The Kahn Library: honouring Surrealism

On 16 October 2020, by Anne Doridou-Heim

Like causes produce like effects. This idea was confirmed by the second Kahn Library sale, punctuated by almost surrealist surprises and preemptions.

Dorothea Tanning (1910-2012), The Civilizing Influence, 1944, oil on canvas, 30.4 x 45.7 cm.
Result: €361,318

The first sale, on 7 November 2019, took in €5,760,323 and consecrated a first edition of Paul Éluard’s collection À toute épreuve illustrated by Joan Miro. The second focused on female Surrealist artists. The Civilizing Influence, a 1944 oil-on-canvas by American painter Dorothea Tanning (1910-2012), rang not to the tune of 5:05, like the clocks in her underwater seascape of rocks and coral, but of €361,318, her third-highest price and a French record (source: Artnet). But men quickly reclaimed centre stage. High results honoured the movement’s leaders, starting with André Breton (1896-1966) and Marcel Duchamp, allowing the sale to end with a total result of €4,719,442. Breton’s Cycle systématique de conférences sur les plus récentes positions du surréalisme (Systematic Series of Lectures on the Most Recent Positions of surrealism), an autograph manuscript illustrated with 18 drawings and collages by his artist friends, including Ray, Dalí, Duchamp and Ernst, fetched €133,900. It is the original layout of Breton’s prospectus for a four-lecture series that was scheduled for June 1935 but for a variety of reasons never took place. Duchamp’s famous Boîte-en-valise (Box in a Suitcase), a sort of portable museum created in 75 copies in 1966 and containing 80 reproductions of his works, sold for €295,640. He made the original in Milan in 1941.

André Breton (1896-1966), Cycle systématique de conférences sur les plus récentes positions du surréalisme (Systematic Series of Lectures

André Breton (1896-1966), Cycle systématique de conférences sur les plus récentes positions du surréalisme (Systematic Series of Lectures on the Most Recent Positions of surrealism), 1935, autograph manuscript of the prospectus illustrated with 18 original drawings and collages by Man Ray, Salvador Dalí, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst and Alberto Giacometti.
Result: €133,900


Surrealist antics
A few facetious paintings managed to sneak in amongst the literary offerings. One, Le Chasseur de l'inconnaissance (The Hunter of the Unconscious), by Victor Brauner (1903-1966), dated 1949, is actually a project for a bookbinding. It sold for €130,000. Brauner, a singular figure in surrealism, is currently being honoured by a show at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. An untitled gouache by Yves Tanguy (1900-1955), small by its size (8.4 x 28.5 cm) but not by the strength it emanates, fetched €176,800. Dated 1935, it was featured in the San Francisco Museum of Art’s trailblazing 1937 show "Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism". Ernst had fun practising L'Exercice illégal de l'astronomie (The illegal Exercise of Astronomy) inspired by German astronomer Ernst Guillaume Tempel (1821-1889), who, despite discovering many comets, has faded into oblivion. Ernst repaired that injustice in his way with this work illustrated by 34 of his prints, which netted €96,045.
The sale would not have been perfect if preemptions by national institutions had not confirmed the choices made by this very demanding couple. That happened nine times, most notably for one of the first 10 copies of Sur Marcel Duchamp. Eau & Gaz à tous les étages (On Marcel Duchamp. Water & Gas on Every Floor) by Duchamp and Robert Lebel, published in Paris in 1959. It was the first major Duchamp monograph, in which he expressed his ideas. This edition includes a self-portrait by the author-artist and a proof of Le Grand verre (The Large Glass), hand-coloured and signed by him. The BnF acquired this eminently desirable work for €90,986.


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