Stunning $ 30 million Van Gogh watercolor resurfaces at Christie’s New York following complex backstage deal



Vincent van Gogh’s vibrant watercolor of wheat stacks in a Provencal farmyard will be auctioned at Christie’s, New York on November 11. The painting, which was last exhibited in 1905, has never been reproduced in color. It is estimated at $ 20-30 million.

Wheat stacks (Meules de Blé) was put up for sale after complex negotiations, facilitated by Christie’s, involving three parties. These are the descendants of two Jewish families who owned the Van Gogh during the Nazi era of 1933-45 and the current seller, the heirs of Edwin Cox (1921-2020), a Texan oil tanker. The Cox family are also selling two more Van Goghs, which together are expected to bring in over $ 70 million. All three date from 1888-90, the artist’s most sought-after period in France.

The watercolor of the stacks of wheat was painted at the beginning of June 1888, when Van Gogh was working in Arles and was at the height of his powers. This is a study which resulted a few days later in an oil painting of the same subject, today in the Kröller-Müller Museum.

Van Gogh’s Wheat Stacks in Provence, oil (June 1888) Courtesy of the Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo

About a week later, Vincent sent the watercolor to his brother Theo. In 1905, his widow Jo Bonger lent it to the great Van Gogh retrospective held in Amsterdam. Two years later, she sold the work to the Parisian artist and collector Gustave Fayet.

In 1913 Wheat Stacks was bought by Max Meirowsky (1866-1949), a Berlin-based industrialist. He owned a fine collection of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, including Van Gogh Portrait of Camille Roulin (1888) (now in the Museo de Arte, São Paulo).

After the seizure of power by the Nazis, Meirowsky was persecuted as a Jew and in 1938 he fled to Amsterdam. He then confided Wheat stacks to Paul Graupe, German Jewish art dealer then working in Paris.

Shortly after, the watercolor was purchased by Parisian Alexandrine de Rothschild (1884-1965), a member of the wealthy Jewish banking family. She too was an admirer of Van Gogh, possessing Sunflower House (1887) (now in another private collection). De Rothschild fled to Switzerland at the start of World War II.

Wheat stacks remained in Paris after the German occupation of the city in June 1940. In 1941, the watercolor was seized and kept at the Jeu de Paume, where the looted art was collected. A few weeks later he was sent to Austria (then annexed to Germany), to Kogl Castle in St Georgen im Attergau.

After the war De Rothschild tried to recover Wheat Stacks but failed. The history of watercolor in the immediate postwar period is unclear, but in 1978 it was with the New York branch of the Wildenstein Gallery, owned by a Jewish family based in Paris. Wildenstein sold the Van Gogh to Cox the following year.

Cox hung the watercolor in the living room of his Dallas mansion. At this point, his Van Gogh property remained a secret known only to his family and close friends.

After Cox’s death last year, the sale of his fabulous art collection was arranged with Christie’s and the status issue of Wheat stacks became urgent, because it would have been impossible to sell if there had been any claims in the Nazi era.

Meirowsky’s heir, acting through Berlin lawyers Von Trott zu Solz Lammek, claimed that the Van Gogh was the subject of a “forced sale” in 1938. De Rothschild’s heirs argued that the watercolor had been looted by the Nazi occupiers three years later. . The parties subsequently agreed to a settlement.

The entry in the Christie’s catalog states: “This work is offered for sale under an amicable agreement between the current owner, the heir of Max Meirowsky and the heirs of Alexandrine de Rothschild. The settlement agreement resolves the dispute over ownership of the work and title will pass to the successful bidder.

Although the terms remain confidential, the proceeds of the sale will likely be divided in an agreed proportion and / or with fixed amounts. With Christie’s estimate of $ 20-30 million, it is very likely to fetch a record price for a Van Gogh work on paper.

So far, the highest price for a Van Gogh watercolor was the £ 8.8million paid at Sotheby’s in 1997 for Harvest. This was also painted in June 1888, within a day or two of Wheat stacks.

