Picasso, Derain Cache, 40 Years in Vault, May Fetch $26 Million

A cache of artworks by artists including Pablo Picasso, Paul Cezanne and Andre Derain is expected to fetch as much as $26 million at auction after being hidden in a bank vault for 40 years.

The collection had been owned by Ambroise Vollard, the dealer who represented leading modernist artists, and will feature in Sotheby’s London and Paris sales in June.

The top lot is Derain’s 1905 Fauvist landscape “Arbres a Collioure,” estimated at 9 million pounds ($13.9 million) to 14 million pounds in Sotheby’s June 22 sale of Impressionist and modern art in London. A week later, the Paris branch of the auction house will offer 140 paintings, drawings, prints and books that had formerly belonged to the dealer. These are valued at 2.5 million euros ($3.4 million) to 3 million euros, the New York-based company said today in an e-mailed statement.

“It’s a real one-off,” said Helena Newman, Sotheby’s London-based head of Impressionist and modern art. “Vollard was Paris’s leading dealer in the new modern artists and this sale is like getting a glimpse into his gallery.”

The 141 pieces had been deposited for safekeeping in a vault of the Societe Generale in Paris by Erich Slomovic, a young Yugoslav who was Vollard’s associate, in 1939 -- the year in which the dealer was killed in a car crash. Slomovic had been given the works to sell on consignment. He died at the hands of the Nazis in 1942, said Sotheby’s.

Legal Dispute

The trove was rediscovered when the vault was opened in 1979. An auction of the collection scheduled for March of that year at the Hotel Drouot in Paris was canceled after legal challenges. The disputes were resolved in 2006 and the works are being sold by agreement among the beneficiaries of the Vollard estate, said Sotheby’s.

The Derain was painted at Collioure in the south of France, where the artist spent a summer working with Matisse. The brilliantly colored landscape may have been among the works exhibited at the Salon d’Automne in Paris in 1905, where the critic Louis Vauxcelles dubbed Derain and Matisse “Fauves” (Wild Beasts).

The low estimate for the Derain painting is in line with the record $14.1 million paid for the artist’s Fauve-period “Barques au port de Collioure” at Sotheby’s New York in November 2009.

The June 29 Paris auction of the rest of the Vollard trove will include an early 1860s Cezanne oil sketch of his friend Emile Zola, valued at 500,000 euros to 800,000 euros, and an version of Picasso’s 1904 etching “Le Repas frugal” -- published by the dealer -- with a high estimate of 400,000 euros.

(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on the story: Scott Reyburn in London at sreyburn@hotmail.com.

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