Is this Painting an Investment?
NOVEMBER 9, 2017
Claude Monet (1840-1926), Coucher de soleil à Lavacourt, 1880. Oil on canvas, 21 ¼ x 31 7/8 in. (54 x 81 cm.). This lot is offered in Christie’s Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale in New York on 13 November 2017. Estimate: $5,000,000-$7,000,000.
Since then, the value of the work has changed dramatically. In 1880, Christie’s $5-7 million estimate would have been inconceivable for Monet, who had suffered years of poor sales and been rejeced by Paris’s prestigious Salon. Disillusioned by group politics, he had also distanced himself from the Impressionists, working alone in the countryside at Vertheuil, far from his native Paris.
Monet’s decision to abandon urban life was, in part, a response to his commercial demise. Though he had spent time in Paris and, later, the bustling suburb of Argenteuil, by 1880, his income had dropped by almost half, rendering the cost of city living unsustainable. His wife Camille was also struck by illness following the birth of their second son, and the countryside promised a calmer setting for her rest and eventual recovery.
Camille’s recovery, however, never came, and she died in September 1879 — just months before this work was completed. The winter that followed was particularly severe, gripping France in a chill that saw temperatures plummet below zero, and caused the Seine to freeze, thaw, and then flood the land around it. Throughout, Monet recorded the changing landscape: working with hot waterbottles strapped to his hands and feet, he captured the evening light as it dwindled, creating paintings that appeared to echo his mourning.
The period marked an exceptional juncture in Monet’s artistic career, inspiring a new, more spontaneous style marked by its extraordinary freshness. Though critics had been unamoured with his work in the past, Coucher de soleil à Lavacourt prompted widespread admiration. Exhibited at the Seventh Impressionist Exhibition in 1882, the work was positively reviewed by critics including J.K Huysmans, who wrote: “His eye seizes every phenomenon of light with astonishing fidelity”.
By 1890, the work had been snapped up by François Depeaux, a Rouen industrialist who was one of the most significant collectors of Impressionism in France, acquiring nearly 600 canvases between 1880 and 1920. It was not until his death, in 1920, that the work would find a new owner: though Depeaux had donated much of his collection to Rouen’s Museum of Fine Arts, this work came to auction at Paris’s Hôtel Drouot, where it sold to a Monsieur J. Danthon.
By 1933, the work had returned to auction again, sold at Hôtel Drouot to a Mme. Lafond. The work then disappeared from the market for 66 years, emerging again at Christie’s New York in 1999.
The History of an Artwork
- 1921 — Bought by François Depeaux from Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris
- 1921 — Sold to a J. Danthon at Paris’s Hôtel Drouot
- 1933 — Returns to Hôtel Drouot and is sold to a Mme. Lafond
- 1999 — Unseen on the market for 66 years, the work sells at Christie’s New York, entering a private collection in Switzerland
- 2004 — Sold to an anonymous buyer at Christie’s New York just five years after its last sale
- 2008 — Returns to Christie’s, this time in London, to be sold to an unknown owner
- 2017 — Nearly a decade after it was last sold, returns to market to join million-dollar lots in Christie’s New York sales in November
Though the exact sums exchanged in these early sales are unknown, records from Monet’s own lifetime show that he asked just 1,000 francs, or around $13,100, for a similar work (Impression: soleil levant) presented at the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874 — a sum that failed to attempt any buyers.
By 1999, however, the price of Coucher de soleil à Lavacourt had skyrocketed. Estimated at $1,500,000-2,500,000, the work sold for $1,872,500, entering a private collection in Switzerland, where it remained for just five years. In 2004, it returned to Christie’s New York with a higher estimate of $2,000,000-3,000,000. It sold to an anonymous buyer for $2,247,500, increasing in value by $375,000.
Though the dramatic collpase of the Lehman Brothers in June 2008 might have shaked market confidence, the collector who bought this Monet in 2004 appeared undeterred. They returned to Christie’s, this time selling in London, where it made for £2,393,250, within its estimate of £1,500,000-2,500,000.
The estimate Christie’s has given the work this November ($5-7 million) is its most ambitious yet. Its performance to-date, however, suggests the sum might be attainable: since 1999, its mid-estimate has increase each time it has been offered, as has its realized price, which has consistently been within or above estimate.
The present owner’s decision to resell the work within a decade, however, may indicate that they are seeking to make a more substantial return on their initial investment. To match 2008’s price to mid-estimate performance, of 1.2 times the mid-estimate, the lot will need to sell for $7.2 million (including buyer’s premium) — just above its high estimate.
To match the value growth witnessed betwen 2004-2008, however, the work will have to sell for considerably more. In this time, its annual growth rate was an exceptional 20 per cent; to equal that today, it would need to sell for $25,074,658 (inc. buyer’s premium) — significantly above its high estimate. Such a result would see the buyer regain a price to mid-estimate ratio of 4.18, compared to the 1.01 average of the previous three sales.
There could certainly be gains to be made on this exceptional work; whether this November’s sale can produce them remains to be seen.