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Monet Painting May Fetch $58.6 Million in Biggest U.K. Auction

"Nympheas" by Claude Monet. The painting failed to sell after being estimated to fetch between 30 million pounds and 40 million pounds at Christie's International in London. The work is one of a series of ``Nympheas'' paintings exhibited by Monet at Paris dealers Durand-Ruel in 1906. Source: Christie's Images via Bloomberg

A Claude Monet water-lily painting is expected to fetch as much as 40 million pounds ($58.6 million) in what will be the U.K.’s most valuable art auction ever, host Christie’s International said today.

Monet’s 1906 “Nympheas” joins Pablo Picasso’s similarly estimated Blue Period “Portrait of Angel Fernandez de Soto” in a sale of Impressionist works on June 23 that may make between 163.7 million pounds and 231.2 million pounds based on hammer prices, the auction house said in an e-mailed statement.

“There’s a belief that great art is the new gold,” said Guy Jennings, partner in the London-based dealership Theobald Jennings. “There are people with a great deal of money who think art is a safe haven. They aren’t collecting, they’re depositing money in assets.”

Demand for Impressionist and modern artworks has been pushing recent auctions to records. In February, Sotheby’s achieved a total of 146.8 million pounds with fees at its Impressionist auction, the highest for any sale in London. Record results such as the 65 million pounds achieved by Sotheby’s for Giacometti’s “Walking Man I” and the $106.5 million paid for Picasso’s “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust” at Christie’s in New York in May will encourage sellers of high- value works, dealers said.

The 3-foot-high (0.9 meter) Monet canvas, a smoky evocation of light shifting across the surface of the artist’s Japanese-style water garden at Giverny, was one of five 1906 works in an exhibition of “Nympheas” paintings held by the dealer Durand-Ruel in Paris in 1909. The work remained in the Durand-Ruel family for several decades, said Christie’s.

Cohen’s Monet

This particular example was bought by the unidentified seller at Christie’s in New York in May 2000 for $20.9 million. Another “Nympheas” from 1906, owned by Steven A. Cohen, the founder of SAC Capital Advisors LP in Stamford, Connecticut, is currently on show in the exhibition “Claude Monet: Late Work” at the Gagosian Gallery in New York. Cohen bought the work for 13.5 million pounds at Sotheby’s London in 2002.

“1906 is the best date,” Jennings said in an interview. “These are smaller, more tightly painted works than the later Nympheas.”

In recent years the more abstract works painted during the final decades of Monet’s life have become highly valued by collectors.

In June 2008 at Christie’s, the 1919 Monet canvas “Le Bassin aux Nympheas” sold for a record 40.9 million pounds to the London-based art adviser Tania Buckrell Pos, bidding on behalf of an anonymous client.

Christie’s June auction will also include the 1889 Vincent van Gogh landscape, “Parc de l’hopital Saint-Paul,” painted in an asylum after his rift with Paul Gauguin. This is estimated at 8 million pounds to 12 million pounds, while Gustav Klimt’s recently restituted “Frauenbildnis (Portrait of Ria Munk III)” is expected to fetch as much as 18 million pounds, Christie’s said.

(Scott Reyburn writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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