Rare Van Gogh painting of Montmartre heads to auction at Sotheby’s

Van Gogh’s street scene in Montmartre (Impasse des deux frères et le Moulin à Poivre) from 1887 will go on the block next month
Courtesy Sotheby’s and Mirabaud Mercier

A painting of Montmartre published by Vincent Van Gogh in Paris in 1887 will hit the market for the first time next month after belonging to the same French family for over a century. It will be sold on March 25 at the Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art sale in Paris in collaboration with the Paris auction house Mirabaud Mercier.

The painting, entitled Scène de rue à Montmartre (Impasse des Deux Frères et le Moulin à Poivre) was estimated at EUR 5 to 8 million and had never been exhibited. The only public exposure of the painting was its black and white reproduction in catalogs.

Van Gogh painted the work in the spring of a year after his arrival in Paris, where he lived with his art dealer brother Theo on Rue Lepic. The canvas shows a couple dressed in black walking past a former pepper mill that has since been torn down and turned into a cabaret. Two children are walking in the opposite direction. A carousel is located on the left behind a wooden case.

With its pale, glowing sky, lively use of colors and a sense of movement, the painting is part of Van Gogh’s Moulin de la Galette series, which depicts a neighborhood in Montmartre that has become a leisure and tourist attraction. It contrasts with the dark tones of his earlier work in Belgium and the Netherlands and precedes the distinctly expressive style he developed in Arles in southern France.

“Most of the paintings from this Montmartre series are now in large international museums. It is therefore extremely rare that one is still in private hands, especially one that has been with the same family for a century, ”says Aurélie Vandevoorde, director of impressionism and modern art at Sotheby’s Paris. “Unlike other artists of his time, such as Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh was drawn to the pastoral side of Montmartre and would transcribe that ambience more than his balls and cabarets.”

Van Gogh painted around 200 paintings during his two-year stay in Paris, many of which are smaller, according to Vandevoorde. Montmartre was a favorite subject.

Etienne Hellman, senior director of impressionism and modern art at Sotheby’s in Paris, says the work was done at a crucial point in the artist’s career. “After arriving in Paris in 1886, Van Gogh discovered the Impressionists, including works by Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec, and met Paul Signac just before creating this painting,” he says. “In Paris he discovered the light – in the south of France he discovered the sun.”

The family who shipped the painting had contacted Mirabaud Mercier, who signed the partnership agreement with Sotheby’s. “We get the impression that Van Gogh has frozen an intimate scene and […] I can feel that it predicts the great Van Gogh who would appear three or four years later with the Arles era, ”says Claudia Mercier, owner of Mirabaud Mercier. She adds that the painting the family acquired in the 1920s was originally hung in an office.

Van Gogh’s last work to be auctioned in France was a rare painting from his time in the Netherlands that fetched 7.1 million euros at Artcurial in 2018.

The Scène de rue à Montmartre will be held from March 1st to 3rd at Sotheby’s in Amsterdam, from March 9th to 12th at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, from March 16th to 18th at Drouot in Paris and from March 19th to 23rd exhibited at Sotheby’s in Paris.

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