NEW YORK, NY.-
On November 7, as the star lot of its Evening Sale of Impressionist and Modern Art, Christies
New York will offer Claude Monets Nymphéas, a 1905 view of the lily pond at Giverny from the iconic series that was the crowning achievement of the artists career. Estimated at US$30-50 million, the painting is from the Estate of Ethel Strong Allen, widow of the late Wall Street executive Herbert Allen Sr. In keeping with the Allen familys long tradition of charitable support, the Monet and two Impressionist landscapes by Camille Pissarro and Alfred Sisley were bequeathed by Mrs. Allen to Hackley School, a not-for-profit K-12 independent school in Tarrytown, NY, about 20 miles from Manhattan. Proceeds from their sale will benefit the schools long-term development goals.
Monets views of his beloved lily pond at Giverny are perhaps the most admired and influential paintings of the early modern era. He had already enjoyed a celebrated career in Paris as the leading artist of the Impressionist movement when he moved with his family to the small farming community of Giverny in 1883 and began working on the elaborate gardens that would fascinate and inspire him for the last two decades of his life.
The Nymphéas featured in the upcoming sale dates from 1905, the year Monet began his most intensive work on a dazzling array of paintings of the lily pond at the heart of his garden. Working feverishly, he would complete more than 60 increasingly abstract views of the pond between 1905 and 1908, or about one every three weeks. The best works of the series including the Allen Nymphéas were selected for his 1909 exhibition at Galerie Durand-Ruel in Paris, which proved to be an unprecedented commercial and critical success for Monet. Raved one critic at the time, There is no other living artist who could have given us these marvelous effects of light and shadow, this glorious feast of color.
The first owner of the Nymphéas featured in the sale was the dealer Paul Durand-Ruel himself, who later sold the work to the prominent American collectors Charles B. Alexander and Harriet Crocker, daughter of railroad magnate Charles Crocker. It was acquired by Ethel Strong Allen and Herbert Allen Sr. in 1979 and remained out of the public eye until 1998, when Mrs. Allen generously loaned the work to the critically acclaimed exhibition Monet in the 20th Century organized by Londons Royal Academy of Arts and Bostons Museum of Fine Arts.
The sheer beauty of the paintings in the Nymphéas series make us forget that in 1905, these works were a radical departure from all traditional notions of landscape painting. Monet had traded his ordered views of the lily pond and its distant banks for close-up, destabilized depictions of the water surface itself a decision that allowed him to introduce a near-infinite variety of shifting forms and plays of light into his paintings. This daring move established Monet beyond any doubt as the most innovative landscape painter of his day, noted Brooke Lampley, Head of Impressionist and Modern Art at Christies New York.
In recent years, prices for Monets great serial paintings have soared at auction, driven by renewed demand from collectors worldwide for masterpiece-quality works. The top price at auction for any Monet painting was set with Le Bassin aux nymphéas, a later, large-scale view of the artists beloved lily pond completed in 1919. The work sold at Christies London in June 2008 for US$ 80.4 million, doubling its pre-sale estimate of US$ 35-47 million.
Upon Mrs. Allens death earlier this year, the Nymphéas, along with works by Pissarro and Sisley, were bequeathed from her estate to Hackley School. Three generations of the Allen family have attended the school, and Mrs. Allens late husband served as a trustee and honorary trustee of Hackley for nearly 45 years. His son, Herbert A. Allen, previously donated $10 million to support the schools long term development goals, including the purchase of 172 contiguous acres from the Laurance S. Rockefeller Fund. With sales of the three paintings from the Allen estate expected to achieve a combined total well in excess of $35 million, the bequest to Hackley School may be among the largest ever made to an independent school in the state of New York.