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Maurice de Vlaminck’s L’Eglise de Franconville

Seeing this work in person is hypnotic, but for as bold as the foreground is, what draws my eye most is the very interesting texture and look of the clouds in the upper left area.  Do you see how the area of pure white cloud seems to blur into the storm behind it?  For a piece that has a clear impressionist style about it, I find those clouds oddly realistic.  If you’ve ever seen the sky churn in the Midwestern United States before a summer thunderstorm you know just what I mean.

Vlaminck is part of the Fauvism movement, a sort of sub-variety of the larger Impressionist Revolution happening at the time that is typically identified with the bold color you see in the piece below.  If you’ve not heard of the Fauvist Vlaminck before, you’ve surely seen his more famous compatriot, Henri Matisse.

I find the style incredibly appealing.  It hasn’t a certain joy and richness about it, even in a painting of a small town about to be battered by a storm, don’t you think?

Available until March 10th as Lot 50 in the Impressionist and Modern Art Including Russian Art Auction at Sotheby’s New York Headquarters.

Maurice Vlaminck Eglise de Franconville

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

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Rare Imperial Tribute Guangzhou Embellished Ivory and Tortoiseshell Fan, Qing Dynasty

I’m not all that experienced with Asian art, historical or otherwise, but every now and then, there’s a piece you just can’t ignore.  While browsing through the exhibitions this past weekend at Sotheby’s New York Headquarters, this particular fan was a featured item and I must tell you, it is awe-inspiring.  It is difficult to tell from the picture because the detail on this item is so intricate and elaborate that you really must see it in person.  The workmanship is simply astounding – the white piece of this item is made of pierced ivory that has been meticulously carved into a woven pattern that looks like tiny threads of string.  It would be a difficult task with thread, let alone ivory, and then more layers of ivory and jade have been sculpted, painted, and attached to the piece for embellishment.  I can’t be certain, but I would be shocked if there is any person alive today that could produce this kind of work.

This is the real reason to go to exhibitions, to be surprised at the beauty out there you never knew existed.  I look through almost every auction catalog at the major houses and some of the more prominent auctions at the smaller houses, but I breezed right past this item while leafing through the first time.  It took an in-person experienced to be astonished.

Available until March 23rd (hurry!) as Lot 149 in the Fine Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art Auction at Sotheby’s New York Headquarters

Qing Dynasty Imperial Tribute Fan

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

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White Carrara Marble Bath

You know you’ve made it when you spend lazy weekends soaking in your white Carrara marble bathtub, ideally while feeding grapes into your mouth while being fanned by a large leaf.  In all seriousness though, this is certainly a “wow” piece for any home.  The lion’s head is clearly the standout detail here, but the carved waves on the side and the way the rim has been carved to look like fish scales makes it the whole package.

Incidentally, Carrara marble is an interesting material – quarried from the town of Carrara in Tuscany, it is the same material used to carve such treasures as the Pantheon, Trajan’s Column, Michelangelo’s David as well as many of his other works, and the Marble Arch in London, directly in front of Buckingham Palace.  You can see the famed blue-gray veins in this piece off to the right of the picture.

Available until April 1st as Lot 308 in the Fine European Furniture Including Tapestries, Silver, Ceramics and Carpets Auction at Sotheby’s New York Office.

White Carrera Marble Bath

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

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Italian Rococo Walnut and Fruitwood Parquetry Commode

This is really the kind of piece to make you salivate – it has a natural elegance to it, incredibly detailed without bragging about it.  The inlay is masterful, but what I really like is the wood selection and how they’ve centered the interesting part of the grain (is that…burl walnut?) smack in the middle of the front curves.  The feet are also lovely; a bit staunch, but they fit the overall scale quite nicely.  So refined and so understated, this is exactly the kind of item I’d like to pick up one of these days.  Leave it to the Italians…

Available until April, 1st as Lot 101 in the Fine European Furniture including Tapestries, Silver, Ceramics and Carpets Auction at Sotheby’s New York Offices.

Italian Walnut and Fruitwood Commode

Friday, March 19th, 2010

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Prelude and Finale to La Traviata

I enjoy going to the Opera whenever I can – it’s not something I can often afford, but I suppose that keeps it something cherished that always seems to thrill.  One particular show that has stuck in my memory more than others is La Traviata, Verdi’s tragic story of two lovers in 18th Century Paris.  This Saturday, March 6th, will mark the 157th anniversary of its very first and disastrous performance in Venice.  Thankfully Verdi didn’t give up on the show and today it is one of the most well-known and most performed operas throughout the world, with many other works, La Boheme, the film Moulin Rouge, for example, based on the story.  That being said, the opera itself is based on a book by Alexander Dumas, La dame aux Camélias.

The opening creeps in, so soft and gentle that most in the audience don’t realize the orchestra has started playing until a few seconds in.  It possesses a certain musical theme that isn’t as prevalent in other shows, which is perhaps why this one is so popular, you find yourself actually humming along walking out of the theater.

The ending, of course, is quite sad, but offers one of the greatest moments in opera.  Just as Alfredo returns to Violetta to reconcile, their world collapses.  Violetta is dying of tuberculosis and near the end, with only moments to live.  Suddenly, however, as Alfredo returns and they embrace she begins to feel a remarkable recovery, warming up and regaining her strength.  But it is only her body’s last gasp and in a tear-jerking twist she finally collapses in death into Alfredo’s arms as he looks on, stunned.

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

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