Illustrated letters go on sale at Sotheby's

tags: auctions, Sotheby's, Manet, Matisse, van Gogh



On a hot Provencal day in July 1890, Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo – blocking out, as he often did, space for a drawing. In it a black cat stealthily circles a dead painter’s garden. The portentous ink was set: four days later van Gogh had shot himself. Now a collection of papers, for sale at Sotheby’s in New York on Wednesday 8 May, shows that many of the artist’s contemporaries shared his epistolary flair.

Letters by Manet, Picasso, Renoir, Signac, Matisse, Chagall and Gauguin are composed not only of the articulated preoccupations of the artist (Picasso and Renoir are fixated on culinary pursuits) but also their visual riffs. Snapshot compositions sketched on the fly and odd motifs punctuate these sheets.

The letters date from 1880, with Manet in genial mood, to 1950 as Matisse settles into the snug embers of his sunset years. The form is played into a wonderful hybrid: part picture, part message. In pencil and pen, crayon and watercolour, major and minor moments are captured. Manet adds a snail to a shopping list; a weary Paul Gauguin heads a letter to the owner of his 1894 Tahitian oil, Day of the God, with a cartoon of the work. He includes an apology. “Excuse the barbarism of this little picture. Certain dispositions of my spirit are probably the cause.”...



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