Fernand Léger study at forefront of Capsule Gallery sales Oct. 17

Fernand Léger (French, 1881-1955), ‘Study for Composition with Three Figures,’ 1932, Chinese ink on paper, initialed lower right, image: 27 x 19½in., frame: 34 x 26¼in. Capsule Gallery image

NEW YORK — Capsule Gallery Auction will present The Naked City, a two-part sale of figurative art, photography and editions, on Thursday, Oct. 17, at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Eastern Time. The morning session features cityscapes and city life, and the afternoon session focuses on the human form. In these sales, people, places and things are portrayed across mediums. Bid absentee or live online through LiveAuctioneers.

The Naked City features works from Bernice Abbott, Salvador Dalí, Robert Motherwell, Leonora Carrington, Man Ray, John Baldessari, Max Beckmann, Ansel Adams, Alberto Giacometti, Fernand Leger, Red Grooms, Jean Jansem, Joan Miro, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Philip Guston, Aaron Siskind, Richard Estes, Sol Libsohn, James Abbott McNeill Whistler and many more.

The top featured lot is a study for Fernand Léger’s Composition aux trois figures (above), estimated at $30,000-$50,000. Considered an important ancestor to pop art, Léger’s work elevated the mechanical alongside the natural, destroying what he saw as outdated hierarchies of value and beauty. Once one let go of “prejudices” that ranked the fine arts above the machine, or the natural above the manufactured, and considered an object’s value for itself, then one would be able to see that “Le beau est partout” — beauty is everywhere.

In a study for that painting dated the same year, Léger sketched the three women separately. The only details they lack from the painting are shading and fingernails, and the flower held by the lowest woman is somewhat less elaborate. Their bodies are composed of thick dark lines forming hard separations between their arms and shoulders, breasts and torsos, and legs and hips, emphasizing the impression that they are mechanical assemblages of parts, like dolls. Yet they are hardly delicate; their forms are rounded and sturdy, dominating the frame. The faint traces of a grid that remain on the paper betray the architectural precision with which Léger arranged the figures’ seemingly casual poses. If the finished composition argued for the equal appreciation of mechanical and natural beauty, then this sketch honors the natural by reducing it to its structural elements. The study makes a bold beginning to what would become a bold painting, relying on the geometry of the figures’ bodies to speak for themselves.

The streets of New York come to life in the Naked City’s morning session through the evocative cityscapes of Berenice Abbot, Harold Roth, Jack Roth, Sol Lisbohn, Benn Mitchell, and other photographers of the mid-20th century. These images from notable New York school photographers capture a city apart from time, from snowscapes of famous locations such as the Empire State Building, Times Square and the Flatiron Building, to quotidian scenes of daily life from a bygone era. The sale featuring items from the Giacometti estate in New York and a private New Jersey photography collection.

Harold Roth, (American, 1918-2001), ‘Empire State Building,’ 1940, gelatin silver print,
signed verso, sheet: 13¼ x 10¼in. Estimate: $500-$800. Capsule Gallery image

Other highlights of the sale include a Jean Jansem oil on canvas of two children, estimated from $3,000-$5,000; a Marie Laurencin watercolor, estimated from $5,000-$8,000; a Jonas Lie oil on canvas of Morning in Douarnenez, estimated from  $5,000-$10,000; and an Ansel Adams print of the Golden Gate Before the Bridge, San Francisco, California, estimated from $8,000-$12,000.

Ansel Adams, (American, 1902-1984), ‘The Golden Gate Before the Bridge, San Francisco, California,’ 1978, gelatin silver print, signed lower right, dated artist stamp verso, image: 14 7/8 x 18 1/8in., sheet: 21 7/8 x 27 7/8in. Estimate: $8,000-$12,000. Capsule Gallery image

For more information, contact Capsule Gallery at 212-353-2277 or info@capsuleauctions.com.