The March 17 sale, which was titled Collection André Mourgues, Alexandre Iolas et ses Artistes, was also a homage to the pioneering art dealer Alexandre Iolas (1908-87), to whom Mourges was the professional partner and companion for over 25 years.
The multi-talented Iolas (his first career was as a dancer) was famous for establishing an international network of galleries from New York to Paris, Milan, Rome, Madrid and Geneva; as a promotor of avant-garde artists of groups such as the New Realists and Arte Povera.
He was the first to show Andy Warhol whom he met when the artist was just 17. He opened the doors to international recognition for René Magritte and promoted the work of major names – Max Ernst, Victor Brauner, Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint Phalle and Les Lalannes for example.
Mourgues managed public relations for Iolas’ Paris Gallery from 1964 until its closure in 1976, accompanied him on his numerous projects and was friends with many of the artists represented by the gallery as well as its clientele.
A lot of these works were acquired by the Iolas gallery and were gifts to Mourgues while others had been given to him by the artists themselves.
The auction encompassed paintings and works on paper by the artists mentioned above and others from the Post-war era mingled with a sprinkling of classical antiquities.
Topping the price list at €2.1m (£1.78m), estimate €1m-1.5m, was a 5ft 11in (1.8m) high black patinated bronze sculpture by the Surrealist Max Ernst (1891-1976).
The sculpture titled La Plus Belle, a lot which had a guarantee and an irrevocable bid on it, was a homage to Ernst’s muse Dorothea Tanning. It was originally conceived in limestone in 1967, followed by an edition of five, plus artist’s proofs, cast at the Bonvicini foundry in Verona between 1968-74.
This example, an artist’s proof signed and numbered EE/5, was reserved for Iolas and acquired by Mourgues in 1974.
“Iolas had a real predilection for Ernst”, said Mourgues. “He was the great artistic love of his life. It was for him that he opened his gallery in Paris. He always said ‘I opened this gallery on the suggestion of Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning who wanted to come back and live in Paris, I will close it when he dies’. And that’s what he did.”
Magritte drawing record
René Magritte is an artist whose works are on a roll, with paintings overturning their estimates in the salerooms – culminating in the record-setting Empire des Lumières sold at Sotheby’s London rooms in March for a hammer price of £51.5m. The Mourgues sale chalked up a new high for a drawing by the artist when Le Viol from 1951 quadrupled the €200,00-300,000 guide to take €850,000 (£720,340).
This subversive image was used in 1934 on the cover the André Breton’s Qu’est-ce que le Surréalisme? and Magritte subsequently created various versions, including this example which was acquired direct from the artist by the Iolas Gallery then gifted to Mourgues. The 6 x 9½in (15 x 24cm) work in pencil on paper was indistinctly signed Magritte upper right and titled, dated and signed René Magritte to the reverse.
The third-highest price was for a work by Ed Ruscha (b.1937) from his Gunpowder series. Flaw, executed in gunpowder on paper in 1967, measuring 14¼ x 22½in (36 x 57.5cm), is one of the first drawings that the artist made using gunpowder.
A selection of works from the series was first exhibited in a solo show at the Alexander Iolas Gallery in 1967 and this drawing was given by the artist to Mourgues. It sold for €580,000 (£491,525) against a guide of €300,000-500,000.
Claude (1925-2019) and François Xavier Lalanne (1927-2008) were close friends with Iolas and Mourgues, who recalls their first encounter with the artists. “One evening when we were closing the gallery, Tinguely and Niki arrived and told us to go immediately to a small gallery, that of Jeanine Restany at the St Germain market, because they had friends who were doing their first exhibition there. They were the Lalannes. Iolas and I really liked their works and we immediately became close friends.”
This sale contained several examples of the Lalannes’ quirky creations.
A unique 4in (10cm) high version of Claude’s Pomme Bouche in patinated bronze and galvanised copper, executed c.1970, and acquired by Mourgues direct from the artist eclipsed a €10,000-15,000 guide to take €85,000 (£72,035).
François Xavier’s Merle, a model from 1999, made the same sum against a €30,000-50,000 estimate. The patinated bronze blackbird, a gift from the artist, measured 6¾ x 7in x3in (17 x 18 x 7.5cm) and was monogrammed, stamped Lalanne and numbered 2/8B.
Serpent, his 6 x 15in (15.5 x 30.5cm) drawing of a snake in coloured pencils and ink on paper dated 7.70, signed Les Lalannes, Ury and with a dedication Pour André qu’on aime, was another work acquired direct from the artist by Mourgues. It realised €12,200 (£10,340) against a €2000-3000 guide.
The most expensive of the works by Victor Brauner (1903-66) at €155,000 (£131,355) was his late oil on canvas from 1961: J’étais un chien, je suis une femme libre. The 3ft x 2ft 5in (92 x 73cm) work, signed and dated lower right, was acquired by the Iolas Gallery direct from the artist then given to Mourgues.
Two works by Andy Warhol (1928-87) were offered in the sale. One was a late, 1985 rendition of his signature Campbell’s Soup can, in ink on paper measuring 15½ x 11¼in (39.5 x 28.5cm), which made €110,000 (£93,220).
The other was a silk screen on Lenox museum board of Alexander the Great, measuring 3ft 3in (1m) square, signed and numbered AP2/5. Executed in 1982, it is the artist’s proof number 2 from an edition of 25, plus 5 artist’s proofs and 1 printer’s proof, and had a provenance to the Iolas Gallery then a gift to Mourges.
It realised €150,000 (£127,120).
£1 = €1.18