O f the 25 canvases that the artist created in the early 1890s, Meules from 1890 is one of only four works from this series to come to auction this century and one of only eight remaining in private hands. The other 17 examples reside in the distinguished collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Musee d'Orsay, Paris and, perhaps most notably, six in the collection of theArt Institute of Chicago. Meules is further distinguished by its illustrious provenance, having been acquired by wealthy Chicago socialites and fervent collectors of Impressionist works, Mr. and Mrs. Potter Palmer, directly from the artist's dealer in the 1890s.
Having remained in the same private collection since it was acquired by the present owners at auction in 1986, the radiant canvas will be offered this May with an estimate in excess of $55 million.
Meules belongs to a group of eight outstanding works by Impressionist masters on offer this May from the same important private collection, including defining examples by Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Manet, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Signac, Alfred Sisley and Edouard Vuillard. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the collection will significantly benefit two world-renowned, not-for-profit institutions in the fields of science and music.
This exquisite group of works will debut in a public exhibition beginning 3 May in Sotheby's newly reimagined and expanded York Avenue galleries. This exhibition marks the first public viewing of Meules in over three decades.
August Uribe, Head of Sotheby's Impressionist & Modern Art Department in New York, commented: "It is a privilege to present one of Claude Monet's defining Impressionist paintings in our Evening Sale this May. One of the most recognizable images in art history, Monet's Haystacks series has long served as an inspiration to countless artists since its creation in the early 1890s, and continues to inspire anyone who has viewed one of these canvases first hand. Prior to 2016, a Haystack had not been presented to collectors since Sotheby's London offered a work from the series in June 2001, nearly 20 years ago. In addition, the seven pictures that round out this collection are exceptional in their own right, and the group as a whole is among the finest assemblages of Impressionist works that we have seen in recent years. Anytime a work, such as Meules, that has been so formative in the canon of art history comes to auction there is a palpable energy that ricochets through the market. It is with this immense enthusiasm that we look forward to presenting this wonderful group to collectors worldwide this May."
Brooke Lampley, Vice Chairman of Sotheby's Fine Art Division, said: "It was in 1890 with the Haystacks that Monet first began an intrepid exploration of the varying effects of light and atmosphere on a single subject over the course of time. It is these "series" pictures of haystacks, the Rouen Cathedral, and water lilies in Giverny that would eventually come to define his immense contribution to not only Impressionism, but also Abstraction and 20th century art. Now the most celebrated works of Monet's oeuvre, the series pictures are sought after by Impressionist and Contemporary collectors alike. It is a thrill to be offering a Meule that is not only distinguished among those remaining in private hands, but also easily ranks among the best in the entire series. This is a painting that showcases Claude Monet as an unparalleled landscape painter, and a radically innovative conceptual artist who would influence generations of artists to come."
Claude Monet's Meules
Painted at the height of Claude Monet's artistic powers, Meules stands as a seminal work of Impressionism.
Executed in 1890 and signed and dated by the artist in 1891, Meules was acquired in the early 1890s by Mr. and Mrs. Potter Palmer directly from the artist's dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel. Bertha Palmer, a celebrated Chicago socialite and the wife of well known businessman Potter Palmer, amassed an unrivaled collection of Impressionist works, many of which are now the bedrock of the Art Institute of Chicago's renowned Impressionist collection. Palmer acquired a large portion of the collection between 1891 and 1892 while traveling abroad to help organize the World's Columbian Exposition, where she served as President of the Board of Lady Managers and advocated for women's equality.
The Palmers were introduced to Durand-Ruel in 1889 through curator Sarah Tyson Hallowell, who later introduced them to the artist Mary Cassatt. It is estimated that Mrs. Palmer owned nearly 90 works by Monet over the course of her life, and built a sprawling picture gallery, complete with red velvet walls, in her home to display her collection of Romantic, Barbizon and Impressionist works. Palmer owned six of Monet's grainstack canvases, all purchased following the artist's exhibition at Galerie Durand-Ruel in Paris in 1891. While the Palmers sold many of the pictures shortly after their acquisition, the present work remained in Mrs. Palmer's personal collection until her death in May 1918 and with her heirs for decades after.
Monet began working on the group of paintings that are almost universally known as Haystacks as early as 1884, depicting stacks that were subsumed into a wider environment. However, the major series of majestic canvases depicting grainstacks, with a focus on the evanescent effects of light, were completed between 1889 and 1891. The stacks upon which Monet lavished so much of his energy and vision during those years were actually the stores for wheat and grain, and not for hay as is the popular misconception.
The stacks in the present composition are distinguished from other depictions in the series by the diagonal swaths of light between the forms. Voluminous, full structures, the stacks suggest the great fertility and bountifulness of the Normandy landscape, their surfaces gilded and burnished with the light of the sun, imparting a sense of well-being, vitality and the harmony of nature throughout the canvas. In choosing these powerful grainstacks as his subject, Monet continued a long tradition of depicting the French countryside and its abundant riches as seen in the paintings of Jean-François Millet and the Barbizon school. However, Monet updates this tradition to striking effect. His grainstacks series contains virtually no anecdotal detail: no laborers, no figures walking through the fields or birds flying in the sky. The artist pares down his vision to focus solely on the grainstacks themselves, on the play of light on them, on the sky and the horizon. In its warmth and generosity of vision, in its elevation of the humble grainstack to an emblem of Impressionism, and in its emphasis on form and light, Meules is an undisputed masterpiece of Monet's oeuvre and one of art history's most evocative images.
Further highlights from the collection include Paul Signac's Antibes, Soir (estimate $4/6 million). Painted in 1903, the canvas is a striking example of Paul Signac's Pointillist style, brilliantly evoking the color and changing light of a Mediterranean sunset. The subject of the present work is a view of the Cap d'Antibes, a common focus for Impressionist artists such as Monet, but here Signac brings his own distinct interpretation, rendering the scene in characteristically fluid spots of saturated color. The work was painted at the height of Signac's artistic powers, and nearly a decade before the artist would permanently adopt Antibes as his home.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir's Nature morte au melon, painted circa 1882, is another highlight from the collection (estimate $2/3 million). Intimately scaled, the present work marks the height of Renoir's engagement with Impressionism. Exhibiting precise, energic brushstrokes, the canvas illustrates the artist's ability to adapt the techniques of en plein air painting to a still life motif. The work was created at a time when the artist was executing some of his largest-scale and most ambitious paintings, such as Dance at Bougival from 1883, currently in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Pierre Bonnard's Nature morte a la levrette from circa 1923 coincides with the Tate Modem's current exhibition, Pierre Bonnard - The Colour of Memory, now on view in London through 6 May (estimate $2/3 million). The show marks the first major UK exhibition of the artist's work in 20 years. Having remained in the artist's personal collection until his death in 1947, the present work was most recently featured in The Metropolitan Museum of Art's 2009 exhibition, Pierre Bonnard: The Late Still Lites and Interiors.