“I want to share my secret with people all over the world, so they can be touched by something heroic, sublime, outside time. I have experienced the most monstrous aspects of humanity, and I believe that only beauty can save the world.” -Jan Krugier
Christie’s is presenting A Dialogue Through Art: Works from The Jan Krugier Collection, a two-part auction, composed of works from the dealer’s renowned collection. Jan Krugier was an art market luminary, representing many major artists, and later becoming the world’s foremost Pablo Picasso dealer. Representative of Krugier’s diverse expertise, the sale spans the fields of Impressionist & Modern, Post-War & Contemporary, Old Masters, American, Latin American, and African Art. The sales consist of more than 150 lots estimated to achieve $170 million in total, and an evening sale will take place on Monday 4 November at 7:00pm in New York, followed by a day sale at 11:00am on Tuesday 5 November. The auctions at Christie’s not only celebrate Jan Krugier’s many contributions to the art world, but also the inspiring journey that led him there.
François Curiel, President of Christie’s Asia and close friend of Jan Krugier, states, “Certain figures leave a deep imprint on the world, not only on those closest to them but also far beyond. Jan Krugier was certainly such a person: a charismatic and visionary man, who was confronted with the greatest hardships but was able to transform them into something beautiful, through an exceptional career in the art world.”
Jan Krugier was born in 1928 in Radom, a small city in central Poland. His mother died when Jan was just five, leaving him under the care of his father, a Jewish businessman with a modest collection of French Impressionists. Leafing through black and white reproductions from his father’s library, Jan Krugier learned the tenets of art through the great masterworks of world culture. When Krugier was in his teenage years, World War II broke out and he was eventually transported to a labor camp from which he managed to escape, only to be recaptured after taking part in the Polish resistance. At Auschwitz-Birkenau, Krugier experienced the atrocities of war firsthand. Upon his freedom, it was the remembrance of beauty, of a joy that was visible and tangible, that drove Krugier toward art, an expression he saw as man’s finest achievement.
As a fledgling artist in the late 1940s, Krugier moved to Paris, where he rented the Expressionist painter Chaïm Soutine’s former studio, though another artist, Alberto Giacometti, later famously persuaded Krugier to consider a career as a dealer instead. In 1962, he established his first gallery in Geneva representing several well-known modernists and he was the first gallery owner to stage an exhibition of Picasso’s work following the artist’s death in 1973. Krugier did not limit himself to one artistic field, however, and chose to handle a range of material. Nineteenth and twentieth century paintings hung alongside Old Masters and African sculpture, breaking the confines of the traditional gallery show. It was his bold aesthetic that secured Krugier’s place as one of the most innovative and important gallerists of the 20th century. Through his broad perspective, he did much to break the barriers between past and present, classic and modern, sharing his enthusiasm for both with the same intensity and feeling.
Jan Krugier’s personal collection reflected this eclectic style. At the time Krugier began collecting with his wife, Marie Anne Krugier-Poniatowski, many works on paper were both underrated and undervalued, allowing them to build one of the most important groupings of drawings in the world. As he grew his collection over the years, the masterpieces he would acquire rivaled some of the world’s most prominent museums. His collection toured to enthusiastic crowds in Berlin, Venice, Madrid, Paris, Vienna, and Munich in a series of exhibitions entitled ‘The Timeless Eye.’ Krugier dedicated these landmark shows to his family and those who had perished in the Holocaust, as well as to the men and women like himself who had survived, to anyone “forever locked in the prison of their memory.”
“For decades, Jan Krugier was a towering figure in the art world, founding a gallery synonymous with the very best in fine art across multiple collecting categories,” noted Conor Jordan, Deputy Chairman, Impressionist & Modern Art. “He was also a fabulous collector in his own right, and the works we are presenting in this November’s dedicated Evening and Day Sale of his collection rank among the most intriguing and exciting we have seen at auction in many years. Throughout his collection, one can see the common thread of his collecting genius, which combined a sense of intellectual inquiry with the simple joy of sensory beauty.”
Among the modernist highlights of the evening sale is Wassily Kandinsky’s Herbstlandschaft of 1911 (pictured below; estimate: $20,000,000-25,000,000). Herbstlandschaft is a masterpiece from Kandinsky’s prodigious period of creative exploration from 1908-1911, demonstrating the artist’s expressive abilities as a colorist, which forged a distinctively Russian brand of Fauvism. This period of new art for the artist was inspired by intuition and drawn from the imagination, no longer governed by external reality. Kandinsky resolved that this art must be “pure,” and to be pure it must be eventually purged of all traces of materialism. To achieve a genuinely spiritual state this art must furthermore be absolutely abstract. The mountain in Herbstlandschaft is a metaphor for that peak which the artist as prophet must ascend, climbing high above materialistic cities of the lowland plain, to that elevated height of self-knowledge and understanding of the world that would ultimately empower him to create a purely spiritual art. For Kandinsky, the shape of the triangle, signified by the mountain, represents the evolution of the spiritual dimension in contemporary life.
