In the late 19th Century in a small town in Brittany, France, a rotating group of artists that included painter Paul Gauguin and Émile Bernard made up the Pont-Aven School, an artistic commune whose output was defined by bold colors and rural themes. Now, one of the preeminent collections of Pont-Aven artwork is heading to auction, as Christie’s prepares to sell off works owned by the late collector Sam Josefowitz.
Pont-Aven artists influenced by the movement feature heavily in Masterpieces from the Collection of Sam Josefowitz: A Lifetime of Discovery and Scholarship, which includes works from Gauguin, Felix Vallotton and Aristide Maillol. Scheduled to take place on October 13 in London, the auction is expected to bring in £49 million ($59 million) and will be followed by other sales of Josefowitz’s collected works through 2023 and into 2024.
Originally from Lithuania, Josefowitz came to the United States in the 1930s to study industrial engineering. After a brief stint in the chemical business, he and his brother David co-founded the Concert Hall Society, a mail-order subscription club that sold both vitamins and records. The company later expanded into books, selling 12 million to 14 million copies annually, as reported by the New York Times in 1969, which described Josefowitz as living “like a recluse in Switzerland surrounded by a fabulous art collection.”
Despite the diversity of his collection, which also included a significant number of Old Master prints and works by Rembrandt, Josefowitz’s artwork largely consisted of Pont-Aven pieces. His interest in the movement was inspired by exhibitions and conversations with art historians, and Josefowitz, who died in 2015, first visited the town in 1956 before becoming a passionate collector of what was then a relatively unknown school. On subsequent visits, the late collector searched for new works by contacting gallerists, auctioneers and heirs of Pont-Aven artists, according to Christie’s. He also donated archival documents to the Musee de Pont-Aven, and in 1998 sold $30 million worth of Pont-Aven paintings and prints to the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
Artist records expected for Vallotton, Maillol and Gallen-Kallela
It’s fitting that a work by Gauguin—the 1884 Clovis endormi, with an estimate of £5 million ($6 million)—will be offered at Christie’s sale of Josefowitz’s collection. The sale is expected to shatter auction records for Felix Vallotton and Aristide Maillol, who were both heavily influenced by Gauguin and the Pont-Aven movement. Vallotton’s Cinq heures, a portrayal of simple intimacy, has a high estimate of £5 million ($6 million), while Maillol’s life-size Portrait de Mademoiselle Jeanne Faraill is expected to bring in £1.2 million ($1.5 million). A new artist record could also be set for Finnish painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela, whose Autumn—Five Crosses, a preliminary work for the artist’s commissioned fresco at the Juselius Mausoleum, will be included in the sale.
Several lots showcase Josefowitz’s and his family’s close ties to the artistic community. The auction will include a group of works by Kees van Dongen, who painted numerous members of the Josefowitz family over the years. His standout piece La Quietude has an estimate of £5 million ($6 million). Interior design pieces from sculptor and designer Diego Giacometti were also part of Josefowitz’s collection, including a low table commissioned for his family home in Lausanne expected to sell for £1.4 million ($1.7 million). The upcoming sale will additionally include several pieces of Asian artwork, with Assyrian and Shinto sculptures going on the block alongside a Rembrandt print and several paintings by Gustave Caillebotte.