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The Art Maverick, 4-9: French Art Beat (illustrated)
New director at the Louvre; battle over a Signac; bring me the head of (Courbet's) 'Creation of the World' (just don't try showing her naked body on Facebook); Delacroix defaced; where's Corot?; where to buy Delacroix, Corot, Laurencin, Sisley, Millet & more for peanuts

With Corot hard to locate between the collections of the Louvre and the Orsay, and Delacroix not safe at the Louvre-Lens (see news items below), this might be a good time to buy work by these masters for yourself -- especially when Christie's has them available for a relative song this month. On auction in New York April 29 (left): Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (French, 1796-1875), "Paysage aux bouleaux argentes." Oil on canvas, 10 1/4 x 7 in.. Painted circa 1860-65. Pre-sale estimate: $50,000 - $70,000. And at Chrisitie's Paris April 10 (right): Ferdinand-Victor-Eugene Delacroix (Saint Maurice 1798-1863 Paris), "Jeune femme nue debout." Plume and brown ink, filigrane 'J Berger.' 385 x 218 mm. Pre-sale estimate: 6,000 - 8,000 Euros $7,679 - $10,238. Both images copyright Christie's Images Ltd. 2013.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Text copyright 2013 Paul Ben-Itzak

French newspapers were aflutter last week with the story of Jerome Cahuzac, a former Socialist budget minister who confessed to having squirreled away 600,000 Euros in a Swiss bank account to avoid paying taxes on the income after previously having denied doing so and denounced others who did. The headline-grabbing 'cultural' news was the death of a doctor participating in "Koh-Lanta," the French answer to "Survivor." One had to scroll to the bottom of the websites of Le Monde and Liberation, two of the major Paris dailies, to discover political and artistic news that France has reason to be proud of: That a new president has been named for the Louvre -- chosen by President Francois Hollande, who personally informed the lucky man, chief of the Louvre's department of Greco-Roman antiquities Jean-Luc Martinez, 48, a sign of the importance France places on culture. That Hollande's selection over-rid the preference of his culture minister, Aurelie Filippetti -- who was determined to nominate a woman for the position -- signaled that the French president, who spoke little about the arts in his 2012 electoral campaign, is finally taking cultural decisions seriously. Still, if you'd rather not trust your art conservation to politicians -- and if you want a legal place to bank your money -- we're including in this update on French art news a special preview of some of the bargains available at upcoming Christie's sales from the likes of Corot, Delacroix, Utrillo, Sisley, Rodin, Laurencin, Millet, Fragonard, and others, at pre-sale estimates of as little as $8,000.

Filippetti, who was awarded the Culture portfolio after serving as head cheerleader for Hollande during his campaign, has so far seemed more interested in playing politics than in setting a clear cultural agenda: On taking office she immediately cancelled the previous administration's plans for national museums of French history and of photography, citing budget constrictions. (Never mind that as auction prices for photography soar, France is in danger of losing much of its legacy there as it lost so many Impressionist masterworks 100 years ago to more savvy American buyers.) And she seemed more interested in scoring political points by condemning the cancellation of the marquee exhibition celebrating the centennial of the birth of Albert Camus in which annulation the right-wing mayor of Aix-en-Provence played a role than in actually picking up the mantle herself and giving France's most heroic philosopher / resistant / journalist / novelist the commemoration he deserves. (The centennial of another giant of letters and everyman's rebel, Jacques Prevert -- in France, taxi-cab drivers are as likely to break out in ditties by the lyricist of "Autumn Leaves" as savants -- also risks passing un-noted by French cultural officialdom.) For the Louvre post, Filippetti's preference was Sylvie Ramond, chief of the Beaux Arts Museum of Lyon -- which is more inclined towards modern and contemporary art.

