Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Evening sale in London will feature this Monet, Nymphéas from 1908 with a pre-sale estimate of £25-35m. The work comes as part of a collection of three works Sotheby’s has named La Nouvelle Peinture: A Distinguished Family Collection. Helena Newman, Chairman, Sotheby’s Europe and Worldwide Head of Impressionist and Modern Art, answered a few questions for us about Monet and his market:
There seems to have been a shift in the Monet market from valuing the Impressionist scenes at the apex of Monet’s oeuvre to placing some of the series pictures—Meules, Venice, etc—there. Is that a function of scarcity? Or is there value in the association of the works to variations in great museums and collections?
That’s correct. If you look at the top prices for Monet, all but one are for his acclaimed series paintings with the top price of course being our recent record-breaking sale of the Meules painting last monthfor $110million – not just a new auction record for the artist, but also the first time an Impressionist work has crossed the $100 million threshold at auction. This interest really relates to the nature of these works as series paintings. Working in a series in this way was a stroke of genius, and not something that anyone had attempted before to the same extent – and it was technique that was hugely influential for artists of the twentieth century. Monet’s series are among the most immediately recognisable paintings in the world. Of course, this is partly due to their presence in the major museums – if you take just the Nymphéas of 1905-08, there are 23 in museum collections, including the Art Institute of Chicago, Bridgestone Museum in Tokyo and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem to name a few.
How did this shift come about?
Well, whilst his earlier works from the 1870s represent the height of Impressionism, by the time he embarks on the series paintings of the 1890s he is doing something quite different. They are a critical step forward in his artistic development, and the radical way in which Monet approaches colour and form in these works marks the beginnings of abstraction. They are incredibly modern and as such have universal market appeal, speaking not only to traditional collectors of Impressionist art but also to the kind of serious international collectors who might also have works by Rothko or Richter on their walls and want to acquire a major Monet to sit alongside these. That was certainly something we saw with the sale of the Haystacks with bidding from across the world.
Not all of the Nymphéas are valued equally. Could you give us a rough map of the Nymphéas by how the market values the works. Not all of the Nymphéas are valued equally. Could you give us a rough map of the Nymphéas by how the market values the works?
Although the waterlilies were a subject Monet returned to repeatedly, and almost obsessively, in the last three decades of his life, there are two major periods that attract the top prices, the first between 1904-09 and then a later period between 1914-1919. These later works are often on an extremely large scale and command correspondingly high prices with the previous top two prices for the artist (prior to the Meules) being for post-1914 monumental Nymphéas with both selling in excess of $80m. Equally works from the 1904-09 period consistently achieve strong prices and have sold to date in the $50m + range. This period, exemplified by the beautifully lyrical 1908 painting we are offering later this month, represents a pinnacle in his treatment of the subject. This is the moment he begins to use the square format for the first time, and the best of these paintings have a remarkable delicacy of execution with that wonderful, shimmering grey-blue that really encapsulates his mastery of colour and light and is highly sought after by global collectors.