Pissarro’s ‘Boulevard Montmartre’ masterpiece set for Sotheby’s auction

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2015-06-26 10:44:29

The 1897 painting, depicting the streets of Paris, could become the artist’s most expensive work in February next year.

Camille Pissarro’s 1897 masterpiece ‘Boulevard Montmartre, matinée de printemps’ is heading to auction at Sotheby’s next year.

Described as “one of the most important Impressionist masterworks to come to auction in the last decade”, the painting will be sold as part of the Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale in London on February 5, 2014.

The painting depicts a vibrant Parisian street scene, captured from the window of the Grand Hotel de Russie. It was part of the artist’s celebrated ‘Boulevard Montmartre’ series which he produced throughout the 1890s, of which Pissarro himself remarked in a letter to his son Lucien: “It may not be very aesthetic, but I’m delighted to be able to have a go at Paris streets, which are said to be ugly, but are [in fact] so silvery, so bright, so vibrant with life […] they’re so totally modern!”

The painting has a storied history, having originally belonged to the Jewish industrialist Max Silberberg. It was part of a collection of 19th and 20th Century art regarded as one of the finest in Germany, which also included work by Manet, Monet, Renoir, Cézanne and van Gogh.

Silberberg loaned many of his paintings to museums and exhibitions throughout Europe and the United States, until he was forced by the Nazis to sell his entire collection at auction in 1935. Max and his wife Johanna died in the Holocaust, but his son Alfred survived after being released from the Buchenwald concentration camp and told to leave the country.

The Pissarro painting passed through several collections after its forced sale in 1935, before being purchased by John and Frances L. Loeb in 1960. The couple bequeathed it to the American Friends of the Israel Museum in 1997, and after four months of research by the museum and representatives the Silberberg family, the painting was restituted to Gerta Silberberg in 2000. In gratitude she loaned the work back to the museum, where it was displayed until she passed away earlier in 2013.

“It is an honour to be entrusted with offering the greatest work by Camille Pissarro ever to appear at auction – a work that encompasses such a richly painted canvas and a supremely elegant composition,” said Helena Newman, Chairman of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Department Europe.

“The appeal of these extremely desirable attributes to discerning collectors is enhanced by the painting’s history of having been housed in a collection as important as Max Silberberg’s. With the enduring demand for Impressionist masterpieces – particularly works of such rarity as this work by Pissarro - we anticipate interest from around the globe.”

The painting will be offered at auction next year with an estimate of £7 - £10 million ($11.5 - $16.6 million), although experts believe it could fetch far more – breaking the current record for a Pissarro work sold at auction of $14.6 million.

“The estimate is conservative,” senior Impressionist and modern art expert Philip Hook told the New York Times. “There hasn’t been another Paris street scene for sale for at least a generation.”

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