Le fait accompli, Filippetti maintained a stiff upper lip last Wednesday and, speaking to the Agence France Presse, hailed Martinez as "someone who comes from a very modest milieu," referring to his origins in the Paris suburban department of Seine-Saint-Denis, and who wants to "give to all the children of France, all the citizens of France, but also all the citizens of Europe and all the tourists access to the most beautiful oeuvres which are exposed and conserved at the Louvre," and whose mandate would be "the democratization of the collection of the Louvre," whatever that means. (When Socialist officials start talking about 'democratizing' art, watch out.) Martinez, who speaks fluent Latin, Greek (ancient and modern), German, English, Spanish, Italian, and even a little Japanese, apparently won over the president, Liberation reports, by his plans to restore to the Louvre a mission that is social and societal, including being less snobbish in cooperating with relatively resource-strapped regional museums who have previously suffered from the "egoism" of the Louvre, as he put it, adding that he also wanted to re-consider the politics of numbers. "To have five, then seven, then 10 million annual visitors" -- as the museum did in 2011, an increase of one million from the previous year -- "is all very well, but it's time to pose the question: to what end?" Martinez, Liberation reported, would like to re-double attention to the welcome visitors receive, and to getting them to return to see the permanent collection. (Henri Loyrette, who he's replacing after 12 years, had shown an annoying tendency for introducing contemporary art into the museum's august environs; do William Forsythe and Toni Morrison really belong in the corridors of the Louvre? Some were worried that a more contemporary-inclined successor might soon have the Mona Lisa smiling at Damien Hirst's tulips.)

No headless bodies or body-less heads, just a lush landscape: For its April 29 Sale of 19th Century European Art, Christie's New York has set a pre-sale estimate of $100,000 - $150,000 for Gustave Courbet (French, 1819-1877)'s "Le jardin de la Mere Toutain a Honfleur." Oil on canvas 17 x 24 1/4 in. (43.1 x 61.5 cm). Painted circa 1859-61. Copyright Christies Images Ltd. 2013.

If M. Martinez wants to mis en valoir the Louvre's permanent collection, he might start by making it easier to find Camille Corot. Chronologically straddling two eras as he does, Corot has been schizophrenically divided between the Louvre and the Musee d'Orsay, and in a way that doesn't even make sense chronologically: "Woman in Blue," the chef d'oeuvre of his late career, painted in 1874 in his Paris studio on what is now the rue de Paradis, is tucked away in a hard to find room at the Louvre, while pastoral canvasses from the 1830s and '40s are downstairs at the Orsay, which otherwise focuses on later art than that in the Louvre. Perhaps Martinez's Louvre could acquire the (painted) head of the headless naked woman who modeled Gustave Courbet's 1866 "L'origin du monde" -- said head discovered in 2010 (as revealed recently by Paris Match) by a collector who bought it from a Paris antiquarian for 1,400 Euros, and experts having determined the painter lopped it off from the rest of the portrait to create his masterpiece -- and trade it to the Orsay, owner of the vagina-centric rest of her, for its Corots so that both institutions could offer complete versions of the oeuvres of these two fonts of pre-Impressionism. (Just don't expect to find the Origin du Monde on Facebook in her full glory; the American web network recently censored the Facebook page of another French artistic institution, the Musee Jeu de Paume, and threatened to remove it for good after deciding that a photo by a renowned artist which included nudity threatened "community standards," prompting the museum's director to accuse the American web site of "obscure fundamentalism." Apparently Facebook can bombard me with images of buxom women seeking 'relationships' with men over 40 without offending community standards, but G-d forbid it should expose me to great art. (In fact, whenever I try to include a thumbnail in a link to our magazine on my Facebook page, Facebook routinely censors the item, no doubt because of the nude Matisses on our Home page. To see how the image Facebook doesn't want you to see, click here.)

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875), "View of Rochefort-sur-Mer, Charente," 1851. Oil on paper, mounted on wood, 24 x 37.5 cm. Fondation Custodia, Collection Frits Lugt, Paris.

