LONDON, ENGLAND.-Two of the most captivating images of women, by two of the greatest artists of the late 19th and 20th centuries will feature in Sotheby's Old Master, Modern & Contemporary Prints sale on Tuesday, September 27, 2005. A colour lithograph entitled Madonna is one of the most iconic images by celebrated Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944), while a monumental aquatint entitled Femme au Tambourin by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), is the most important full length portrait by the artist in this medium.
Works by Edvard Munch have an enduring popularity, with much of his subject matter as current today, as when he first created them - as an exhibition of his works at the Royal Academy in October will testify. Sotheby's therefore is delighted to be able to offer a superb lithograph by the artist entitled Madonna.
Created in dramatic reds, blacks and blues, the lithograph depicts 'woman' at her most alluring and desirable and although its title may infer a religious subject, the theme is of female conception and the universal 'miracle of existence'. The original painting of the subject, exhibited in the National Gallery of Oslo, featured a decorated frame with a pattern based on spermatozoa and embryos, which in the lithograph have been incorporated into the overall design. These add not only to the decorative elements of the work, but also emphasise the theme, and add to the drama of the piece.
Munch began the work in Berlin in 1895 and soon after moved to Paris and worked on colour stones, eventually commissioning the work to be printed in 1902. He followed the tradition of the great painter-printmakers such as Dürer, Rembrandt and Goya, exploring the print techniques available to him at the time. During the 1890s Paris was the centre for colour lithography and the capital of the colour revolution. Although the work was eventually printed in Berlin, Munch had worked with the great colour printers in the Paris ateliers and was familiar with their methods. It was these techniques that enabled him to achieve such a harmonious, yet powerful image. Madonna is estimated to fetch £280,000-320,000.
At the same time as the printing of Munch's Madonna, another young artist was arriving in Paris. Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) enjoyed the opportunities offered by the increasing number of print studios in the city and like Munch, was able to use the print medium to endow his portraits of women with strong emotions. Femme au Tambourin (pictured above left) was created around the same time as Sueño Y, Mentira de Franco, La Minotauromachie and La Femme qui Pleure, which are widely regarded as the artist's most significant and emotionally powerful printed works.
The aquatint Femme au Tambourin depicting a female figure dancing, bursts with energy and passion. The dancer, thought to be the artist's lover at the time, Dora Maar, is arranged into a position of extreme contraposto, creating tension and movement in the work which incorporates both cubist and modernist ideas. The print was produced in 1939, during a period of rising political tensions and although at first glance the female's dance seems to signify elation and happiness, it could well be a vehicle to express Picasso's vision of Europe, that at the time faced the looming catastrophe of impending war. The intense black background which envelopes the figure, hints at the dark times that lay ahead for France and the rest of Europe, but whether inspired by love or the prospect of war, this is certainly one of the most significant full length nudes of the artist's oeuvre. It is estimated to fetch £180,000-220,000.
Elsewhere in the sale is one of the largest collections of engravings after Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525-1569) to be offered at auction. The collection includes the artist's greatest achievements, including The Seven Vices (pictured left, estimate £7,000-10,000), The Seven Virtues, The Fight of the Moneybags, The Thin Kitchen, The Fat Kitchen and many others. Bruegel's humorous Bosch-like fantasies depict his vision of lust, greed and human weakness (as encapsulated in The Seven Vices), as well as his view of charity and human virtues. Although humorous, they are filled with religious and moral caution.
Little is known of Pieter Bruegel the Elder but what we know of this highly inventive artist is what we can glean from his remarkably small oeuvre of only 40 paintings, 60 drawings and 80 engravings - after his fantastic compositions - thus making the collection in Sotheby's sale even more important and highly sought after. Estimates range from £2,000-15,000.
In contrast is Andy Warhol's (1928-1987) interpretation of Walt Disney's mythic Donald Duck, from his AD series entitled The New Spirit. In a unique combination of colours and one of only thirty colour trial proofs, this screenprint which was created in 1985, is an inimitable work that is sure to attract widespread interest. It is estimated to fetch £15,000-20,000.