“Small is beautiful” is the ethos behind Sotheby’s forthcoming Actual Size sale, a first-of-a-kind auction of tiny masterpieces featuring paintings, sculptures and works on paper that are all no larger than the catalogue page.
Inspired by estimate-breaking sales of very small works such as Paul Gauguin’s Te Arii Vahine-La Femme aux Mangos (II) and Gustav Klimt’s Mädchen im Grünen, which fetched £8.4m and £4.3m respectively at Sotheby’s in March, this specialist sale (previews from June 15; auction on June 21) includes no pieces larger than 29.6cm x 40.4cm.
“Emotion can come through more intensely when it’s concentrated in a small scale,” says Thomas Bompard, head of impressionist and modern art evening sales at Sotheby’s London. “Small works look you right in the eye, so to speak, and are often intensely intimate and powerful. Certain artists excel on this scale. Dalí displayed more technical virtuosity on a small scale, and Lucian Freud always created something really poetic and tender.”
Thirty-five works have been selected – modernist, impressionist and contemporary – and will be displayed in a single preview room like a cabinet of curiosities. A highlight is Paul Cézanne’s mini-masterpiece Baigneuses, La Montagne Saint-Victoire au fond (estimate £4m-£6m), an exquisite 12.5cm x 21.3cm watercolour painted between 1902 and 1906 and now at auction for the first time in three decades. Sculptures include Auguste Rodin’s marble Tête de Saint-Jean Baptiste dans un plat (£400,000-£600,000) and Julio Gonzáles’s bronze, La Chevelure (£140,000-180,000), while among the several works by Pablo Picasso are two exuberant oil paintings – Femme endormie (estimate £2,000,000-£3,000,000) and Les Trois baigneuses (£1,000,000-£1,500,000) – both painted at his château in Boisgeloup in the 1930s.
Other Picassos in the sale include Femme assise (£800,000-£1,200,000), created in pen and ink on paper in 1902, and Buste de femme nue (£200,000-£280,000), a 1921 watercolour that takes a more representational approach than the artist’s later work. Fellow big names in this very small sale are Lucian Freud (Strawberries, oil on copper, £550,000-£750,000) and Joan Miró. The latter’s boldly graphic oil-painting Tête d’homme (£600,000-£800,000), painted in 1931, provides a colourful contrast to Richard Pettibone’s monochrome but equally striking Andy Warhol, 'Elvis', 1964 (£20,000-£30,000), an acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas from 1968.
Two works stand out as exemplary displays of their artist’s technique: Lucio Fontana’s Concetto Spaziale (£250,000-£350,000), created in 1966 using aniline, glitter and pencil, displays his key motifs – eggs, the sun and pierced holes; and Piero Manzoni’s Achrome (£500,000-£700,000) from around 1959, which combines kaolin clay with a pleated canvas to create a fresh approach to the picture plane. They may be small in scale, but these works are all giants when it comes to appeal.