With the art market skyrocketing, it is always good to have a little luck. Just ask Jonathan Green, a director of the Richard Green Gallery in central London.
Green purchased two pastels by Claude Monet at a small Paris auction house last year. But when he got the paintings home, he found a third, hitherto unknown Monet, had been painted on the back of one of the two, taped and hidden beneath the mount. That discovery was unveiled Thursday at the Masterpiece 2015 art fair in London.
The paintings date from 1868, when Monet was still a young artist finding his voice. The two known pastels are studies of the sky, showing the artist’s preoccupation with the swift changes of natural phenomena. The third, “hidden,” pastel is a fine, very delicate study of the jetty and lighthouse at Le Havre, where Monet was living at the time.
The works were “so delicate,” the Guardian reported on Wednesday, that “a leading paper conservator, Jane McCausland, was brought in to remove the tape.”
All three are “very rare,” Green told The Times of Israel on Thursday.
“There are only 70 or 80 of these pastels.. They were painted for himself rather than for sale,” Green added. The small works on paper were “for his experimental development, so you can really see where he was going early on in his career and his life.”
“Oddly enough,” Green said, Monet was influenced by John Constable and [J.M.W.] Turner,” two giants of British painting who excelled in landscape painting. Turner is considered a precursor of Impressionism, with landscapes that seek to capture the forces of nature at their most elemental.
All three pastels are quite small, and Green said he is certain Monet painted them en plein air, i.e., on the spot as quick nature studies.
The sky studies are oil-like in their effect, complete paintings capturing a particular weather and time of day. The Le Havre study, on the other hand, is more akin to a color drawing, with few strokes quickly capturing the view of the jetty.
The gallery is selling the works together for $2.2 million. Green would not say what he paid for the two works that turned out to be three, but did assess that they would likely have been beyond his reach had they been offered at one of the larger auction houses; recently an early Monet oil went for over $6.2 million, he noted.
“The provenance of the paintings is impeccable – a direct link to Monet,” the Guardian reported, describing the lighthouse work as a treasure.
“They were his wedding present in 1924 to Anne-Marie Durand-Ruel, granddaughter of his art dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel, the man credited with inventing Impressionism, on whom the National Gallery in London has just staged a major exhibition,” according to the report. “These pastels had remained in their family, and the Paris auction marked their first appearance on the open market.”
The Green family have been London art dealers since the mid-1930s, and through three generations.
“We are a strong Jewish family,” Green said, and “very supportive of this part of our heritage.”