Vuillard. Most of the albums were split up, with the prints sold individually; this one, according to Sotheby’s, is the only known complete version that is still in existence.
© Estudio Claro, El Dulce Milagros (2019) London Design Fair, Old Truman Brewery, London, 19-22 September. £109-£191 © Estudio Claro

A selection of works by 11 emerging Uruguayan designers are on offer at this year’s London Design Fair, part of a citywide design festival that runs from 15 to 23 September. The furniture and design sector is a young industry that has become an important area of growth for the Latin American nation in recent years, marked by an increase in design schools and access to material and manufacturing resources, according to the London-based Uruguayan designer Matteo Fogale, who curated the section. The furniture, textiles and accessories are all new commissions inspired by the works of the 20th-century Uruguayan poet Juana de Ibarbourou to commemorate the centenary of the publication of Las lenguas de diamante, a poetry collection that propelled the female Spanish-language literature icon to international fame and earned her the accolade of “Juana de América”. The works on sale include an affordable series of whimsical ceramic, glass and textile housewares by the multidisciplinary collective Estudio Claro based on Ibarbourou’s love poem El Dulce Milagros, which describes an enchanted world where “roses sprout like stars”. The objects will guide visitors through the emotional stages of the poem culminating with a small seat, representing a moment of contemplation and reflection.

 Bonhams is selling the eight enormous automata that form A Quiet Afternoon in the Cloud Cuckoo Valley by Rowland Emett (1906-90), the inventor and artist best known for designing the flying car in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Emett came to prominence as a cartoonist for Punch, and was commissioned by the British government to design the Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Branch Railway, a train ride set up in Battersea Park, London, to celebrate the Festival of Britain in 1951. Cloud Cuckoo Valley was intended as a public commission but, by the time it was completed in 1984, local authority restructuring meant there was no longer a place for it and it sold privately to the current owner. First exhibited in 1992, it was stolen seven years later, nearly meeting its end at a scrapyard, but it was subsequently recovered and restored.
Rowland Emett, A Quiet Afternoon in the Cloud Cuckoo Valley (1984). Rowland Emett’s Masterpiece, Bonhams, London, 3 September. Estimate: £250,000-£300,000 © Bonhams/Photo:James Bastable

Bonhams is selling the eight enormous automata that form A Quiet Afternoon in the Cloud Cuckoo Valley by Rowland Emett (1906-90), the inventor and artist best known for designing the flying car in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Emett came to prominence as a cartoonist for Punch, and was commissioned by the British government to design the Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Branch Railway, a train ride set up in Battersea Park, London, to celebrate the Festival of Britain in 1951. Cloud Cuckoo Valley was intended as a public commission but, by the time it was completed in 1984, local authority restructuring meant there was no longer a place for it and it sold privately to the current owner. First exhibited in 1992, it was stolen seven years later, nearly meeting its end at a scrapyard, but it was subsequently recovered and restored.

 Thanks to the internet, auction houses rarely receive casual valuation enquiries about something truly special. But that was the case here when a European collector emailed Sotheby’s asking for a valuation of Edvard Munch’s lithograph Le Soir (Angst) before casually mentioning they had the full portfolio of 22 prints from the Album des Peintres-Graveurs, published in 1896 in Paris by the dealer Ambroise Vollard. Purchased in Paris in 1920, it has remained in the same family ever since. “I think the owner had some idea of the importance of Munch, but I don’t believe they understood the huge significance of owning all 22 prints,” says Séverine Nackers, the head of Sotheby’s prints department in London. It was the first multi-artist portfolio of lithographs produced by Vollard to promote the painters he championed, and includes specially commissioned prints by the likes of Pierre Bonnard, Odilon Redon, Pierre-August Renoir and Edouard Vuillard. Most of the albums were split up, with the prints sold individually; this one, according to Sotheby’s, is the only known complete version that is still in existence. A.B.
Ambroise Vollard, Peintres-Graveurs album (1896) Prints and Multiples, Sotheby’s, London, 17 September Estimate £500,000-£1m. © Sotheby's

Thanks to the internet, auction houses rarely receive casual valuation enquiries about something truly special. But that was the case here when a European collector emailed Sotheby’s asking for a valuation of Edvard Munch’s lithograph Le Soir (Angst) before casually mentioning they had the full portfolio of 22 prints from the Album des Peintres-Graveurs, published in 1896 in Paris by the dealer Ambroise Vollard. Purchased in Paris in 1920, it has remained in the same family ever since. “I think the owner had some idea of the importance of Munch, but I don’t believe they understood the huge significance of owning all 22 prints,” says Séverine Nackers, the head of Sotheby’s prints department in London. It was the first multi-artist portfolio of lithographs produced by Vollard to promote the painters he championed, and includes specially commissioned prints by the likes of Pierre Bonnard, Odilon Redon, Pierre-August Renoir and Edouard Vuillard. Most of the albums were split up, with the prints sold individually; this one, according to Sotheby’s, is the only known complete version that is still in existence.