Claude Monet ‘Water Lilies’ Hammers $54 Million at London Impressionist Sale


Claude Monet, a well-known figure in the Impressionist movement, had one of his iconic water lily paintings go for sale at Sotheby’s London on Monday evening, and hammer at a price of over $54 million. The sale was titled Impressionism and Modern Art Evening Sale, and featured works by such masters of the 20th century as Pablo Picasso, Piet Mondrian, Wassily Kandinsky, and Claude Monet. The Impressionist Frenchman stole the show though, with three of his four works achieving the highest prices in the auction room.

The $54 million dollar painting, which was the top lot of the sale, is officially entitled Nymphéas, and was painted in Monet’s now famous garden pond in Giverny, France in 1906. It was one of a series of paintings finished there, in which water lilies are the primary subject matter. The estimate coming into the auction on Monday evening was between $34 and $51 million, so the result was a success by achieving above the high estimate, but was still below the artist’s all time high of $80 million achieved in 2008 when the art market was at its last peak.

The painting itself is a beautiful snapshot of water lilies floating in a pond, and the surrounding reflections in the water, all sketched hazily together in a mix of pastel colors. The oil on canvas work is signed and dated in the lower right hand corner of the large 34 3/4 inches by 39 3/8 inches canvas. The work was previously purchased in 2000 by the seller at Christie’s auction house in New York and then loaned out to the Houston Museum of Fine Arts from 2011 to 2013 to increase awareness of the work.

Two other works by Monet sold at Sotheby’s London, an oil on canvas painting titled Antibes, Veu du Plateau Notre-Dame and another oil on canvas La Seine à Argenteuil. They sold for $13.5 million and $14.6 million respectively. The auction was a complete success overall as it was the third best auction at Sotheby’s London in the field of Impressionist and Modern Art in the history of the company. The total amount for the Impressionist and Modern sale was just under $208 million, including the hammer price of Monet’s water lilies for $54 million, which was an increase of 15 percent in overall value compared to the same sale last year. A total of 91.3 percent of the lots were sold at the auction for 96.2 percent of the estimated value, making it a very profitable occasion for Sotheby’s.

Sotheby’s spokesman felt the sale was a big success. Estimates were rather conservative to begin with, so collectors were more likely to begin bidding for the works they felt were valued appropriately. The company also noted that a number of international collectors from Russia, Asia and Latin America were there for the sales, something that most definitely would not have been occurring only four years ago. Another factor in the success of the sale was the provenance provided by two important collectors who recently passed away, Jan Krugier, a friend of the Picasso family, and Ralph C. Wilson Jr., the long time owner of the Buffalo Bills.

Other works featured in the sale were an iconic work of the De Stijl movement in the Netherlands by Piet Mondrian entitled, Composition with Red, Blue and Grey. Mondrian was known for painting only in primary colors and the tones of white, grey and black. The work sold for $25.9 million, which was within its estimate and the second highest lot in the sale. His paintings often feature simple grids with small bits of color taking up the rectangular spaces. Picasso also did well with two paintings selling for strong prices. L’Atelier (1962) sold for $6 million, and Portrait de Femme (1937) sold for $9.1 million. Both were completed more along the lines of his Cubist works. But everyone was in agreement that Claude Monet’s water lilies hammering at $54 million was the highlight of the Impressionist and Modern sale at Sotheby’s London this year.

By B. Taylor Rash


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