Auctions | October 15, 2014

The Liuba and Ernesto Wolf Collection of Illustrated Books & Mss. at Artcurial

Daphnis et Chloé - bis , Marc Chagall, Collection Wolf - © Artcu.jpeg

Paris—On 1 and 10 December 2014, Artcurial will present for sale the celebrated collection of Ernesto and Liuba Wolf. With close to 300 pieces, the collection covers many different areas of art history from modern art, books and manuscripts to tribal art, Medieval enamels and Cycladic sculptures. The two sales will respect the diverse range of work, presenting it as a coherent, multidisciplinary whole reflecting the preferences and particular choices of Ernesto and Liuba Wolf.

Bruno Jaubert, director of the Modern Art department at Artcurial, reviews « In the spirit of Cabinet d’Amateur, this collection unites different collections covering various areas of interest, using one guiding principle: « to bring together masterpieces and extraordinary objects » in Ernesto Wolf’s own words. Rich, eclectic and highly personal, it becomes an act of creation by juxtaposing Medieval antiquities with Oriental art from Ancient times through to the Renaissance, books and manuscripts from the Middle Ages to the 20th century and Primitive art with modern sculpture.”

Born into a German Jewish family of cotton traders, Ernesto Wolf fled the Nazi threat to settle in Argentina in 1938, under rather prosperous circumstances, moving to Brazil in 1950. There he met his wife, Liuba, a sculptor and former pupil of Germaine Richier. Together they set about a search for beauty in all domaines that lasted nearly 60 years.

If Ernesto Wolf (1918 - 2003) is best known for the collection of byzantine and medieval glass that he donated to the Landesmuseum Württemberg in Stuttgart, he was also a major collector of modern art, antiquarian books and primitive art. It is this little known aspect of the collection, now belonging to their descendents, that will be revealed in this auction sale. The catalogue displays a genuine cabinet de curiosité that is a testament to the collectors’ erudition.


Sale on 1 December 2014

The collection of Ernesto and Liuba Wolf includes an extensive library of books and manuscripts incorporating, among others, several illuminated Books of Hours and precious incunabula.

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Book of Hours for the use of Rouen, manuscript on parchment decorated with miniatures attributed to the Master of Talbot, to Robert Boyvin and to an illuminator from Rouen, circa 1440, 1470-1480, approximately 1502 (estimate: 50, 000-70 ?? / 67,000 - 95,000 $).

This precious Book of Hours for the use of Rouen is undoubtedly one of the finest in the collection, with its shimmering miniatures. Those of the Master of Talbot are distinguished by elaborate compositions, characters swathed in drapes patterned with starlit skies and layered landscapes, often depicting windmills and round faced people. Robert Boyvin, on the other hand, adapted to the styles of the time in the manner of a good practitioner. Around 1502, the encounter with the Parisian illuminator Jean Pichore provoked a significant revival in the evolution of some of his designs, of which this Book of Hours provides new evidence.

Ars moriendi, Nicolaus Götz, 1475 (estimate: 200,000 to 300,000 ?? / 270,000 - 400,000 $).

This edition of the Ars moriendi is the second illustrated edition. This rare German incunabulum is adorned with 11 full-page woodcuts of which 3 were partly coloured at the time. The book, one of the classics of late medieval religious literature, is a manual of Christian death in which the echo of the great plague that ravaged Europe in the mid-fourteenth century is still resonant. In just a few pages, the Ars moriendi addresses the temptations which must be resisted when death approaches, whilst reminding the Christian of the things he should fear, desire and believe. Originally designed for priests to help them attend the dying, the book quickly attracted an audience of laymen.


Sale on 1 December 2014

The collection of illustrated books assembled by Ernesto and Liuba Wolf does not stop in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It continues into modern and contemporary periods with prestigious works by Picasso, Chagall, and Matisse. Daphnis et Chloé, illustrated by Marc Chagall and Jazz by Matisseboth published by Tériade in 1961 and 1947, sit side by side with Les Metamorphoses d'Ovide, illustrated by Picasso.

