After a battle among various bidders that stretched on for more than 10 minutes, Claude Monet’s Nymphéas en fleur (1914–17) sold tonight for $84.7 million, a new record for the Impressionist, at Christie’s evening sale of works from the collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller in New York. The previous record was set in the same salesroom back in November of 2016, when the artist’s Meule (1891) made $81.4 million (about $84.2 million when adjusting for inflation) against an on-request estimate of around $45 million. The record-setting work tonight had an estimate of at least $50 million.
The bidding climbed slowly throughout the contest, with auctioneer Jussi Pylkkänen drawing out fresh bids, stoking tension in room. “It’s like a tennis game with five rackets,” he quipped at one point. The bidding reached $70 million, and he announced, “Tremendous, thank you so much.” It looked like the bidding would stop about there, as bidding increments grew smaller and the pace slowed. But then a bid by Christie’s specialist from Xin Li Cohen, speaking with a client on the phone, made a leap up to $75 million, which was met with applause in the room. It was enough to secure the prize.
Even before the painting came into the possession of the Rockefellers, the work’s provenance was exquisite. It was acquired by the couple in 1956 from Galerie Katia Granoff through the Knoedler & Co. gallery. Granoff had obtained the painting via Monet’s son, Michel, who had also sold a painting to Alfred H. Barr, Jr., the Museum of Modern Art’s director, buying on behalf of the museum. It was Barr who recommended that the Rockefellers make a purchase.
With the winning bidder noted down, Pylkkänen announced, “I’m sorry that we could sell it to only one bidder.” Thankfully, he pointed out, another Monet was up next.