Nine paintings by Impressionist master Claude Monet head to auction this month, including depictions of his famous Haystacks and Giverny's Japanese bridge, that could bring in a total of £100 million.
During his lifetime, Claude Monet's work was largely misunderstood and unappreciated, but today he is one of the world's most celebrated artists and one of the most expensive at auction (his record stands at £65 million). The leader of the Impressionist movement, which was named for one of his paintings, Monet transformed the genre of landscape painting with his plein air technique, capturing the interplay of light and landscape with an inspired perspective.
On 14 May, Monet's previous auction record of £66 million was shattered when Meules achieved over £85 million at Sotheby's. It is not only the most expensive Monet painting ever sold, but the first work of Impressionist art to exceed £85 million as well. In addition to this record-breaking painting, eight additional Monet paintings entered the auction rooms at Sotheby's and Christie's, reflecting some of the artist's best known subjects: the garden at Giverny, a coastal seascape, and the idyllic French countryside. In total, eight of the nine paintings offered were sold, totalling over £130 million for the master of Impressionism. Here, we round up all of the Monet paintings that appeared at auction and the stories behind them:
Meules, 1890. Sold: £86.21 million
Next to his famed waterlilies, Monet's bulbous Meules(in English, Haystacks) are his most recognised motif. In 1890, the artist purchased his home and gardens in Giverny and the surrounding area became his main inspiration. Haystacks, once just a background addendum, became the focus in this series and this work captures Monet's singular mastery of the sun's glow on the edges of the haystacks and streams of light through the field. His use of rich tones of reds, purples, greens and pinks infuse the painting with a sense of his love of colour and passion for capturing nature's beauty. The harmony of sky, sun and countryside convey Monet's own sense of harmony at his settled life at Giverny that year. The painting was purchased in 1892 by Mrs. Potter Palmer, the wife of the wealthy Chicago industrialist, who was one of the earliest patrons and champions of Monet's art and had been owned by the Palmer family ever since. The £86.21-million-sale sets a record for the Impressionist, beating out the £66 million that was paid for Nymphéas en fleur, depicting his famed waterlilies, that was sold as part of the Rockefeller collection at Christie's in May 2018.
Coin du bassin aux nymphéas, 1918-19. Estimated: £12-20 million
Downplaying the focus on his iconic waterlilies, Monet chose to capture a different perspective of his garden, emphasising the dense greenery of his foliage and trees, with just a small corner of the pond in view. As World War I came to a close, the artist threw himself into painting the peaceful serenity of his personal Eden at Giverny with lush tones of emerald and chartreuse and an element of filtered sunlight, a figurative combat to the devastation that raged in France, as well as his mortality: he was then 74 and had already grieved the deaths of his beloved wife and favourite son.
Le pont Japonais, 1918-24. Estimated: £9.2-13.7 million
Monet painted 24 versions of the Japanese bridge that arcs over his pond at Giverny between 1918-24, and today, only six are in private collections. As his eyesight was on the decline towards the end of his 70s, his paintings take on a more abstracted form as the semi-distinguishable bridge is almost lost in the swirling shades of green and blue paint.
Prairie, ciel nuageux, 1890. Estimated: £4.6-6.1 million
Painted the same year as his Meules series, Prairie, ceil nuageux (translating to meadow, cloudy sky) also depicts Monet's main source of inspiration: the serenity, beauty and rural landscape he found outside of Paris. This work was likely a precursor to his Meules series, as just one faraway haystack figures in the work. Here he highlights the billowing white clouds and the curvature of the towering trees that dominate two thirds of the painting, while the speckled wheat fields mirror the cloudy sky on a smaller, more earthly scale.
La prairie fleurie, 1885. Estimated: £3-4.6 million
This colourful work captures the halcyon charm of the French countryside, as the vibrant flower meadow contrasts the cloudy sky that forebodes rain. A dynamic wind seems to rush across the painting, as the trees bend towards the right against a quickly-moving sky. This is one of Monet's rare landscape works that includes people, and the two figures, likely Monet's step-children, are almost enveloped by the stalks of flowers and grasses. This element of leisurely humanity amidst the bucolic scene of nature echos Monet's own role as a chronicler of the countryside's idyll.
La maison vue du jardin aux roses, 1922-24. Estimated: $3-4.6 million
Translating to the house seen from the rose garden, Monet's painting was one of his final works before his death in 1926. He had lived full-time in Giverny for almost 35 years at this point and his garden had flowered and grown into a veritable forest of colour. As a result of cataract surgery, his perspective on colour was distorted and more blues and reds dominated his paintings. This work is almost fully abstracted, with the outline of the house barely discernible as coils of paint unfurl around the canvas, a celebration of his wild and boundless garden that had inspired him for decades.
Le Palais Dario, 1908. Estimated: £3-4.6 million
"Too beautiful to be painted," announced Monet upon his arrival in Venice, where he was invited for a three-month visit in the fall of 1908. However, despite this exhortation, Monet did paint 37 artworks of La Serenissima's unique architecture and setting, including four works of the Palazzo Dario, a 15th century Venetian Gothic palazzo distinguished by its facade's marble oculi. Monet rendered the façade and the canal in tones of purple and blue, his brief strokes capturing the palazzo's reflection on the water. A touch of yellow light peeks between the buildings, adding a signature Monet glow to the tableau. Of Monet's four Palazzo Dario portrayals, two are in museums: the Art Institute of Chicago and the National Museum of Wales.
Nature morte au melon d'Espagne, 1879. Estimated: £1.5-3 million
The earliest of Monet's works at auction this month, this still life marks a shift in the artist's oeuvre. While he is best known for his lush Impressionist landscapes, weather conditions and financial straits drove him to experiment with the still life genre in the fall of 1879, when he was living in Vétheuil, a hamlet north of Paris. Struggling financially, Monet painted a series of still lifes, which he imbued with a similar style to his plein air works: painterly brushstrokes, vivid, blended colours, soft edges and attention to the effects of light on each object. The still lifes were a success with his Parisian dealers and revived interest in his art, with Monet exhibiting two of his still lifes at his first solo show in 1880.
La jettée de Fécamp par gros temps, 1881. Estimated: £920,000 to £1.4 million
Monet moved to the riverside town of Vétheuil in 1878 at a difficult time in his life: his first wife was dying of illness and his career was on the decline. He decided to seek inspiration for his works outside of Paris, not far from the rugged Normandy coastline. Over the three years that Monet lived there, his artistic production was prolific and he completed about 350 paintings. This work depicts the jetty at Fécamp, a port town in northern France, in blustery weather as portrayed through the frenetic movement of the waves and liberal use of white to illustrate the foamy spray as waves crashed agains the rocks. Despite the choppy conditions, sail boats still navigate the waters and the grey lighthouse standards stalwart at the front of the jetty. Monet's seascapes embody his Impressionist style: a scene is captured in motion with a sense of the shifting light in the water and clouds above.