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Last week, for the first time, Christie’s launched a major $300m-plus collection of American 20th-century paintings not in art center as  New York, London or Hong Kong , but in Paris. The collection on question is the one of the American luxury-travel tycoon Barney Ebsworth, presented as “an extraordinary achievement in the history of collecting, one that illuminates the rise of American art across the 20th century”, including potentially record-breaking pieces by as the  wonderful Edward Hopper, the huge Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.

In real estate, they say three things matter: location, location, location. For me,’ said Ebsworth, ‘collecting art was about quality, quality, quality. I would rather have a smaller collection of the finest pictures than dozens of so-so ones.’

Barney A. Ebsworth Collection comes to Christie’s
An American Place: The Barney A. Ebsworth Collection comes to Christie’s

Beyond vowing that he would only buy “the very best” or “only what could hang on the museum wall right now, and not sometime in the future” Ebsworth’s other rules in collection were to buy works only by dead artists,  so that he could make choices from their whole range of work, and to focus on objects rather than artists. ‘All that mattered was what I could see in the piece, and how well I understood it in comparison to the artist’s range of work,’ he explained.

Ebsworth’ collection is estimated having  only one other rival,  in private hands. Among the great prizes he can boast one of “the most important Hopper left in private hand”, Chop Suey (1929) estimate in the region of $70 million. In this seminal composition, as in his masterwork Nighthawks, we see the atmosphere of this everyday eatery distilled into a cinematic scene that at once depicts an implicit narrative while creating clear allusions to broader themes of social isolation, gender roles and art historical tradition. Even confronting with the French Impressionist and Ashcan traditions of painting city life, Chop Suey incorporates a thoroughly modern play of light and color to capture a specific NYC restaurant that the Hoppers frequented. Dense in its psychologically complex meditations it uniquely capture the zeitgeist of New York during one of its most interesting eras of transition.

Other highlights from this collection are instead from the American art blossom, after World War II,  with artists such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning.

From the latest, it will be offered the over five and a half feet tall heroic painting, Woman as Landscape, defined as  a tour-de-force of 20th century painting and estimate in the region of $60 million). While from Jackson Pollock we will have  Composition with Red Strokes, from 1950, so  during the peak of his extraordinary creative output and thus considered a very central work to the artist’s oeuvre as one of the richest and most powerful ascinatingly intricate  abstract surface, demonstrating his new technique (estimate in the region of $50 million).

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Willem de Kooning (1904-1997), Woman as Landscape, painted in 1954-1955. Oil and charcoal on canvas. 65½ x 49⅜ in (166.3 x 125.4 cm). Offered in An American Place: The Barney A. Ebsworth Collection Evening Sale, November 2018

Other Post-War name included in  the Collection are:  Joan Mitchell’s 12 Hawks at 3 O’clock, created at a pivotal time when the artist’s abstraction reached new levels (estimate: $14-16 million), Gray Rectangles by Jasper Johns, the first work by the artist to be acquired by the legendary collectors Victor and Sally Ganz (estimate: $20-30 million), and Franz Kline’s Painting (estimate: $5-7 million). Ebsworth had also a lasting friendship with Georgia O’Keeffe ( she acted as a witness to his second marriage which took place at her Abiquiú home in New Mexico ), presented with Horn and Feather, 1937 (estimate: $700,000-1,000,000) and Beauford Delaney, 1943 (estimate: $200,000-300,000). Additional works in the Collection by members of the Stieglitz Circle are Stuart Davis’s Still Life in the Street (estimate: $500,000-700,000) and Marsden Hartley’s Calm After Storm off Hurricane Island (estimate: $1.500.00-2,500,000). Among the finest examples ever to appear on the market from Precisionist artist Charles Sheeler is Catwalk, 1947, which once belonged to Nelson Rockefeller (estimate: $1,200,000-1,800,000).

But, why such great collection of American Art has been first presented in Paris?

Well, Christie’s pointed out that the origins of this collection takes us back to the Fanchophile world, where the young Ebsworth felt in love for arts while he was serving the US Army. In Christe’s press review, he told of walking from exhibit to exhibit in the Louvre ‘in awe of how it felt to be surrounded by such great works of art’. It made such a deep impression on him, that he left wanting ‘to understand the pictures”. And thus he started his self-learned own journey in art connoisseurship,spending  his spare time in the local library studying the art he’d seen the previous weekend, and preparing for his next trip to the museum. In the same charming city he won’t just find the love of art, but also the love of his life, his wife Martine. Nevertheless, we can’t notice that Paris Biennale fair opening in town the same week of this announcement, also can have played a quite important role in the auction house’s marketing strategy.

By the way, this choice made also the Financial time wondering if this could a signal of  Paris likely soon replacing  London as Europe’s art market centre due to  Brexit uncertainties. And many factor makes this option very likable.

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Jackson Pollock (1912-1956), Composition with Red Strokes, painted in 1950. Oil, enamel and aluminium paint on canvas. 36⅝ x 25⅝ in (93 x 65.1 cm). Offered in An American Place: The Barney A. Ebsworth Collection Evening Sale, November 2018

Barney Ebsworth was named as one of the ‘World’s 200 Greatest Collectors’ as well as among ‘America’s Top 100 Collectors’, and he gave generously over the years to the Seattle Art Museum as well as to many other museums and charitable institutions, including gifts of major early American works.

‘It’s not owning the individual pieces,’ he said, looking back on the incredible artworks he had lived with. ‘It is the emotional and intellectual experience of collecting that has been the most glorious and rewarding aspect of my life.’

The collection will then travel from November to New York, Hong Kong, London, San Francisco and Los Angeles, before the  single-owner day and evening sale of the works.




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