There it hung Friday morning, all alone on a creamy gray wall in an auction house in midtown Manhattan: Huguette Clark‘s painting by Claude Monet of the artist’s famous lily pond in Giverny.
So this is what $25 million to $35 million looks like! And some of that money may be coming soon to the Corcoran Gallery of Art.
The painting is 39-by-32 inches, in a gold frame. The center invites you into a cool swoon of mauve, yellow, green and blue. Red and white lily flowers float above. Painted in 1907, this “Nympheas” hasn’t been publicly displayed since 1926. It was radical for its time, and a departure from other famous views Monet painted of his beloved lily pond, because the artist has dispensed with nearly all points of reference. It is almost pure abstraction.
Clark bought it in 1930. The reclusive copper heiress died in 2011 at 104. Like her father before her, billionaire Montana Senator William A. Clark, Huguette was a benefactor of the Corcoran Gallery of Art.
Now the Washington art world is paying especial attention to the upcoming Tuesday evening auction of the Monet at Christie’s, because if things go well, the cash-strapped Corcoran stands to gain: Under the terms of a settlement last year in the titanic battle over Huguette Clark’s $300 million estate, it was agreed that the Corcoran will receive half of any proceeds over $25 million from selling the Monet. (In the settlement, the Corcoran also received $11.5 million directly.)
The folks at Christie’s are optimistic that the bidding could go splendidly.
“This is quite simply a perfect storm for the market today,” said Brooke Lampley, head of the Impressionist and Modern Art department, during a media preview. “It is an icon by one of the most important artists in art history, from the most well known series of his work, and it’s also completely fresh to the market, having only had one previous owner, Huguette Clark.”
Three paintings by Renoir also owned by Clark will be auctioned as well. The proceeds from those sales will go to the estate, to be distributed to family members and other purposes. The Renoirs hung together on another wall in the same room of the auction house, looking positively realistic compared to the Monet. They are “Jeunes filles jouant au volant” (estimated $10 million to $15,000); “Chrysanthemes” ($3.5 million to $5.5 million); and “Femme a l’ombrelle” ($3 million to $5 million).
The story behind “Chrysanthemes” is kind of nice: Huguette and her mother bought it after an afternoon stroll in New York one day a couple weeks after the 1929 stock market crash. They also picked up a Pissarro and a Degas on that walk.
Forty-eight other works from other sellers will also be auctioned Tuesday evening, a stunning survey of art history, including pieces by Picasso, Kandinsky, Degas, Miro and Giacometti.
Meanwhile, back at the Corcoran, as they await news from the auction, officials are trying to finalize details of the recently announced arrangement with the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University.