Phillips aims for $70m haul with New York sale of works from the Triton Collection Foundation


Add another name-brand collection to New York’s marquee auction calendar next month: Phillips has announced it will stage a dedicated evening sale of 30 works from the Triton Collection Foundation on 14 November. The trove, which spans art movements ranging from Impressionism to post-war abstraction, carries a total estimate of $70m and is backed by an undisclosed house guarantee.

Originally acquired by the Dutch shipping and oil magnate Willem Cordia and his wife, Marijke van der Laan, the works forming the Triton collection were transferred into a foundation after Cordia’s death in 2011. A major catalogue published in 2012 states that the holdings then consisted of around 250 works by more than 170 artists, primarily those active in the west between 1870 and 1970, with an eye toward the canonical milestones of the avant-garde.

The public domain contains relatively little additional information about the Triton collection or the foundation. “It’s a very Dutch approach,” says Jean-Paul Engelen, Phillips’s Dutch-born president of the Americas, who has known the family since the 1990s. “It’s about the academic joy of a journey of collecting, not about building a museum in their honour.”

The auction’s roots lie in the changing tastes of the next generation. Cordia’s two children are now overseeing the foundation, and their interests gravitate much more toward blue-chip contemporary art than the earlier artists collected by their parents, according to Engelen.

He adds that the house views the 30 works in the sale as comprising four distinct groups: Impressionist works, Post-Impressionist works by the French artists known as Les Nabis, Cubist works and post-war works.

Two lots carry an estimate of $15m-$20m each. The first is a canvas by Fernand Léger displaying separate Cubist works on each of its two sides. Adorning the front is Le 14 juillet ou la maison sous les abres (1912-13), a Cubist perspective on a Bastille Day celebration with multiple French flags flying. On the reverse side is a 1911-12 entry from Léger’s Fumées sur les toits series depicting the modernising Paris skyline from the artist’s studio window; the piece was rediscovered after extensive conservation work funded by the Triton Collection Foundation.

Sharing top billing in the auction is Picasso’s Femme en corset lisant un livre (1914-17), a more colourful later development in the artist’s Cubist phase, with an identical $15m-$20m estimate. Complementing this work is George Braque’s earlier, more muted Cubist work La bouteille de Bass (around 1911-12), made during a time when he and Picasso were, in the words of the former, working like “mountain-climbers roped together”. Phillips hopes it could fetch as much as $10m.

The only other lot in the sale to reach such lofty price expectations is an untitled Joan Mitchell canvas from 1954, painted in the midst of the artist’s transition from a blockier, de Kooning-esque vocabulary to her signature gestural brushstrokes in bold hues. Acquired directly from Mitchell estate, the work could bring $7m-$10m.

Joan Mitchell, Untitled c. 1954. Courtesy of Phillips.

The full grouping is fresh to auction. Of the 30 works to be offered, 24 will come to the block for the first time. They were also selected with extraordinary care, says Engelen. He attributes this quality to Cordia and Van der Laan beginning to collect in an earlier era that allowed for extensive consultation with dealers, scholars and museum curators before choosing what to acquire.

“They were not buying from Instagram where you have to make a decision in five minutes,” he says. “You look at these paintings, and they’re all from the right dates.”

Phillips will tour the works to at least three cities—Paris, Hong Kong and Los Angeles—before previewing them in New York in the days immediately preceding the sale. These stops will mark the first time the 30 pieces have been exhibited together in a single location.

Throughout its history, the Triton Collection Foundation has prioritised the lending of works from the collection to museums. Phillips’s records indicate that the organisation has executed loans with at least 84 museums inside and outside the Netherlands, ranging from The Van Gogh Museum and The Rijksmuseum, to Tate Modern and MoMA, to The Seoul Museum of Art and The Yokohama Art Museum in Japan.

One of these loans ended in infamy. A gang of art thieves stole seven paintings lent to the Kunsthal Rotterdam in October 2012. The works, which included examples by Gauguin, Matisse, Monet, Picasso, and Lucian Freud, were never recovered; the foundation reportedly accepted a $24m insurance payment in exchange for the ownership rights to the missing pieces in 2013.

Phillips’s upcoming sale is not the first time the Triton Collection Foundation has consigned a significant number of works to a major auction house. Christie’s sold 48 works on paper from the organisation’s holdings in a standalone auction in Paris in March 2015. The sale brought €9.8m overall (with fees).

“Ultimately, our role is to serve as temporary hosts for the incredible works in an ever-evolving collection,” says Keesjan Cordia, the son of the collection’s founders, in a prepared statement. “These dynamics make collecting memorable and fun; it should always be evolving over generations, and we, as parents ourselves, hope that the next generation will do the same.”


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