NEW YORK— In an art-market development that is sure to compel connoisseurs around the world to pay special attention to the coming auction season, Sotheby's has announced that it will be delivering up for sale the collection of one of the most storied figures in the development of modern art: Ambroise Vollard, the charismatic Parisian dealer who was central in promoting the careers of Picasso, Cézanne, van Gogh, Renoir, an other artists who form the cornerstone of 20th century art history. The long-lost collection — comprising a few paintings plus many prints, drawings, and artist books — will be offered in the Paris auction "Trésors du Coffre Vollard" on June 29, with one masterpiece from the trove, Andre Derain's 1905 painting Arbres à Collioure, heading to the block earlier at Sotheby's evening sale in London on June 22. The Vollard's collection has been the subject of rampant speculation in the auction world ever since it was discovered in a bank vault at Paris's Société Générale in 1979. Placed there after the dealer's death in 1939 by one of his associates — who later died in a Belgrade concentration camp — the work was forgotten until the bank opened the vault to sell its contents to recoup unpaid storage fees. That sale, however, was stopped by the heirs of Vollard and the associate, Erich Slomovic, who proceeded to tie up the collection in a welter of lawsuits that were only recently resolved, allowing for the Sotheby's auctions.
The assemblage of supremely-provenanced work now heading to the market includes Paul Cézanne’s Portrait d’Emile Zola (1862-64), estimated at €500,000-800,000 ($667,000 to $1.07 million); Picasso’s 1904 etching Le Repas frugal, estimated at €250,000-400,000 ($336,000-534,000); and a monotype by Edgar Degas, La Fête de la patronne (1878-79), estimated at €200,000-300,000 ($267,000-400,000). The Derain painting, a Fauvist scene of brilliantly-hued trees that the artist painted in Collioure, the coastal town in the South of France where he summered along with Matisse, is estimated to fetch between £9 million and £14 million ($14-22 million). Altogether, the auctions is expected to take in approximately $26 million.
The 140 pieces to be auctioned are the remains of the 600-work collection that Vollard accumulated over his legendary career. An keen-eyed, secretive eccentric who relished being immersed in the Parisian avant-garde, the dealer began his career with the first major show of Cezanne's work when the artist was largely an unknown, followed swiftly by a show of the decidedly unfashionable van Gogh. Moving to rue Laffitte, he went on to produce the first Paris show of Picasso's oils, pastels and watercolours in 1901, and represented artists from Matisse to Gauguin — whose showstopping 1987 Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? was the centerpiece of a gallery show the following year — to Maillol, expressing an especial fondness for the Fauvists.
A ruddy, rotund man, he was also a favored sitter for the artists he worked with, leading Picasso to remark that "the most beautiful woman who ever lived never had her portrait painted, drawn, or engraved more often than Vollard." Several of these portraits, as well as a wealth of work by the artists in his circle, were exhibited in the 2006 show "Cézanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant-Garde" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Courtesy Sotheby'sPaul Cézanne's "Portrait d’Emile Zola" (1862-64) will be sold at Sotheby's Paris on June 29 with an estimate of €500,000-800,000 ($667,000 to $1.07 million)
Paris dealer Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939)