A Cézanne Resurfaces, Shedding Light on a Series

For nearly six decades a Cézanne watercolor depicting Paulin Paulet, a gardener on the artist’s family estate near Aix-en-Provence, was familiar to scholars only as a black-and-white photograph. No one knew if the actual work, a study for Cézanne’s celebrated “Card Players” paintings, still existed and, if it did, who owned it.

“A Card Player” (1892-96), a watercolor study by Cézanne, has turned up in a private collection.


But the watercolor recently surfaced in the home of a Dallas collector and is now heading to auction at Christie’s in New York on May 1, officials at the company said on Monday. It is estimated to sell for $15 million to $20 million.

Cézanne’s images of workers on his family farm — pipe-smoking men sitting around a table, their expressions dour, their dress drab, absorbed in a game of cards — are among his most recognizable works. Some are pictured alone; others are shown in groups of two or more. Paulet is the only one of the figures to appear in all five paintings in the “Card Players” series.

Cézanne executed the “Card Players” from 1890 to ’96, at the same time he was creating nudes in his “Bathers” series and soon after he experimented with landscapes in his canvases of Mont Sainte-Victoire. They were Cézanne’s 19th-century take on genre paintings made famous by 17th-century Dutch masters.

Cézanne also made seven known drawings and watercolors as studies for the paintings. And “A Card Player,” as the one coming up for sale at Christie’s is called, belonged to Dr. Heinz F. Eichenwald, a prominent collector who died in September. Dr. Eichenwald, a pioneer in research on pediatric infectious diseases, inherited the watercolor from his father, Ernst, who is thought by Christie’s experts to have bought it from a Berlin gallery around 1930. When the Eichenwald family fled Germany and the Nazis in 1936, they took “A Card Player,” along with works by Daumier and other 19th-century artists, to New York. Now Heinz Eichenwald’s widow, Linda, is selling the work.

In 2010 a critically praised exhibition called “Cézanne’s Card Players” opened at the Courtauld Gallery in London before traveling to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan last year. This watercolor was not included in the show, and the catalog listed it only as “whereabouts unknown.”

“The Card Players,” one of five oil paintings in a series by Cézanne, is at the Musée d’Orsay.

When “A Card Player” goes on view in Geneva on April 17 and 18 and then at Christie’s in Rockefeller Center on April 27, it will be the first time in nearly 60 years that it has been seen in public. “A Card Player” has been shown just once in the United States, in the 1953 exhibition “French Art Around 1900 — From van Gogh to Matisse,” at Fine Arts Associates, a New York gallery.

Of all the “Card Players” studies by Cézanne, “this one is most closely linked to his two-figure paintings, like the one in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and another at the Courtauld,” said Conor Jordan, an expert in Impressionist and Modern art at Christie’s. The similarities between this Cézanne watercolor and the canvas in the Musée d’Orsay are striking: the pale greenish-yellow in the cardplayer’s coat; his black-and-gray trousers; the red and yellow on the tabletop; the reddish and gray tints in his crumpled hat. Scholars believe that Cézanne created the watercolor in a single sitting while simultaneously working on the Musée d’Orsay painting, as a way to think through his color scheme.

Curators, conservators and scholars studying the five “Card Players” paintings believe the Musée d’Orsay version was the third in the series. Four of the paintings are in museums: in addition to the one at the Musée d’Orsay, there is another at the Met and another at the Courtauld; the largest belongs to the Barnes Foundation, soon to be reopening in Philadelphia.

The whereabouts of the fifth canvas is a great art world mystery. It belonged to the Greek shipping magnate George Embiricos, who died last year. Even before his death, the painting was said to be up for sale for $250 million. Some art dealers contend it was bought by the Qatar royal family; others speculate that it was purchased by the heir to another Greek shipping fortune, Philip Niarchos; still others say it could also have disappeared into a collection in Russia. But no one is saying for sure.

“A Card Player” will be the second important work on paper from the mid-1890s and from a celebrated series to come to auction this spring. The night after the Christie’s auction, Sotheby’s is selling perhaps the most famous image in art history after the Mona Lisa: one of only four versions of “The Scream,” by Edvard Munch, and the only still in private hands.

That work, a pastel on board from 1895, belongs to Petter Olsen, a Norwegian businessman and shipping heir, whose father, Thomas, was a friend, neighbor and patron of the artist’s. It is expected to sell for $80 million.



By Carol Vogel
Source: www.nytimes.com