Monet painting from age 79 is worth $80m? That’s typical.

July 12, 2008
“Le Bassin aux Nymphéas,” sold for $80.4 million

“Le Bassin aux Nymphéas,” sold for $80.4 million

Congratulations to experimental innovator Claude Monet for last month’s $80.4 million sale of the painting “Le Bassin aux Nympheas,” which he completed at age 79 in 1919.

That was the highest auction price ever paid for a Monet, topping May’s $41.5 million for “Le Pont du Chemin de Fer a Argenteuil.” That painting dates from 1874, when the painter was 33.

The $80 million sale of the water lily painting — the second-most expensive painting sold at a European auction — moves Monet closer to the typical pattern for experimental innovators, who usually achieve their greatest successes later in life after repeated, incrementally varied work on the same subject.

As the most prominent artist in the group that founded Impressionism, Monet earned his reputation with works from his late 20s and early 30s. At least until the latest sale, the masterpieces from around age 30 made that period the most highly valued by art buyers, as well as the decade most frequently represented in art history books.

Later in life, he became an old master. He was age 54 when he repeatedly painted Rouen Cathedral in 1984, the most frequently represented year for Monet paintings in art books.

His renowned studies of water lilies date from his late 50s to his death at age 94.

Like most successful experimental innovators, Monet’s popularity doesn’t depend on any one particular work that stands out from the rest.

Monet is No. 5 on the list of French painters whose works appear most frequently in art histories, but he has no individual painting in the Top 10.

For more on experimental and conceptual innovators, see other posts in this blog and the Arts of Innovation Web site.