Monet masterpiece owned by Kansas City’s Nelson-Atkins fetches millions at NY auction

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A masterpiece painted by French Impressionist Claude Monet, owned jointly since 1986 by Kansas City’s Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, sold at auction Thursday evening at Christie’s in New York.

The gavel went down at a winning bid of $18.5 million, with a final contractual price of $21.685 million that included the buyer’s premium and various costs. The figure is just within the estimate of $18 million to $25 million the auction house had set as a possible price.

The buyer was not immediately revealed.

“We are elated that this beautiful painting found a new home and it will allow the Nelson-Atkins to acquire art that will impact generations to come,” the Nelson’s director and chief executive officer, Julián Zugazagoitia, told The Star from New York.

The Nelson owned two-thirds of the painting and their share in the proceeds is to be placed in an endowment for the museum to purchase other art.

Monet created “Moulin de Limetz” (“Mill of Limetz”), a sun-dappled oil on canvas, in 1888, five years after his move to Giverny, a village outside of Paris. It depicts a grain mill on the River Epte. In 1986. Ethel B. Atha, who had acquired the painting in the 1930s, gifted the two-thirds ownership share in the painting to the Nelson, but retained one-third ownership for her family.

Atha’s grandfather Frank P. Atha grew rich in Kansas City when, in 1908, he expanded the J.A. Folger & Co. coffee brand from California to the East Coast and Midwest, opening a factory in Kansas City. He and his wife, Edith Louise Atha, were longtime patrons of the arts in Kansas City, collecting paintings by French Impressionists and American modernists, as well as British and American silver. Generations of Athas would continue to help lead the Folger’s company.

On Sept. 3, Joseph and Ethel Atha’s daughter, Ethelyn Atha Chase, died at age 99 at her New York home, passing on her one-third share in the Monet to her descendants. The Nelson had hoped to procure the painting, having had it on display in the Impressionist gallery since 2008. The family expressed their desire to sell.

The Nelson and Atha family descendants agreed to place the painting up for auction, with the Nelson’s proceeds to fund a newly formed Joseph S. and Ethel B. Atha Art Acquisition Endowment to fund the purchase of other works.

A contingent from the Nelson, led by Zugazagoitia, were in New York for the auction. Aimee Marcereau DeGalan, the museum’s Louis L. and Adelaide C. Ward senior curator, European arts, also attended.

“It’s bittersweet, if I’m being honest,” DeGalan told The Star last week. “As curators, we think of ourselves as keepers of collections. It is one of our flock that is getting away.”

Zugazagoitia and she expressed gratitude toward the Atha family for gifting the painting to the Nelson, and for its long years on display.

“The silver lining,” Zugazagoita told The Star previously, “is that this sale will make it possible for us to establish an endowment in the Atha name that will allow us to acquire art to honor the family in perpetuity and continue adding to and refining our exceptional collection.”

The Nelson is home to four other Monet works from varying periods in the artist’s career. They include “Boulevard des Capucines” from 1873 and 1874, two snowscapes from 1875 and “Water Lilies,” circa 1915-1926. The Nelson is also exhibiting “Church at Vétheuil,” from 1881, on loan from a Kansas City collector.

“Moulin de Limetz,” an 1888 painting by French master Claude Monet, was sold on May 16 at auction in New York. The Nelson-Atkins, which possessed a two-thirds ownership in the painting, will place its share of the proceeds in an endowment for the purchase of other works.
“Moulin de Limetz,” an 1888 painting by French master Claude Monet, was sold on May 16 at auction in New York. The Nelson-Atkins, which possessed a two-thirds ownership in the painting, will place its share of the proceeds in an endowment for the purchase of other works.