Unique Rousseau Piece: ‘Les Flamants,’ Record-Breaking Auction

Christie’s 20th Century Evening Sale during the Spring Marquee Week is set to be graced by an extraordinary masterpiece by Henri Rousseau.

The painting, Les Flamants, is estimated to be worth between $20,000,000 and $30,000,000 and is expected to break the artist’s auction record, which currently stands at $4.4 million set at Christie’s London three decades ago.

The painting has been in the Payne Whitney Middleton family since 1949, and it is set to come to Christie’s from their estate.

Jungle Visions by Henri Rousseau

Henri Rousseau is an avant-garde legend of the Parisian art scene, renowned for his unique, fantastical paintings. The Les Flamants painting, which is set to grace Christie’s auction block, is one of fewer than 240 attributed oils, which can be counted on two hands, with provenance traced to Rousseau.

The painting is also one of his monumental jungle visions, and it hung opposite Van Gogh’s Irises in Joan Whitney Payson’s living room for years. Rousseau’s painting, The Dream, was acquired by MoMA in 1954, making it the most expensive acquisition in the museum’s history at the time. Rousseau’s masterpieces appearing on the market is considered a once-in-a-lifetime event today.

The Perfect Platform for an Artist’s Artist

Vanessa Fusco, Head of Impressionist and Modern Art and Co-Head of Christie’s 20th Century Evening Sale, describes Rousseau as a celebrity among the avant-garde artistic community in Paris in the early 20th century. She further notes that his unique, fantastical vision has continued to inspire artists throughout history, making the sale of Les Flamants an excellent opportunity to showcase the artist’s talent.

Unique Rousseau Piece: 'Les Flamants,' Record-Breaking Auction
Property from the Estate of Payne Whitney Middleton HENRI ‘LE DOUANIER’ ROUSSEAU (1844-1910) Les Flamants oil on canvas 44.7/8 x 63.1/4 in. (113.8 x 162 cm.) Painted in 1910 $20,000,000 – 30,000,000

A Fascinating Look into the Mind of Henri Rousseau

Les Flamants is an example of Rousseau’s jungle paintings, a small and celebrated series that cemented his artistic legacy. These paintings were almost entirely imagined, as Rousseau never left France.

He drew inspiration from journals, newspapers, and botanical guidebooks, which he supplemented with visits to the Jardin des Plantes in Paris to study live animals and exotic plant life. Through this multi-layered process, Rousseau’s paintings became rich assemblages that combined different types of imagery to create dream-like landscapes.

Prior to committing himself to art full-time, Rousseau made a living as a customs officer working on the outskirts of Paris, earning him the moniker ‘Le Douanier.’ Rousseau is among the most important self-taught European painters from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

In conclusion, Christie’s 20th Century Evening Sale is set to be a historic event with the appearance of Les Flamants, an extraordinarily rare masterpiece by Henri Rousseau.

It is a unique opportunity to view and acquire one of the few privately owned paintings with provenance traced to the legendary artist, and it is expected to break auction records for the artist. This painting is a must-see for lovers of art and for those seeking a glimpse into the mind of an artist’s artist.

Images: Christie’s

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