Christie’s upcoming 20th Century evening sale in New York will highlight not one, but three works by Paul Cezanne. The works all come from the Museum Langmatt in Baden, Switzerland and will be offered consecutively during the sale, scheduled for November 9, as part of the museum’s effort to raise $45 million for an endowment fund meant to secure its future.
The star of this trio is undoubtedly Fruits et pot de gingembre, which comes with an estimate of between $35 million and $55 million. Executed between 1890 and 1893, the picture comes from a period that began in the late 1880s during which Cezanne painted some most celebrated works.
Among the works from that era are Cezanne’s The Card Players (1890-1892), which according to Christie’s was likely painted in the same Aix-en-Provence studio the artist kept at his parents’ home where he executed Fruits et pot de gingembre. During last year’s fall sales, Christie’s sold the artist’s panoramic La Montagne Sainte-Victoire (1888-1890) from the collection of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, for $138 million with fees.
The second work features one of Cezanne’s most everyday subjects, the apple, which is also one of the subjects he most enjoyed painting. “I want to astonish Paris with an apple,” the artist purportedly said. He tackled the subject from countless angles, and despite naysayers claiming he was out of his mind, or on drugs (or both), still lifes like Quatre pommes et un couteau (1885, estimate: $7 million – $10 million) show Cezanne shedding his impressionist past and embracing his proto-Cubist future.
The final work La mer à l’Estaque (1878-1879, $3 million–$5 million) is the only non-still life in the group. It’s the earliest of the three works, yet the work that most implies the Cubist style of Braque and Picasso that Cezanne inspired. The hillside houses, and ocean view of this Mediterranean landscape is rendered nearly flat and reduced to its most elemental shapes. According to Christie’s, Picasso himself owned a painting from the same series.
“Cezanne endowed everyday objects and arrangements with properties they didn’t really have before him through these extremely carefully calibrated contrasts, a very keen sense of architecture, which you can see in all three of these works,” Max Carter, Christie’s vice chairman of 20th/21st Century Art, told ARTnews. Cezanne was never fully recognized during his life while he was working, Carter said, but by the time of his passing he had come to be known as this “harbinger of modern art.” In the years that followed, the majority of his masterworks had been bought up, including these three, which were purchased in 1933 by Sidney and Jenny Brown.
Museum Langmatt was once the Brown family home. Sidney and Jenny’s son John Alfred Brown bequeathed the Karl Moser-designed building to the city of Baden, along with its vast collection of art, in his will. Christie’s has agreed to an interesting format for the sale. The museum, since being handed over to the city, has proven to be in a dire financial condition due in part to the cost of maintaining the premises, which were built in 1900-1901. In 2017, a public capital campaign, Future Langmatt, was launched to find a way to ensure the museum could continue to operate. The city of Baden, along with the state and other undisclosed parties, have pledged to help renovate and restore the museum.
The foundation now seeks to raise around $45 million for the museum’s endowment fund. According to Christie’s, the works will be sold in order, Fruits et pot de gingembre, Quatre pommes et un couteau, and La mer à l’Estaque, until the total bid reached or surpassed $45 million. At that point, the works that remain, if any, will be withdrawn and returned to the museum.