Sold! Painting proceeds to support Ford House endowment fund

Courtesy photo
“Still Life with a Milk Jug, Melon, and Sugar Bowl” sold for $ 28,650,000.

GROSSE POINTE SHORES – Mark Heppner watched with optimistic anticipation how the tender should begin.

The President and CEO of Edsel & Eleanor Ford House, like others who attended Christie’s October 6th auction, watched from home as the event streamed live from New York’s Rockefeller Center. For sale to the highest bidder – and which, according to Heppner, should be the favorite of the night – was an original Cezanne watercolor with the inscription “Nature morte avec pot au lait, melon and sucrier” from the Ford House collection.

Around 280,000 people from all over the world took part in the auction. With the bang of the hammer, the Cezanne sold for $ 28,650,000, setting a world record for a watercolor, the auction house said.

Although Heppner was happy with this result, he said the decision to part with the painting was a difficult one.

“It is never really an easy decision for a company, no matter who it is, to part with an asset, no matter what it is,” said Heppner. “Our board of directors made this decision a long time ago … for the long-term sustainability of our organization. … You have given serious thought to entertaining the sale of this painting. It is not something that an organization should take lightly. They were thoughtful and did their due diligence. I’m proud of the board for making an informed decision and moving forward.

“And Christie’s was great to work with,” he added. “You couldn’t have been more wonderful.”

Originally, the sale was supposed to be part of Christie’s traditional spring auction, Heppner said. The start of COVID-19 canceled that auction and the auction house started the strategy of how to proceed.

“Christie’s was really innovative and creative,” said Heppner. This summer, “they did their first international online sale with four locations, Hong Kong, London, New York and Paris. I sat on it to watch and watch. … It was interesting to see what they did. They said it exceeded their expectations and it is what we need to be confident about moving this sale forward. “

Prior to the auction, the painting was sent to Hong Kong and London before returning to New York to stir the excitement for the piece.

“I wanted to be very optimistic,” said Heppner, explaining that Ford House interviewed three auction houses before choosing Christie’s. All three estimated the painting to be worth $ 20 to 27 million.

“It hit exactly where you said it was,” he noted. “The board was very happy, felt happy and grateful. Always being the optimist, I was hoping for $ 30 million to $ 35 million, but there was no way I was disappointed. “

While Heppner has not received any information about the buyer, he said Christie’s plans to inquire if it would be convenient for the new owner of the painting to be named. If not, Christie’s may issue a statement about the country it will reside in and whether it will be part of a private collection or for public display.

For over 80 years, “Nature morte avec pot au lait, melon and sucrier” was an integral part of the Ford House. It was painted between 1900 and the artist’s death six years later. The still life is one of a group of watercolors that represent the culmination of Cezanne’s lifelong study of painting, according to the auction house.

It was one of more than 200 works of art collected by the Fords while living on the Grosse Pointe estate.

“Edsel and Eleanor have collected,” said Heppner. “They became very dedicated art collectors, but they were more of a patron of the arts. They supported local art, individual artists, art institutions like the DIA. … It was part of life for who they were. For them it wasn’t just about collecting, but also about being philanthropic with art. “

When the Fords lived in Grosse Pointe Shores, they had no idea that their home would become a national historic landmark or that their art and objets d’art would be so valued, Heppner explained.

“They didn’t try,” he said. “They have collected what they liked here and now. Much of it was given away to the family. “

Many of the items throughout the Ford House are reproductions of works of art that the Fords donated, sold, or given to family members to the Detroit Institute of Arts, Heppner said.

And while the Ford House still has many fine works of art on display – including a Matisse on the second floor that “we don’t want to sell,” he said – the Cezanne auction was to enhance the Ford House’s legacy.

“All proceeds go to the existing foundation … for the future of Ford House,” said Heppner.

When Eleanor Ford died in 1976, she donated $ 50 million to a foundation to support the property in the future.

“Eleanor had the foresight to do that,” said Heppner. “She also expressed a desire to leave the property to improve the community.

“She didn’t want it to be a burden on the family or the community,” he added. “The last thing Ford House wants to be is another institution that reaches out to the community, not that there is anything wrong with it. We want to solve our own problems when we have problems. This is a private company foundation. … The vast majority of our income comes from a single source, and that is the foundation that created it. “

After the auction and the enrichment of the foundation’s assets, Heppner is looking forward to the opening of its new visitor center and administration building – projects that have been delayed several times since the groundbreaking in 2017.

“When these buildings are ready, there won’t be anything like it in the community in southeast Michigan, state,” he said. “They will be a crown jewel for their quality, craftsmanship, attention to detail and craftsmanship.”

A damp spring and early summer in 2019, coupled with delays in supplies of materials, delayed construction even before the pandemic broke out this spring, causing further disruptions.

“We had planned that we would have already been in the building,” said Heppner. “2020 should be the launch pad for the reintroduction and reinterpret the new Ford House. … We want to be community partners and assets for the community, not just behind stone walls. The buildings would draw our attention to all this attention. Now attention has been drawn to the spring of 2021. The schedules are getting tighter. If all goes well, we will be in the buildings as early as mid-April or into May. “

The structures are 75 to 80 percent ready, said Heppner. Most of what is left is interior finishing – flooring, carpeting, paneling, moving furniture, installing exhibitions – and landscaping, which won’t happen until the spring.

“We have to make this community excited and proud for what we’ve done,” he said. “It’s going to be incredible. … We look forward to Ford House and everyone. “

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