Le Bassin aux Nymphéas by Claude Monet.
Photo: Courtesy of Sotheby's

Monet ‘Water Lilies’ Painting Expected to Fetch $40 Million at Sotheby’s

Hitting the block in May, the striking canvas was conceived as part of the artist’s legendary series depicting his beloved lily pond in Giverny, France

To cap off the successful Sotheby’s Modern Art evening live-streamed sale in Hong Kong on April 18, a stunning painting by Claude Monet from his famous “Water Lilies” series was revealed to a global audience. The work, titled Le Bassin aux Nympheas, will be hitting the block during the  Impressionist and Modern Art evening sale, taking place in New York on May 12, where it is estimated to fetch $40 million.

Measuring nearly 40 by 79 inches, this striking canvas was created between 1917–19 and was conceived as part of the artist’s legendary series of monumental paintings depicting his beloved lily pond at his home in Giverny, France. The so-called “Grandes Décorations,” examples of which can be found in the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the paintings from this series are defined by their large scale. They also mark a radical shift in the artist’s creative direction, as he utilized a near abstract treatment of the water surface, implemented a bolder color palette, and demonstrated strong, gestural brushstrokes.

Le Bassin aux Nymphéas, by Claude Monet. Photo: Courtesy of Sotheby's

“This monumental painting beautifully encapsulates how Monet’s oeuvre evolved over time from his Impressionist breakthroughs to a more abstract focus with his preoccupation of his pond and water lilies,” says Julian Dawes, co-head of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Department in New York. “From this perspective, this work opens a whole new window onto how Monet would influence later generations of artists who expanded on his radical concepts into full abstraction and set the stage for a new artistic movement that would take the world by storm.”

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Monet’s lush depictions of his beloved sun-dappled lily pond are perhaps the most admired and influential paintings of the early-modern era. Monet had already achieved some fame as a painter in Paris as the leading artist of the Impressionist movement, beautifully capturing the city and its street life. But it was in 1883, when he moved with his family to the small farming community of Giverny, that he was totally consumed by the beauty of the natural surroundings and would create some 250 works from there. Three years after purchasing the home, he acquired an adjacent piece of land and applied for permission to dig a pond. In his petition to the local authorities, it is said that Monet specified that the pond would serve “for the pleasure of the eyes and also for the purpose of having subjects to paint.”

Le Bassin aux Nymphéas by Claude Monet. Photo: Courtesy of Sotheby's

Monet is also said to have told a visitor to his studio, “It took me some time to understand my water lilies. I planted them purely for pleasure; I grew them with no thought of painting them. A landscape takes more than a day to get under your skin. And then, all at once, I had the revelation—how wonderful my pond was—and reached for my palette. I’ve hardly had any other subject since that moment.”

Le Bassin aux Nympheas was last was seen on the market at Sotheby’s in 2004, when it was sold from the collection of Hollywood and Broadway producer Ray Stark and his wife, Fran, for $16.8 million, with fees, above a high estimate of $12 million. If it reaches its high estimate of $40 million, it will among the most expensive works by the Impressionist ever to be sold at auction.

Claude Monet's Water Lilies at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Photo: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

In recent years, prices for Monet’s great paintings have soared at auction, driven by increased demand from for museum-quality works. The top price at auction for any Monet painting was set with his Haystacks that sold for $110.7 million at Sotheby’s in New York in 2019. Important past sales from the Giverny series meanwhile, include Le Bassin aux nymphéas, which was formerly owned by the philanthropists Irwin and Xenia Miller and sold at Christie’s London in June 2008 for $80.4 million, doubling its pre-sale estimate of $35 million to $47 million. In 2018, the star lot of the Christie’s Impressionist sale was Monet’s Nymphéas en fleur, formerly owned by David and Peggy Rockefeller. It fetched $84,687,500 against an estimate of $30 million to $40 million.

Christie’s has also announced a painting by Monet will be hitting the block in May 2021 at its 20th-century sale. Waterloo Bridge, effet de brouillard, (effect of fog) created between 1899–1903 carries an estimate of $35 million.

Monet’s record-breaking Meules (Haystacks), 1890. Photo: Sotheby’s

The work will go on view in Taipei beginning April 26 before returning to the New York flagship for exhibition by appointment beginning May 1. 

Cover: Le Bassin aux Nymphéas by Claude Monet.
Photo: Courtesy of Sotheby's


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