Daphnis et Chloé, Marc Chagall and Longus, Paris, Tériade, 1961, No. 134/250 (estimate: 120,000 - 180,000 ?? / 155,000 - 230,000 $)

In the period following World War II, artists and publishers published books which spoke of their taste for newfound happiness. So it was that in 1952, Tériade suggested to Marc Chagall that he work with him, illustrating Daphnis et Chloe by the Greek author Longus. The painter depicted the thwarted but ultimately happy love story of a young couple in 42 lithographs, providing an opportunitiy to portray pastoral scenes. These colourful landscapes were Inspired by Chagall’s trip to Greece during the summer of 1952. In addition to these lithographs he made the sets and the costumes for the ballet of the same name created in 1912 to the music of Maurice Ravel. The inaugural performance took place in 1958, well before the publication of the illustrated book.

Jazz, Marc Henri Matisse, Paris, Tériade, 1947 No. 90/100 (estimate: 150,000 - 200,000 ?? / 190,000 - 255,000 $)

The work is a collection of coloured plates and pages of text. The twenty lithographs are emblematic of the techniques of the artist, incorporating his use of colour with cut-outs and work in gouache. The solid areas of colour are both vibrant and occasionally clashing. This is one of the most famous artist's books to be published in the twentieth century. Henri Matisse was inspired by his favourite themes of circus, dance, theatre and travel in creating the 38 folios complete with pages of calligraphy.


Sale on 1 December 2014

Ernesto and Liuba Wolf were equally enamoured with the art of their time. Friends of Marc Chagall and Pablo Picasso, these great collectors assembled a compilation of modern and contemporary paintings that included Georges Rouault as well as Marx Ernst and Serge Poliakoff. Examples of note include a Composition by Serge Poliakoff, 1966, in shades of gray, beige and blue, but also a bronze sculpture by Germaine Richier, Mediterranée, which she designed to represent sculpture at the Languedoc Mediterranée pavilion for the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques in 1937.

Clown de profil, Georges Rouault, 1938-1939, oil on paper mounted on canvas (estimate: 300,000 - 400,000 ?? / 400,000 - 550,000 $)

The theme of the clown featured strongly in the paintings and drawings of Georges Rouault, much like Degas, Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec before him. Between 1902 and 1909 he produced some thirty works in oil and watercolour depicting clowns. Georges Rouault often frequented the circus tents on the outskirts of Paris. Then, from the 1920s onwards, he started going to the more well known circuses: the Nouveau Cirque, the Cirque d'Hiver or the Cirque de Paris. He began painting portraits of the clowns, either full length, head and shoulders, or simply their heads. Using thick paint revealing a build up of coloured layers in his 1940s canvasses, the painter was able to create a sense of depth. Clown profiles are rare, and the example in the Wolf collection is remarkable for its composition and its use of light. The work has a distinguished provenance, once belonging to Georges Rouault’s dealer Vollard.

Femme Accoudée, Henri Matisse, 1944, Indian ink (estimated 160,000 to 230,000 ?? / 205,000 - 295,000 $)

To bring together both a drawing by Matisse and a Moorish dish from the fifteenth century in the same private collection reveals an unexpected relationship: the fine lines of Matisse communicate with the Persian art; the simplicity of the drawing connects with the concise style of Cycladic Art; the intimacy of the female figure is heightened through a connection with the Dan figures from the Ivory Coast. Femme Accoudée from 1944 belongs to one of Matisse’s finest sections of the magnificent series of Thèmes et Variations, the most sought after today.


From the catalogue

« The collection of Ernesto and Liuba Wolf is probably one of the most significant and certainly one of the most original collections from latter half of the 20th century. It began in South America, but is fundamentally European in scope. It covers many areas with great thoroughness, but there appears to be no real connection between the different areas - between glass, from Mesopotamia to the late 18th century Baroque period, illustrated books and illuminated manuscripts from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, African art represented by a single object, the spoon, a small group of 20th century artists from Chagall to Poliakoff, 20th century illustrated books and prints from Toulouse-Lautrec to Picasso, many objets d’art from ancient times and the Middle Ages, as well as ancient Islamic art similar to what can be seen at the current exhibit at the Louvre Museum.

