Christie’s recently announced Vincent van Gogh’s watercolor Meules de blé will be offered in the dedicated sale The Cox Collection: The Story of Impressionism, one of the greatest American collections of Impressionists and Post-Impressionist Art to ever appear on the market. Christie’s is privileged to have researched the history of this work and facilitated a settlement agreement between the current owner and the heir of Max Meirowsky as well as the heirs of Alexandrine de Rothschild, illustrating the complexity of restitution cases and losses due to Nazi persecution.
Estimated at $20,000,000-30,000,000, Meules de blé is poised to set a new world auction record for a work on paper by Van Gogh. The watercolor was on view at Christie’s London 17-21 October, marking the first time that it has been publicly exhibited since the landmark 1905 retrospective of the artist at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.
Van Gogh’s Meules de blé has been in the private collection of the businessman, collector, and philanthropist Edwin L. Cox since 1979. The Cox Collection: The Story of Impressionism evening sale will take place on 11 November in New York, and it will also include masterpiece works by Caillebotte, Cézanne, Monet, Redon, Sisley, Vuillard as well as two other paintings by van Gogh. The collection is expected to realize in excess of $200 million and a portion of the sale proceeds will benefit educational purposes.
Marc Porter, Chairman, Christie’s Americas, comments: “It Is especially moving that Christie’s Restitution has been so deeply involved with this Collection. We have made WW2 period provenance research a hallmark of our expertise, inextricably a part of the art-historical framework. For the members of our team worldwide— the best-trained group of historians on the globe— we are proud to continue the principles set forth in the 1998 Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets and in particular to alternative dispute resolutions.”
“A tour de force of exceptional quality, Meules de blé is one of the most powerful works on paper by van Gogh ever to appear on the open market. Everything is breathtaking: the iconic subject, the perfect condition of the gouache, the intensity of the ink in the trademark cross-hatchings and twirls defining the landscape, the ambitious scale of the composition. Once again, Christie’s shows its commitment to outstanding Works on Paper by the modern masters – a segment of the market we have been nurturing for decades, that continues to gift us precious moments of emotion and delight.”Giovanna Bertazzoni, Vice Chairman, 20th & 21st Century Art
Max Carter, International Director, Head of Department, 20th Century Art, states: “Vincent’s masterpieces are few and far between—he died young and his paintings have been prized by the greatest museums and collectors ever since. How remarkable that on November 11th, his admirers from all over the world will have the opportunity to acquire not one but three major works, one from each of the watershed years of his brief career.”
VAN GOGH’S MEULES DE BLÉ
Executed in the opening weeks of June 1888, Vincent van Gogh’s Meules de blé is one of the first of his landmark series depicting the harvest from this time. Picturing three towering wheat stacks that dwarf the neighboring women, this exquisitely rendered work depicts Arles in the throes of the harvest, the myriad lines, and dashes, strokes, and pools of color conveying the atmosphere of this mid-summer day with a striking vitality.
Drawing had long been a central component of his oeuvre, however, it was in Arles that his mastery of the watercolor medium took flight, as he created an astounding succession of masterpieces on paper such as the present work. In Arles the artist completely revolutionized this practice—moving it from its traditional role as a preparatory or initial part of the creative process, to become an independent means of expression.
This medium allowed him to work in Plein air and reduced the pressure he felt when attempting to paint with oil, allowing him to create more freely and spontaneously. The present work, strikingly dynamic, shows van Gogh’s exacting penwork throughout the sheet, overlaid with dazzling colors incorporated in watercolor and gouache.
The work is in excellent condition and exemplifies the brilliance of van Gogh’s luminous palette with pigments that are incredibly fresh.
PROVENANCE AND SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT
After having been owned by Theo and Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, as well as the painter and distinguished collector, Gustave Fayet, Meules de blé was acquired by Max Meirowsky (1866-1949).
Meirowsky was an industrialist, manufacturing isolators for the growing railway, automobile, and electronics industries of the turn of the century, who lived first in Cologne and later in Berlin. From around 1910, Meirowsky amassed a substantial art collection encompassing French, German and Swiss Impressionists, and Post-Impressionists as well as earlier works of art and decorative arts.
He bought through key dealers of the time such as Cassirer and Thannhauser in Germany and Eugène Druet and Bernheim-Jeune in France. In 1913, Meirowsky purchased the luminous Meules de blé at the Galerie Druet in Paris and it became one of the crown jewels of his collection.
During the Nazi regime in Germany, Max Meirowsky faced anti-Jewish persecution, leading to the sale of art from his collection. In late 1938 Meirowsky fled Germany for Amsterdam and then on to Geneva. It was on this journey, that Meirowsky entrusted Meules de blé to the German émigré dealership Paul Graupe & Cie., then active in Paris.
Meules de blé then entered the Parisian collection of Miriam Caroline Alexandrine de Rothschild (1884-1965). Alexandrine, a student of medicine, had inherited part of her art collection from her father Edmond James de Rothschild (1845-1934) and was a respected collector in her own right, particularly of literary and musical manuscripts and first editions, as well as eighteenth-century art.
From the mid-1930s, Alexandrine de Rothschild acquired several paintings and works on paper by Post-Impressionist artists, including important works by van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, and Paul Gauguin.
With the outbreak of the Second World War, Alexandrine fled to Switzerland. Her art collection in Paris, including van Gogh’s Meules de blé, was confiscated by the Nazi regime during the Occupation. In the post-war years, Alexandrine sought to trace and recover her looted art collection and library, but while she was able to recover some works, many others remained missing, including Meules de blé.