PARIS—At Drouot-Montaigne in Paris, a four-day auction, held Sept. 16–19, by Pierre Bergé and Associates, offered a selection of Japanese prints, some of which were from the collection of Paris dealer Huguette Berès.
A leading figure in the Parisian art market, she founded the Berès Gallery on the Quai Voltaire in Paris in 1951. The gallery initially specialized in Japanese prints, later adding 19th-century paintings and prints‚ particularly by the French Nabis group, including Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard. The gallery is renowned for having helped an entire generation of Europeans and North Americans rediscover or appreciate the art of ukiyo-e—“the floating world,” which refers to images of the ephemeral. In addition to running the gallery, Berès also channeled her passion for Japanese prints into creating a collection that was recognized worldwide; she later brought in her daughter, Anisabelle Berès, to work and collect alongside her.
The four days of auctions yielded a total of €2.9 million ($3.8 million) on an estimate of €3.5 million ($4.6 million), but the majority of the nearly 2,000 Japanese wood-block prints sold for reasonable prices—almost exclusively under €10,000, ($13,000), and often below €5,000 ($6,500).
Of the opening-day offerings of this sale, which brought together 390 prints, the top lot was an accordion-style album of 40 original drawings and preliminary sketches by one of the best-known masters of Japanese printmaking, Ando Hiroshige, on traveling the Tokaido Road, dated ca. 1840. It fetched €68,202 ($88,660), within its estimate of €50,000/80,000, in a sale that was preempted by the Musée Guimet, Paris.
On the following day, the top lot was Gaifu Kaisei (Cool Wind, Clear Morning), a minimalist print by another master, Katsushika Hokusai, dated after 1930. One of his famous wood-block ukiyo-e images from his series of 36 views of Mount Fuji, this print of the snowy mountaintop surpassed its estimate of €30,000/40,000, bringing in €68,202 ($88,660).
On Sept. 18, the top earner was Toshusai Sharaku’s colorful, expressive Kabuki actor print with two figures, Arashi Ryuzo II playing the role of Yakko Ukiyo Matahei, and Otani III in the role of Yakko Tosa Matahei, dated 1794. The print sold for €86,803 ($112,845), nearly tripling its low estimate of €30,000/60,000. Another print of Sawamura Sojura III playing the role of the poet Otomo No Kuronushi, estimated at €18,000/20,000, sold for €22,321 ($29,020). On the final day of the sale, the top seller was also by Sharaku, of the actor Ichikawa Yaozo III playing Tanabe Bunzo, which sold for €24,801 ($32,241), within the estimate of €20,000/30,000.
Other Japanese prints were also sold, including numerous offerings by Hokusai. An undated woodcut of two water turtles, expected to yield €18,000/20,000, sold under the low estimate at €16,120 ($20,960). Two volumes by Hokusai comprising one hundred views of Mount Fuji, undated and estimated at €10,000/15,000, sold for €16,000 ($20,800). Topping the high estimate, Hokusai’s Poppies in the Breeze, 1830–32, which highlights the Japanese art of ikebana sold for €17,360 ($22,570).