At first glance this may seem a motley potpourri with no inner consistency. But for most of these collections, we are seeing a thorough approach to collecting rare pieces, patiently chosen for their esthetic quality. Thus in the collection of glass pieces, in a rare example of fascination for this material, fragile yet sold, hard yet transparent, we find hundreds of pieces from all periods and all civilizations, primarily from antiquity, the Middle Ages, and Islamic cultures, later given to the Landesmuseum of Stuttgart by Ernesto Wolf. The collection of African spoons includes 150 pieces. The books and manuscripts from the medieval times to the 20th century range from an Ars Moriendi illustrated and published in Cologne in 1479 to Matisse’s Jazz, published by Tériade in Paris in 1947.

For Ernesto Wolf, collecting was to embody excellence, synonymous with the highest level of culture. Ernesto Wolf was an industrialist from Germany, born in Stuttgart in 1918. Coming from Argentina where his parents had already fled in 1932 before the war, he moved to Brazil in the 1950s where he met his wife, Liuba (1923-2005), a sculptress from Bulgaria who had been brought up by Germaine Richier in Paris. In addition to his professional activities in the furniture industry and the cotton trade, Ernesto Wolf founded the Sao Luis gallery in Sao Paulo to support Brazilian artists. The collections he built with his wife were his third profession, probably the most essential of them all.

In each of the areas that will be carefully auctioned by Artcurial, with the exception of the glass collection now housed in a museum, certain pieces deserve special recognition:

  • such as the marble statue from Anatolia, particularly modern for a sculpture that is almost 5000 years old. The simplifications of forms, the stylization of the figure in the movement of the shoulders and hips, and especially the working of the head and its relation to the neck, the polished surface, the clean elegance of the lines, all make this an exceptional work, as is the medieval German aquamanille, so distant yet so close to us. 
  • There is also a painting by Georges Rouault from 1938-1939 of a subject very close to the artist’s heart—the clown. Here the clown is seen in profile, and Rouault’s characteristic style can be seen in the thick layers of paint, the blocked composition, and the chiaroscuro that reinforces the dramatic impact of this symbolic figure. Serge Poliakoff’s painting from 1966, an abstract of course, also echoes certain of these characteristics, especially chiaroscuro. 
  • Among the extremely rare and precious illuminated manuscripts in the collection of this active member of the International Association of Bibliophilia is a Book of Hours from Rouen, elaborately decorated with full page miniatures, vignettes, and margins generously illustrated in the 15th century style. Certain illuminations were painted by the Talbot Master in Rouen during the 1440s. Other illustrations by Robert Boyvin are posterior and were added to the whole in 1502, an additional proof of the high esteem its contemporary owner held for the already sumptuous work. The art of the illustrated book has crossed the centuries. One of its highpoints was reached in Henri Matisse’s Jazz, published in 1947, where colored forms ally with the white of the paper to create an architectural ensemble on the page. 
  • Finally, it is worth taking a closer look at one of many pieces from the African spoon collection, a Fang spoon from Gabon in sculpted wood. The utensil’s handle has been worked in twisted openwork forms, with its extremity in the shape of a stylized head. In these utilitarian objects, always treated anthropomorphically, the handle and bowl of the spoon make up the body of the figurine. It can easily be compared to another spoon from the Dan of Côte d’Ivoire where everything is reversed: the handle is a narrow cylindrical bust over two legs and the lower part of the pelvis, such that the spoon can stand vertically, while the bowl of the spoon acts as a head. The human imagination knows no limits. The art of collecting is also an act of creation. Ernesto and Liuba Wolf’s collection is a perfect example. In every area they addressed, the works brought together with so much knowledge and taste correspond and create true conversations. » 

Sale dates :
The Wolf Collection, Monday 1 December 2014, at 20.00 Tribal Art, Wednesday 10 December at 19.00

Viewing dates - The Wolf Collection : From Friday 28 November 2014 to Monday 1 December 2014

First image: Daphnis et Chloé, Marc Chagall and Longus, Paris, Tériade, 1961, No. 134/250 (estimate: 120,000 - 180,000 ?? / 155,000 - 230,000 $)

Second image: Book of Hours for the use of Rouen, manuscript on parchment decorated with miniatures attributed to the Master of Talbot, to Robert Boyvin and to an illuminator from Rouen, circa 1440, 1470-1480, approximately 1502 (estimate: 50, 000-70 ?? / 67,000 - 95,000 $).