.... Of course if you can't find Corot at the Louvre or the Orsay, you can always go out and buy some Corot of your own. This is precisely what the Fondation Custodia, a Netherlands institution based in Paris (not far from the Orsay) whose collection is viewable by appointment only, recently did, securing the master's 1851 "View of Rochefort-sur-Mer, Charente" (which anticipates Jacques Demi's Catherine Deneuve - Grover Dale vehicle "Les Demoiselles de Roquefort" by about 100 years) at an undisclosed price for its Collection Frits Lugt, which has quietly been building the most unexpected collection of 19th century art in Paris (by which I mean it will cause you to revise your own impression of some of the Impressionist contemporaries traditionally derided as 'academic,' such as William-Adolphe Bouguereau). "The Corot was painted in the summer of 1851," notes the fondation's announcement, "when the artist spent three weeks in La Rochelle and visited Rochefort-sur-Mer in the Charente.... Corot worked on capturing the effect of the bright sunlight on the ramparts and the houses. He simplified roofs and walls such that the painting makes an extremely modern impression. He must have sat under a parasol, eyes narrowed against a sun that would force us to put on sunglasses, looking out on the world and challenging himself to capture on paper what he saw before him."
While it's pre-sale estimate of $300,000 to $500,000 is above our $100,000 threshold, we include here Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (French, 1796-1875)'s 1874 "Paysage au clair de lune," on auction at Christie's New York's April 29 sale of 19th Century European Art, because of the rare nocturnal setting. Oil on canvas. 35 1/4 x 46 in. (89.5 x 116.8 cm). Copyright Christie's Images Ltd. 2013.

Indeed, while many of Corot's paintings show him finding solutions for problems of light and its reflection he would later impute to the Impressionists, some of them directly (Corot was Pissarro's first teacher in Paris in his studio on what's now the rue de Paradis in the 10th arrondissement, and also instructed Morisot), he was apparently no stranger to night. "Paysage au clair de lune," a 1874 oil painting measuring 35 1/4 x 46 inches and one of several Corot tableaux on offer at Christie's New York's April 29 sale of 19th Century European Art, shows him neatly solving the problem of capturing the reflection of moonlight on the water, which he does in a subtle sliver, along the way capturing the more nuanced nocturnal gradations of sky light. If the pre-sale estimate of $300,000 - $500,000 is too rich for your decorating budget (personally I'm hoping that Martinez will ask Filippetti to pre-empt it for the State, to keep company with the Woman in Blue), the more compact (10 1/4 x 7 in.) "Paysage aux bouleaux argentes" (top of the page) painted circa 1860-65, is estimated more modestly at $50,000 - $70,000.

And if that's STILL too much for your budget, if you can swing the price of a Metro ticket, hop on the line 9, debark at the last stop, the Pont des Sevres, and hike up to the large pond in the Ville d'Avray. En route you'll pass a church in which Corot, a week-end resident of the village, painted the ceiling frescoes. At the large pond -- stocked with fish -- after saluting a statue of the artist erected by his local coterie, circle the pond until you come to a bench which backs on the reedy woods and you'll suddenly feel like you're IN a Corot painting, the artist having executed many studies of that particular corner.

"In museums, city halls, and national monuments you can find treasures," says Marie Delion, lawyer for the Paris suburb of Montreuil, located in the same department where Martinez the new director of the Louvre is from. She was commenting not on the Corots on the ceiling of the church in the Ville d'Avray but defending Montreuil's right to hang on to Paul Signac's "Au temps d'harmonie," a massive utopian canvas painted between 1893 and 1895 and given to the then-Communist town to display in its city hall in 1938, in the waning days of the utopian Popular Front, by the neo-Impressionist's widow Berthe Robes. Only their great-granddaughter, Charlotte Liebert Hellman -- after reading about minor damages to the painting which the city spent 15,000 Euros to repair -- recently contacted officials in Montreuil, now presided over by Green politician Dominique Voynet after 70 years with a Communist government, and requested that it be transferred to the Orsay, which she says is better equipped to conserve the masterpiece and where more people could see it. (The museum had 3.1 million visitors in 2012, no doubt more than might view the canvas on the 2nd and 3rd floors of the city hall where it's currently displayed.) To support her claim -- scheduled to be heard in court again April 9 -- Hellman is insisting that there is no paperwork confirming her great-maman actually gave the painting to Montrueil, and that she rather temporarily parked it there after moving to an apartment that was too small for the work. Additionally, her lawyer has furnished a declaration of succession dated 1936 in which the artist leaves all his possessions to his daughter Ginette, to argue that even if his wife did give it to Montreuil it wasn't hers to give.