In the same way Wheat Stacks, Cox’s other two Van Goghs will arrive at Christie’s. Wooden huts among olive trees and cypresses (Wooden cabins among olive trees and cypress trees) is a Provençal landscape par excellence, painted in October 1889 just outside the asylum where the artist then lived. Although no estimate has been announced, Christie’s estimates that this beautiful image should fetch around $ 40 million.

Van Gogh’s wooden cabins among olive trees and cypress trees (Wooden cabins among olive trees and cypress trees) (October 1889) © Christie’s Images Ltd 2021

The third Van Gogh is Young man with a cornflower (Jeune Homme au Bleuet), painted in Auvers-sur-Oise in June 1890, the month before the artist’s death. Christie’s describes the unidentified babysitter as “a child of the fields, a mischievous scoundrel”. Although the auction house calls him “young man,” at the start of the 20th century he is described as a portrait of a young girl.

The Young Man with Blueberry by Van Gogh (Young Man with Blueberry) (June 1890) © Christie’s Images Ltd 2021

Young man with a cornflower is a curious portrait of a tousled-haired youth with a flushed face and a cornflower in his mouth. While the brush is typical of Van Gogh’s late work, it is by no means a conventional portrait, hence the relatively modest estimate of $ 5-7 million.

Despite the fact that Young man with a cornflower was made the same month as the record Portrait of Dr Gachet, they are certainly not in the same league. Portrait of Dr Gachet sold for $ 82.5 million in 1990, still the highest price for a Van Gogh. It has since disappeared into a mysterious private collection.

Interesting way, Young man with a cornflower was exhibited in the revolutionary Manet and the Post-Impressionists exhibition in London in 1910. He was probably well regarded by the curator, Roger Fry, and the lender, Jo Bonger.

The British public certainly disagreed. Critics have described the painting as “a study of advanced insanity” (Tatler, 23 November 1910) and “the visualized delusions of an adult maniac” (Morning message, November 7, 1910). The sketch has published a reproduction of the portrait as well as works in the exhibition, under the title “Giving Amusement to all London: Paintings by Post-Impressionists”. Now estimated at $ 5-7 million, the artist should have the final say.

“Giving fun to all of London: paintings by post-impressionists”, The sketch, November 16, 1910

The three Van Gogh Cox will be on display at Christie’s in London from October 17 to 21.

More Van Gogh news

• Still life: vase with gladioli (Nature Morte: Vase aux Glaïeuls) (August-September 1886) sold for HK $ 71 million ($ 9.1 million) at Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, on October 9. It was just below the low estimate. The buyer was an Asian collector.

Martin Bailey’s latest books on Van Gogh

Martin bailey is the author of Van Gogh’s final: Auvers and the artist’s rise to glory (Francis Lincoln, 2021, available in the UK and we). He is one of Van Gogh’s leading scholars and investigative journalist for The arts journal. Bailey has organized exhibitions on Van Gogh at the Barbican Art Gallery and at Compton Verney / National Gallery of Scotland. He was co-curator of Tate Britain’s The EY exhibition: Van Gogh and Great Britain (March 27-August 11, 2019). He has written a number of other bestselling books, including Sunflowers Are Mine: The Story of Van Gogh’s Masterpiece (Frances Lincoln 2013, available in the UK and we), Studio from the South: Van Gogh in Provence (Frances Lincoln 2016, available in the UK and we) and Starry night: Van Gogh at the asylum (White Lion Publishing 2018, available in the UK and we). Whiskey cream Living with Vincent van Gogh: the houses and landscapes that shaped the artist (White Lion Publishing 2019, available in the UK and we) gives a glimpse into the artist’s life. Van Gogh’s Illustrated Letters from Provence has been reissued (Batsford 2021, available in the UK and we).

• To contact Martin Bailey, please email: [email protected] Please refer questions regarding the authentication of any Van Gogh to the Van Gogh Museum.

Read more of the blog The Adventures of Martin with Van Gogh here


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