Home Arts Van Gogh Montmartre scene with sunflowers is coming to Sotheby’s and could fetch $30 million

Van Gogh Montmartre scene with sunflowers is coming to Sotheby’s and could fetch $30 million

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Garden in front of Ferme Debray (July-August 1887) will be offered at Sotheby’s, New York on May 16, with an estimate of $20-30 million. It was painted a few minutes walk from the apartment Vincent shared with his brother Theo in Montmartre.

In the center of the composition are several giant sunflower plants, seemingly much taller than a person. It was only a year later, in Provence, that Van Gogh created his famous Sunflower dead natures.

Detail of a sunflower at Van Gogh Garden in front of Ferme Debray

Credit: Sotheby’s

The setting of the Sotheby’s painting is the garden of the 18th century farmhouse of the Debray family, owners of the windmills at the top of Montmartre. In Van Gogh’s time these mills had been turned into an entertainment complex, the Moulin de la Galette, but its image makes the farmhouse garden appear as a rustic retreat.

A photograph from 1887 shows the perched farmhouse overlooking the urban sprawl of Paris. The bare garden at the back of the photograph, made in the same year as the painting, suggests that Van Gogh used considerable artistic license to turn it into a pastoral scene. Granted, there’s no sign of giant sunflowers (although the photograph may have been taken outside of their summer season).

Detail of Henri Daudet’s photograph of the Debray farm, Montmartre (1887)

Credit: Museum of Montmartre, Paris

In 1937 Garden in front of Ferme Debray was purchased by Miriam Alexandrine de Rothschild (1884-1965), a prominent art collector and member of the French Jewish banking family. Just before the outbreak of World War II, she placed the Van Gogh and other works of art in her safe in a Paris bank. Shortly after, she fled to Switzerland.

In December 1941, after the German occupation of France, Garden in front of Ferme Debray was seized from the bank vault by the Nazis and sent to Berlin for Hermann Göring, Hitler’s deputy. Göring then used the Van Gogh and 24 photos looted from other owners in a partial exchange for a Rembrandt and two rugs.

The Van Gogh was sent to the Fischer Gallery in Lucerne, apparently using the diplomatic pouch to circumvent customs issues. In April 1942, Theodore Fischer sold Garden in front of Ferme Debray to the Swiss arms manufacturer and collector Emil Bührle.

Deputy Nazi leader Hermann Göring inspecting another looted Van Gogh in Paris,Trees with ivy (May 1889), which belonged to another member of the Rothschild family

After the war, de Rothschild took legal action to obtain the return of the Van Gogh. In 1948, the Swiss courts ordered Bührle to return the painting to him. It later passed to his sister-in-law Lucy Spiegl, who sold it in 1965. It should be noted that Garden in front of Ferme Debray was properly returned, so there are no residual issues about its looting by the Nazis during the war.

by Van Gogh wheat stacks (June 1888)

Credit: Christie’s

De Rothschild had also owned another important Van Gogh, a watercolor by wheat stacks (June 1888). This was also seized by the Nazis, although its subsequent history is quite different since it was not returned to them after the war. Christie’s recently helped facilitate a complex deal with the heirs of de Rothschild and another former Jewish owner, Max Meirowsky, as well as the heirs of Edwin Cox. This led to the sale of wheat stacks in 2021, when it grossed $35.9 million. His third Van Gogh was Harvest in Provence (June 1888), which remained in his possession and was later donated to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

In the early 1990s, Sotheby’s Garden in front of Ferme Debray had been acquired by the Japanese stationer and collector Ryoei Saito, who died in 1996. He is best known for having paid the highest price for a Van Gogh$82.5 million for Portrait of Dr. Gachet (June 1890) at auction in 1990. Although he once said that the portrait should be cremated along with his body, fortunately this did not happen. Portrait of Dr. Gachet has now disappeared in a mysterious private collection.

A major selling point at the Sotheby’s auction for Garden in front of Ferme Debray May 16 will be its coloring, testimony to the influence of the Impressionists on Van Gogh. The powerful yellows of the foreground foreshadow his exuberant canvases made in Provence, where he relocated six months after painting this scene of Montmartre.

Other Van Gogh short stories:

by Van Gogh sheaves of wheat (July-August 1885), loaned to Van Gogh, Cézanne, Le Fauconnier and the school of BergenAlkmar

Credit: Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo

Van Gogh, Cézanne, Le Fauconnier and the school of Bergen opens tomorrow (until September 3) at the Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar in the north of the Netherlands. Besides the two famous names, the exhibition also presents Henri Le Fauconnier (1881-1945), a French cubist painter. All three influenced the so-called Bergen School, a group of artists (not a college) who worked in the village of Bergen, outside Alkmaar, around 1915-25. Bergen School Expressionists included Leo Gestel, Gerrit Willem van Blaaderen and Else Berg. Alkmaar’s show includes five Van Gogh loans.

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