“Joueur des cartes (A Card Player),” a watercolor study on laid paper done by Paul Cézanne between 1892-1896, we believed lost. It recently reemerged from the collection of Dr. Heinz F. Eichenwald in Dallas and will be put up for auction on May 1 at Christie’s. It is expected to bring between $15 and $20 million.
NEW YORK — A rare watercolor study by the modern master Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), last seen in public in 1953, has re-emerged from a private collection in Texas after nearly 60 years and will be featured as the lead highlight of Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale on May 1 in New York. The full-size work on paper is one of the artist’s preparatory studies for “Les joueurs de cartes (Card Players),” the seminal five-painting series that Cézanne completed between 1890 and 1896.
Previously known only from a black and white photograph, the study was rediscovered earlier this year in the collection of the late Dr. Heinz F. Eichenwald, a prominent collector and internationally renowned medical expert who spent his career in Dallas after emigrating to the United States in the mid-1930s. Meticulously preserved, with fresh and unfaded hues of blue and ochre, this tantalizing view into the painting process of one of modern art’s great masters is estimated to achieve $15 to $20 million.
“The ‘Card Player’ series is justifiably regarded as one of the most important of the modern era, influencing so many of the painters who sought to follow in Cézanne’s footsteps. This remarkable study offers us a rare glimpse into this modern master’s artistic process, showing us how he worked through the pose and positioning of the characters that would come to populate his greatest masterpieces,” said Sharon Kim, international director of Impressionist and Modern Art at Christie’s. “For a full-size study from this series to come to light now, when it was feared to have been lost to history by scholars and collectors alike, marks a pivotal moment in the art market and promises to inspire great interest from clients around the globe this spring.”
Cézanne’s “Card Players” series was recently the subject of a major traveling exhibition organized by the Courtauld Gallery in London and the Metropolitan Museum in New York, where two of the five oil paintings from the series are housed. The watercolor study, “Joueur de cartes,” which was referenced in the exhibition catalogue but noted as “whereabouts unknown,” is most closely linked to the two-figure version of the painting that belongs to the Musée D’Orsay. The pose and position of the seated man conform very closely to the figure on the right in the finished painting, with the man’s right knee extending slightly ahead of the left in the same manner.
Scholars of Cézanne’s works have established the identity of the seated man as Paulin Paulet, a gardener who lived near or worked on Cézanne’s family estate, the Jas de Bouffan, near Aix en Provence. Though several different men appear in the series and in other preparatory studies, Paulet is the only subject to appear in all five of the final paintings from the series. As he told a visitor in 1902, Cézanne sought to capture “the expressions of people who have grown old without drastically changing their habits, who just go along with the laws of time.” Rather than depict his card players as carousing and boisterous, as had been the fashion of the genre previously, Cézanne broke with tradition and depicted them instead in a moment of pure meditation, not unlike the state of the artist at work.
As a study in watercolor, “Joueur de cartes” is unusual in that it has been executed without any under-drawing in pencil. Given Cézanne’s legendary powers of concentration, one might imagine the artist finishing the watercolor in one sitting, working entirely with the brush and pigment to achieve the work’s deep textures and rich tonalities. There are touches of practically every subtle color and tint from which the painter would eventually create the Musée d’Orsay oil painting: a pale greenish yellow in the card player’s coat, black and gray in his trousers, red and yellow on the table top and legs, reddish and gray tints in his crumpled hat, and deep blue and black in the shadows cast on the wood paneling behind him. Overall, the effect is of a fully realized work of art, with an assured use of line and a pleasing juxtaposition of painted areas and sections of paper deliberately left untouched.
Paul Cezanne’s “The Card Players” (1890-95, oil on canvas) is on display at the Musée D’Orsay in Paris (Image courtesy Erich Lessing/Art Resource)
A later watercolor study, also in Musée d’Orsay collection.
When “Joueur de cartes” is unveiled this spring at Christie’s, it will mark the first time since 1953 that the work will be seen in public. It has been exhibited only once before in the United States, at an exhibition entitled “French Art Around 1900―From Van Gogh to Matisse,” held at the Fine Arts Associates gallery in New York. The watercolor has remained in the private collection of the Eichenwald family for nearly eight decades, having originally been acquired by Heinz Eichenwald’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Ernst Eichenwald. In the mid-1930s, the family fled the Nazi occupation of Europe and emigrated to New York. Once settled, Heinz Eichenwald went on to graduate magna cum laude from Harvard University, and earned his medical degree from Weill Cornell University Medical College in 1950. Upon completing his training in pediatrics at Cornell’s New York Hospital, where he became a highly regarded specialist, he joined the University of Texas Southwestern Medical faculty and later became chief of staff at Children’s Medical Center and chief of pediatrics at Parkland Memorial Hospital. Dr. Eichenwald retired in 2006 as chairman and professor emeritus, having spent more than 40 years developing pediatrics programs and transforming medical care for children around the world. He passed away in September 2011 at age 85. Additional paintings, drawings, sculptures and works on paper from the estate collection will be offered at Christie’s “Works on Paper and Day” sales of Impressionist and Modern Art on May 2.
In the recent years, rediscovered masterpieces from important private collections like the Eichenwald’s have captivated the global art collecting community and pushed auction prices to new—often record-breaking—levels. In May 2010, Christie’s set a world auction record of $106.5 million for the most expensive painting ever sold at auction with the sale of Pablo Picasso’s “Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust,” a 1932 master work by the artist that had emerged from a private California collection after more than six decades. Similarly, Christie’s set a new world auction record for a work on paper with the December 2009 sale of Raphael’s “Head of a Muse,” which sold for $47.9 million on behalf of a private collector.
Prior to the auction on May 1, Christie’s International has arranged a public exhibition of this exceptional work at Christie’s Geneva from April 17-18. A three-day public exhibition will open Friday, April 27, at Christie’s New York. A special-edition catalogue dedicated to “Joueur de cartes” will be available in the coming weeks on Christie’s website.
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