The painting was initially titled "Au temps de l'anarchie," but was quickly de-baptized for the 1895 Salon after the assassination of French president Sadi Carnot, as Le Monde reports. Noting that Signac originally wanted to give the painting to a maison du peuple in Brussels, the paper cites Frederick Genevee, archivist of the French Communist party and director of the living museum of Montreuil, as asking "why must art be reserved for the (Paris city) center, and the (tony) 6th and 7th arrondissements of Paris?"

On the other hand, Francois Duret-Robert, an expert on legal rights and the art market, told Le Monde that in general the artist and his beneficiaries maintain a certain moral right to ensure that the works are protected from things like little wet pieces of paper, before noting as an aside that minute re-touches by conservateurs are not out of place for a work by Signac, because of the similarity to pointillism, in which the eye re-composes the little dots from a distance.

Speaking of art conservateurs and restorers, and of the regions which Martinez wants to reach out to, another master-work by a major pre-Impressionist was recently in the news in France, when a 28-year-old woman visiting the new Louvre museum in Lens and marked up its signature loan from the mother museum, Delacroix's "La Liberte guidant le peuple." A team from Paris had no problem repairing the damage. "The graffiti was traced by a classic Bic," declared Vincent Pomarede, head of the team from the Louvre's painting department, "of which we were able to rapidly figure out the composition." "We were able to conduct tests on a separate palette to make sure we could find the right solvent," he said in Le Monde. "The protective varnish was not affected. Happily, the author of the deed did not press down, and therefore didn't leave an impression on the varnish" or the base of the picture.

With even master works by Delacroix not safe in museums, you might want to consider constructing one of your own. This is a particularly propitious time to do so, with several minor masterpieces available at Christie's Paris this week, starting with Delacroix's "Jeune femme nue debout," a plume and brown ink drawing on filigrane 'J. Berger,' on auction at Christie's Paris's "Ancient and 20th Century Drawings" sale April 10, with a pre-sale estimate of just 6,000 - 8,000 Euros (about $7,679 - $10,238). The woman in the drawing is Mademoiselle Rose, a celebrated model who also posed for Bonington, and who posed for. Delacroix numerous times starting in the 1820s. Herewith a sampling of some of the other work on sale for less than $100,000, by order of preference and interesting price -- what we'd buy first if we were building our own museum.

Marie Laurencin (1883-1956)'s "Tete de femme de profile" may well be the steal of Christie's Paris's April 11 sale of Modern Works on Paper. Laurencin is consistently under-valued by her own culture -- it took a Japanese collector to set up a museum in her honor -- perhaps because of the lissome women depicted in pale hues that she's best-known for, notwithstanding her more intricate stage work. But this 10 3/8 x 8 1/4 inch water-color, ink, gouache, and mine de plomb on paper, executed as it was in 1909, reflects the influence of Laurencin's milieau at the Bateau Lavoir, whose most famous denizen Picasso had only recently completed "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon." Copyright Christie's Images Ltd. 2013.

An oil painting by Alfred Sisley (1839-1889) can easily go for millions at auction. How to explain, then, the pre-sale estimate of 10,000-15,000 Euros ($12,798-$19,197) for "Charrette et paysanne," a color pencil on paper executed between 1890 and 1895, and signed "Sisley" at right, on auction at Christie's Paris's Modern Works on Paper sale April 11? The conventional wisdom seems to be that size matters; this work is just 4 3/4 x 6 5/8 inches. But to our mind the 'hair down' intimate aspect of such petite works makes them more personal; you can almost feel the artist etching. Copyright Christie's Images Ltd. 2013.

