An auction house worker poses in front of Claude Monet’s ‘Le bassin aux nympheas.’ [Photo by Lefteris Pitarakis/AP/IHT]
One of Claude Monet’s late paintings of waterlilies, finished at a time when he had doubts about his ability to see the colors in his palette, sold at Christie’s auction last night for £40.92 million. “Le bassin aux nympheas” had not been seen in public for eighty years, according to the International Herald Tribune :
Dated 1919, the “Nymphéas” seen at Christie’s once belonged to the celebrated American collector Norton Simon before passing into the hands of the late Xenia and J. Irwin Miller of Columbus, Indiana, part of whose collection was consigned by their estate.
The aura surrounding the couple of art patrons, who displayed their works in a 1957 house that was one of the finest built by Eero Saarinen, undoubtedly enhanced the picture. So did the scarcity of these compositions by Monet, the greatest of which are now ensconced in museums. The appearance of the picture, never seen in public since a “Monet Memorial Exhibition” held at the Philadelphia Arts Club in 1927, caused a sensation among connoisseurs. This contributed in no mean measure to its performance on Tuesday, when the “Nymphéas” doubled the previous record for the artist set less than two months ago in the course of Christie’s New York sale on May 6, in which a view of the railway bridge at Argenteuil dating from 1873 brought $41.48 million.
Other records were set for Russian avant garde painters of the early 20th century:
A flower composition by Natalia Goncharova, done in 1912 in an Expressionist manner that sets it apart within her œuvre, rose to £5.52 million, beating by 10 percent the record established in June 2007 at Christie’s London for a figural scene in the folkloric style that she cultivated in 1909.
The biggest surprise among the Russian school paintings was caused by Vera Rockline whose name, while familiar to specialists, means little to the wider public. “The Card Players” painted in 1919 two years before the artist emigrated to France, betrays the influence of French Cubism and possibly that of Italian Futurist artists such as Gino Severini, but remains entirely original. At £2.05 million, more than five times the upper end of the estimate, it left far behind the previous auction record set earlier this month at Sotheby’s London when a reclining nude sold for £265,250.