Christie’s has announced the sale of a Monet work pre-figuring the famous Haystacks series that has never been on the auction market. The work comes to Christie’s as the result of a restitution settlement with the heirs of René Gimpel:
This idyllic, summertime view of the countryside in Giverny where Monet made his home is an important precursor to the iconic Haystacks series of 1890-91. Estimated at US$12-18 million, the painting has never been offered at auction previously, and now is being sold pursuant to a settlement agreement between the consignor and the heirs of René Gimpel, the esteemed French art dealer.
Monet painted Les meules à Giverny during the high summer of 1885, two years after he had moved with his wife and family to the tiny rural hamlet that is now indelibly linked with his name. On this particular day, Monet set off for La Prairie, a vast pasture near his home, with his wife Alice Hoschedé and their three youngest children, all of whom are featured at the left in the finished painting. The scene’s haystacks are the most prominent feature in the landscape; the front face of each haystack is awash in golden light, rendered in vigorous touches of yellow and peach, while the far side has sunken into shades of deep purple and pink.
Pleased with the success of Les meules à Giverny, as well as three earlier depictions of haystacks Monet completed from nearly the same vantage point the previous summer, Monet would famously return to this motif in 1890, to embark on the iconic Meules series that became of one the crowning achievements of his long career. For Monet, the haystacks were indivisible from his sense of national pride; they represented the local farmers’ livelihood, the fruits of their labors and their hopes for the future. With their exquisitely nuanced description of the fleeting effects of light, the paintings from La Prairie helped Monet re-assert French Impressionism’s vitality at the turn of the century and build new audiences among New World collectors and patrons.
In 1886, Monet’s dealer Paul Durand-Ruel purchased the painting direct from Monet’s studio and brought it to New York soon after his new gallery opened there in 1888. Frank Thomson, a prominent American railroad executive and one of the earliest patrons of Impressionism in Philadelphia, purchased the painting and added it to his growing collection, and passed it on to his daughter upon his death.
By 1931, the painting had passed into the collection of the prominent French dealer René Gimpel, whose Journal d’un collectionneur (The Diary of an Art Dealer) famously chronicles the rise of the modern art market between the two World Wars. A keen observer and a witty, sometimes acerbic writer, Gimpel documented his relationships with cultural luminaries from Picasso to Proust, with competing art dealers, and with American mega-collectors such as Henry Clay Frick, Henry Ford, and John D. Rockefeller. He described visiting the aging Monet at Giverny, where he had the opportunity to admire Les grandes décorations – the massive mural series that took him 10 years to complete – and to purchase paintings directly from the artist’s studio. During WWII, Gimpel and his sons took active part in the Resistance. René was first interned by the Vichy authorities in 1942 for his underground activities, and released in 1943, but then re-arrested by the Germans in July 1944. Much of his collection was lost or sold under duress. In confinement, he taught English to his fellow prisoners in preparation, he said, for the impending liberation; he died, however, at Neuengamme concentration camp before that day could come. After the war, two of Gimpel’s sons, Charles and Peter, founded the Gimpel Fils gallery in London, carrying on their father’s celebrated legacy.