c.2019 New York Times News Service
NEW YORK — After eight minutes of heated competition, Claude Monet’s 1890 painting “Meules” sold for $110.7 million on Tuesday, an auction high for the artist and the most ever for any Impressionist work, according to Sotheby’s in New York, which handled the sale.
The painting, which attracted six bidders, was sold to an unidentified buyer in the room. The final price doubled the work’s pre-auction estimate of $55 million and was the ninth-most-expensive painting ever sold at an international auction house, Sotheby’s said. (The most expensive, Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi,” sold in 2017 for $450 million to an ally of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia.)
“The longer you spend buying it, the longer you’ll spend enjoying it,” quipped Harry Dalmeny, the auctioneer and chairman of Sotheby’s United Kingdom, as he urged the bidders on.
The canvas, sold by an anonymous collector, was one of 25 “Meules” (“Grainstacks”) paintings Monet made in 1890 and 1891 in the fields next to his home in Giverny, France. The series is of particular art historical importance, being the first time Monet systematically evoked the same subject in differing atmospheric conditions.
This example, capturing two stacks at sunset, was particularly vivid in its coloring, and had not been seen on the market since 1986, when its seller acquired it at auction for $2.5 million. Since then the “Meules” have become much coveted by wealthy collectors. It was one of only eight left in private hands; the rest are in museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and the Art Institute of Chicago. A similar painting from the series sold at auction in 2016 for $81.4 million.
Claude Monet’s series paintings are among the few true trophies that can generate real excitement at auctions of Impressionist and modern art. Such museum-quality works by Impressionists now rarely appear at auction.
“They’re so evocative, so romantic and so easy to live with,” Offer Waterman, a London-based dealer, said. “That was the best of the series that’s come up for auction. It was an amazing painting. And you just can’t get them.”
Overall, the Sotheby’s sale raised $349.9 million from 55 lots, 9% of which were unsold. The total beat the company’s $318.3 million achieved at an equivalent Impressionist and modern sale last May, when a Modigliani nude sold for $157.2 million.
The other big sale of the evening was the $54.9 million paid for Pablo Picasso’s 1962 painting “Femme au Chien (Woman With Dog).” It depicted Picasso’s second wife, Jacqueline Roque, seated in an armchair, stroking the couple’s Afghan hound Kaboul.