Krugier was the first gallerist to stage an exhibition of Pablo Picasso’s work following the artist’s death in 1973. The dealer fostered a close relationship with the Picasso family, particularly the artist’s granddaughter Marina, who enlisted Krugier as an advisor in the distribution of her grandfather’s estate. Proceeds from gallery exhibitions and world tours subsequently allowed Marina Picasso to pursue philanthropic ventures such as an orphanage in Vietnam and international educational programs. In the process, Krugier became the world’s foremost Picasso dealer, showcasing diverse and rare materials such as notebooks, sculptures, paintings, drawings, prints, and ceramics. As the leading dealer of Picasso, Krugier amassed an impressive collection of works by the artist for himself, sixteen of which will be offered in November.
Among the star lots of Krugier’s collection, and the lead work of the Picasso group is Tête (Maquette pour la sculpture en plein air du Chicago Civic Center), a sheet metal maquette conceived and created by Picasso during 1962-1964 ( estimate: $25,000,000-35,000,000). While reserving the present maquette for himself, Picasso sent another to Chicago as the model to be used in creating the completed freestanding sculpture, which measures 65 feet in height, and occupies today, as it did when it was unveiled 15 August 1967, the plaza in front of the Civic Center building. The monumental sculpture, which was constructed in welded iron, is hailed as Picasso’s final great sculpture, the crowning work of his career in three dimensions.
Painted in 1971, Buste d’homme écrivant (Autoportrait) estimate: ($6,000,000-8,000,000) portrays a likely self-portrait of Picasso with a pen and book in hand, possessing the mirada fuerte, the dark eyes that project a powerful gaze, signifying the artist’s presence. In Picasso’s œuvre, self-portraiture was mainly a theme he explored as a young man; he only rarely revived this practice during and after his high cubist period. There are occasional instances of self-portraiture during his return to the figure in the neo-classical phase, but only sporadic instances thereafter. Picasso in the present homme écrivant may have perhaps taken the opportunity to reminisce, with the visible pleasure of some satisfaction, upon his own second creative life as a poet, in thoughts prompted by his final poem, which he regarded as his magnum opus in this form. The artist has depicted himself as a man noticeably younger than his actual ninety years, certainly with more hair on his head, just as he appeared some three decades earlier in the self-portrait at his easel and in a photograph of 1939. This work was acquired by Krugier from the artist’s granddaughter, Marina Picasso.
Femme de Venise I is among the six works by Alberto Giacometti that will be offered in the evening and day sales (pictured left; estimate: $9,000,000-12,000,000). Standing over three-feet-tall, the work in bronze belongs to a series of nine individual but closely related figures that are among the artist’s best-known works. The Femmes de Venise are the result of Giacometti’s invitation to participate in both the 1956 Venice Biennale and a major retrospective at Kunsthalle Bern in Switzerland. Giacometti felt that the combination of such prestigious occasions warranted a massive creative endeavor that would serve as a major and most up-to-date statement of his work. As a result of his efforts, these Femme de Venise are generally regarded as having significantly contributed to Giacometti’s establishment as the most preeminent sculptor of his time. As he intended, all nine resulting sculptures reveal Giacometti’s arduous artistic process, in which he tracked the model’s changing and ultimately varied shapes, while still maintaining the overall theme. Femme de Venise I, which was purchased by Jan Krugier at Christie’s, was likely completed early by the artist, if not first, in the sequence.
Joan Miró’s Peinture-L’Oiseau of 1926 (pictured right; estimate: $8,000,000-12,000,000) is imbued with the hallmark elements of his pioneering series of “dream” pictures, often considered the most radical works in the artist’s œuvre. With nearly one hundred canvases of this kind completed between the summer of 1925 and April 1927, these dream paintings were the artist’s first major extended sequence of work, in which he resolved to intuitively explore the deepest recesses of his creativity and subconscious. Peinture-L’Oiseau employs the pictorial language of the series, with the incorporation of freely invented “signs” that would affect the viewer simultaneously with both their whimsical humor and more deeply profound implications, capable of representing anything Miró chose.