‘Meules’ by Claude Monet
‘Meules’ by Claude Monet, a 2ft 5in x 3ft 1in (73 x 93cm) oil on canvas from 1890 that sold for $97m (£75.2m) at Sotheby’s New York. It posted the eighth-highest price for a work of art sold at auction.

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Meules from 1890 was one of 25 works in the haystacks series, of which eight remain in private ownership.

Another example had sold at Christie’s New York in November 2016 for $72.5m (£58m) but Sotheby’s said its picture, which was estimated ‘in excess of $55m’, was “the finest example from this celebrated series”.

Although it was identical in terms of size to the example at Christie’s, it was arguably more radiant with the golden sunlight dipping over the mounds of hay.

The work came to auction from a private vendor and was being sold to benefit two not-for-profit’ institutions. Sotheby’s had arranged an ‘irrevocable bid’ from a third party, meaning it was always bound to sell on the night.

At the auction, it drew a lengthy bidding battle before it was finally knocked down to an unidentified woman in the room at $97m (£75.2m).

The price, as well as breaking the record for Monet – previously held by Nymphéas en fleur from c.1914-17 which sold for $84.7m (£62.4m) including premium at Christie’s sale of the Rockefeller collection – also established a new high for any Impressionist picture.

The sum also ranks as number eight on the all-time list of highest auction prices.

Provenance

Meules had a provenance that could be traced back to its original purchase from Monet’s dealer Durand-Ruel. It was acquired from the Paris gallery in 1892 by wealthy Chicago dry goods and property magnate Potter Palmer and his wife Bertha Honoré Palmer although, in a somewhat unusual move, she sold the picture back to Durand-Ruel before then buying it back again within the same year.

The indecision may have been on account of the fact that the Palmers owned other works from Monet’s Meules series – including two that were later donated to the Art Institute of Chicago after Bertha’s death.

This painting at Sotheby’s, however, remained with the family until it was sold at Christie’s New York in May 1986 where it took $2.3m.

The record Monet provided a sizable chunk of Sotheby’s $349.9m (£271.2m) overall total from its Impressionist and Modern art evening sale with 50 of the 55 lots selling on the night (91%). It was the highest total for a sale in this category at Sotheby’s since May 2015.

Elsewhere at the sale, Sotheby’s claimed a record for a 1960s work by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) when Femme au chien, a portrait of his wife Jacqueline and his beloved Afghan hound, was knocked down at $48m (£37.2m) to Wynn Fine Arts, owned by Las Vegas collector Steve Wynn.

‘Femme au chien’ by Pablo Picasso

‘Femme au chien’ by Pablo Picasso – $48m (£37.2m) at Sotheby’s New York.

Christie’s Impressionist & Modern art evening sale the night before raised

US$399m (£309.3m) with 54 of the 63 lots (86%) finding buyers. It was led by two of the five lots that came from the collection of the late media baron Samuel Irving ‘SI’ Newhouse Jr – Paul Cézanne’s (1839-1906) Bouilloire et fruits, which was knocked down to a phone buyer at $52m (£40.3m), and Vincent Van Gogh’s Arbres dans le jardin de l'asile, which made $40m (£31m) with fees.

The buyer’s premium at Sotheby’s was 25/20/13.9%.

The buyer’s premium at Christie’s was 25/20/13.5%.

£1=$1.29