The conventional wisdom on Maurice Utrillo (1883-1955) is that whatever finesse he had had been dulled by too many bottles of 'gros vin rouge' by the '30s, replaced by post-card views of a lost Montmartre. We may just be hopeless seekers of le vieux Montmartre, but the bright colors of the 18 x 14 1/4 inch gouache on paper "Sacre-Coeur de Montmartre et Square Saint-Pierre," (signed Maurice, Utrillo, V, at the lower right), executed in 1938-40, are a welcome contrast to Utrillo's more prevalent meloncholy, people-less urban pastorals. We particularly like the pre-soot vibrancy of the facades of those Hausmannian buildings on the right. They're yours at the April 11 sale of Modern Works on Paper at Christie's Paris, which has estimated the work at 22,000-28,000 Euros ($28,156-$35,834). Copyright Christie's Images Ltd. 2013. PS: Buried in the Christie's lot description is the information that a new catalogue raissone for Utrillo is being prepared by Jean Fabris and Cedric Paillier. Copyright Christie's Images Ltd. 2013.

Partial as we are to the cats of Montmartroise artist Theophile-Alexandre Steinlen (Lausanne 1859-1923 Paris), whose descendants we used to encounter ranging about "the Butte" after jogging past those Utrillo houses to the top of Montmartre, what we like about "Officier fumant, cavaliere a l'arriere-plan," on sale at Christie's Paris's sale of Ancient and 19th Century Drawings April 11, is justement the rarity of his military subject here. (And the pre-sale estimate of 3,000-5,000 Euros or $3,839 - $6,399 is a price so low it's apt to fetch the gendarmes.) With the monogram 'S.' Mine de plomb, watercolor, plume, and brown ink. 327 x 204 mm. (12 7/8 x 8 1/32 in.). Copyright Christie's Images Ltd. 2013.

Jean-Francois Millet (Gruchy 1814-1875 Barbizon), an important influence on Vincent Van Gogh, is usually too fine for us, and what we like in this petite (5 5/16 x 6 57/64) plume and brown ink, "Des baigneuses sortant de la riviere," is its rawness. The pre-sale estimate for Christie's Paris's Ancient and 19th Century Drawings auction April 10 is a paltry 4,000-6,000 Euros ($5,119-$7,679). Copyright Christie's Images Ltd. 2013.

Talk about raw! What's fascinating about Kees van Dongen's "Femme allongee" (signed with the iniitals 'V.D.' at the lower center) is how the 11 3/8 x 14 7/8 inch ink and gouache on paper lends itself to being dis-assembled, so that you really can dissect the artistic process. It's on auction for Christie's Paris's April 11 sale of Modern Works on Paper for an estimated 18,000 - 25,000 Euros ($23,036 - $31,995). Copyright Christie's Images Ltd. 2013.

A similar observation could be made about Auguste Rodin's (1840-1917)'s "Danseuse acrobate," a 12 7/8 x 10 inch watercolor and graphite on paper executed vers 1910, and which seems to penetrate the soul of a Rodin bronze to get to the designed essence within. Signed 'A. Rodin' at the lower right and on sale at Christie's Paris's Modern Works on Paper sale April 11, it has a pre-sale estimate of 25,000-35,000 Euros ($31,995 - $44,793). Copyright Christie's Images Ltd. 2013.

While we're not particularly fans of Jean-Honore Fragonard (Grasse 1732-1806 Paris) -- too ornate for us -- the rarity of "Fontaine monumentale a l'entree d'un parc," on auction at Christie's Paris's April 10 sale of Ancient and 19th Century Drawings, means we'd be derelict to not include the 13 31/32 x 18 57/64 sanguine and burnt sanguine here. Fragonard experts J-P Cuzon and Pierre Rosenberg note that Fragonard landscapes before 1760 are rare, and this one is inscribed 'fragonard Roma/1759.' One of five sanguines from 1759, it was most likely sent by Charles-Joseph Natoire -- the director of the Academy Francaise of Rome at which Fragonard was a pensioner -- to the marquis of Marigny as proof that he should support the renewal of Fragonard's pension. The work is estimated pre-sale at 80,000 - 120,000 Euros ($102,384 - $153,576. Copyright Christie's Images Ltd. 2013.

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