Monet masterpiece ‘Meules’ sets record with £86m sale at auction in New York

An "undisputed" masterpiece by French impressionist Claude Monet has smashed world records by selling for nearly £86 million.

Meules, from the painter’s acclaimed Haystacks series, went under the hammer at Sotheby’s New York for $110.7 million (£85.77m) on Tuesday night.

The sale set a new auction world record for a work by Monet and was the first example of impressionist art to cross the $100 million threshold at auction.

The hammer price was some 44 times the figure it raised when it was last sold at auction in 1986, Sotheby’s said.

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According to the auction house, six bidders battled for more than eight minutes in hope of acquiring the coveted work. The identity of the winner was not revealed.

"The winning bid shatters the previous record for the highest sum ever paid for a work by Monet, signalling the enduring value and popularity of the French impressionist master; the bid is also the record for any impressionist work of art," Sotheby’s said.

Described as "the most glorious and effusive work" from the Water Lilies artist’s famed Haystacks series, the evocative Meules depicts a row of haystacks casting long shadows in the warm glow of the sun. Monet began work for the series in the mid-1880s, although the major masterpieces focusing on the fleeting nature of natural light were created between 1889 and 1891.

Meules was acquired directly from Monet’s dealer in the 1890s by Potter and Bertha Palmer, wealthy Chicago socialites and avid collectors of impressionist works. The piece was among 90 by the French master collected by Mrs Palmer and remained in her possession until her death in 1918.After being handed down through the Palmer family, it was purchased at auction in 1986 for $2.53 million by a private collector.

The example is one of four works from the series that remain in private hands. The other 17 examples are in the collections of leading museums around the world.

The Scottish National Gallery, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Musee d’Orsay, Paris and the Art Institute of Chicago have acquired pieces from the series.

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