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Denys Sutton, the prolific and extraordinarily wide-ranging art historian, critic, curator and long-time editor of Apollo, was also a collector. Since his death in 1991, a number of his Old Master paintings have returned to the block. Now Sotheby's Paris is orchestrating the auction debut of the first monumental canvas painted by his friend Nicolas de Stael (1914-55). Sutton met the Russian emigre in Paris at the end of the 1940s and persuaded him to show his work in London. The artist duly visited the city in the summer of 1950, writing to his wife: 'What light ... I wandered along the Thames ... grey black, stone of black, cold grey pillars, alone like nowhere else.' Composition 1950 (Fig. 1)--some 4m across --was one of the paintings De Stael produced as a result of the trip, exhibiting it in his debut London show at the Matthiesen Gallery in 1952. In his preface to the catalogue, Sutton referred to the artist's ability to 'translate his impressions and feelings into walls that rise in solitary grandeur'.

It belongs to a group of works that marked a turning point in the artist's career, when he began to paint on a large scale. His increasingly abstract images were constructed out of simple blocks of thick, sensuous pigment applied with a palette knife. There is an austerity and serenity about these works, which are also marked by the subtly nuanced tones and contrasts between smooth and rough, raised elements of pigment and glimmers of bare canvas. 'I think we can say that my way of suggesting space is totally new,' he wrote to his neighbour in Paris, the American art dealer Theodore Schempp, in 1950. Although his style bears comparison with American Abstract Expressionist painting and Tachisme, De Stael evolved a highly personal style that demonstrated that paintings could be both abstract and representational at the same time.

This year, the centenary of De Stael's birth, sees exhibitions at the Musee Malraux in Le Havre and the Musee Picasso in Antibes, where the artist moved just before his suicide in 1955. Sotheby's Paris' Contemporary Art evening sale offers a rare market opportunity, and the painting is expected to fetch 2.5m [euro]-3.5m [euro] on 3 June.

Also at Sotheby's Paris, this time on 18 June, is an even greater market rarity: a monumental Fang sculpture with an impressive provenance (Fig. 3). Given its relatively naturalistic style, the figure has been attributed to the Mabea (a Fang subgroup that settled along the coast of Southern Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon), and these wooden figures have always been among the most admired of African sculptures. Anthropologists inform us that these guardian figures (byeri) were used to protect relics, usually skull or bone fragments, which the Fang believed retained the supernatural power of their ancestors. Here, the figure's facial expression is particularly powerful, and accentuated by prominent brows and cheekbones. The open mouth, with its alarming filed teeth, gives the suggestion of speech. The hollowed-out shoulders and carved embellish-ments are typical of the Mabea style, as is the smooth dark wood. The piece is unusual, however, for its scale and refinement. It belonged to the critic, editor and dealer Felix Feneon (1861-1944), who amassed one of the most important tribal collections of his day, and to another great advocate of tribal art, Jacques Kerchache (1942-2001). Estimate 2.5m [euro]-3.5m [euro].

After a bout of deaccessioning in the autumn, the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio is now consigning an oversize marble ram to Sotheby's 4 June Antiquities sale in New York. The auction house describes it as imperial Roman with 18th-century restorations, but a technical analysis of the stone by Sandra E. Knudsen, Clifford Craine and Robert H. Tykot published in 2002 reveals something rather more interesting. The authors had expected the ram to be of Carrara marble, which would support an imperial date. Instead the original core of the statue, the chest--carved with a remarkably naturalistic fleece of crisp waves of wool--tests firmly as Paros 1, while the two restored areas (the left front leg and left horn) point to a repair in an Italian workshop which restored the ram with fragments of other ancient Greek marbles, chosen to match the colour and grain size. Sotheby's suggests that the ram may have been restored by Francesco Antonio Franzoni (1734-1818), a specialist hired by Pope Clement XIV and Pius VI to work on the animal figures now in the Sala degli Animali at the Vatican. Such a ram may have been associated with a temple dedicated to Zeus Ammon. Estimate $2m-$3m.

This month sees deaccessioned works offered in the London salerooms, too. Sotheby's London's 10 June sale of Post-War & Modern British Art includes sculpture from great US collections. Among the highlights is Ben Nicholson's large relief sculpture 1967 (Silver Brown), offloaded by the Art Institute of Chicago (400,000 [pounds sterling]-600,000 [pounds sterling]), and Reg Butler's Standing Woman, a welded bronze, brass sheet and wire 'sketch' in three dimensions (40,000 [pounds sterling]-60,000 [pounds sterling]). Butler was at the forefront of the European avant-garde in the early 1950s, and this work was bought from the 1952 Venice Biennale by MoMA's legendary director Alfred H. Barr. It was also in Herbert Read's seminal 'New Aspects of British Sculpture' exhibition, for which Read coined the phrase 'geometry of fear' and launched a generation of British sculptors --including Lynn Chadwick, Eduardo Paolozzi and William Turnbull.

Not to be missed either is Burra's Marriage a la Mode, a comedy of manners depicting a sham service in which the groom exchanges meaningful glances with the vicar (Fig. 2). It was acquired at Burra's first one-man show in 1929 by the socialite Olivia Wyndham, who was to introduce Burra to the Harlem Renaissance when he visited New York in 1933 (and which became the focus of his subsequent paintings). This is the idiosyncratic artist at his best. Estimate 600,000 [pounds sterling]-800,000 [pounds sterling].

Art Basel springs into action for its 45th edition from 19 to 22 June (previewed on pp. 54-55) and London counters with a raft of fairs, including Olympia International Art & Antiques Fair (5-15 June) and Masterpiece (26 June-2 July). Art Antiques London (12-19 June) sees around 70 dealers coming together in a pavilion in Kensington Gardens--21 of them from Asian Art in London presenting everything from Chinese textiles to Himalayan bronzes, Japanese scrolls, screens and contemporary ceramics.
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Title Annotation:THE ART MARKET
Author:Moore, Susan
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 1, 2014
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