Pollock, portrait of Matisse's wife highlights of N.Y. auctions

NEW YORK Fri Mar 22, 2013 3:19pm EDT

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A rare portrait of the wife of Henri Matisse by artist Andre Derain and a monumental work by Jackson Pollock could each sell for $20 million or more in spring auctions in New York, auction houses said on Friday.

Christie's will offer "Madame Matisse," a vibrant 1905 oil canvas with a pre-sale estimate of as much as $20 million, at its sale of Impressionist and modern art on May 8.

At Sotheby's, a highlight of its May 14 sale is likely to be Jackson Pollock's "The Blue Unconscious" from 1946 that is expected to sell for up to $30 million.

Christie's said the Derain portrait, a vibrant 1905 oil on canvas, is the most important work by the French artist ever to appear at auction. Derain painted Matisse's wife during a summer in Collioure in France.

The painting shows Amélie Matisse in the patterned Japanese kimono she often wore and in which her husband painted her, as did several of his colleagues. She holds a red fan and sits with one elbow resting on a table.

The work, one of Derain's few fully realized portraits, will be exhibited in London, Moscow and New York prior to the sale.

Pollock's "Blue Unconscious" has not been offered for sale in nearly 50 years, having remained in the same private collection, according to Sotheby's, which did not disclose the seller.

But the work is likely to generate intense interest since Pollocks are relatively rare at auction. A Pollock record was set in November when Sotheby's sold "Number 4, 1951" for $40.4 million, well above the pre-sale estimate of about $30 million.

The painting is one of seven in Pollock's "Sounds in the Grass" series executed in his studio on Long Island. Five of the works are in major museums, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Peggy Guggenheim Foundation in Venice.

It will be exhibited in Los Angeles, London and New York before the auction at Sotheby's on May 14.

(Reporting by Chris Michaud; Editing by Vicki Allen)

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