A significant painting by French Impressionist master Claude Monet, purchased less than two months ago at auction for almost $10-million, is now hanging at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. The oil on canvas, Le Pont de bois, painted in 1872, has been lent by the owner, an anonymous Canadian “friend to the NGC,” for a publicly unspecified but “substantial” display period. It currently is mounted beside the classic Waterloo Bridge: the Sun in a Fog, a Monet oil from 1903 that the NGC acquired in 1914, 12 years before the artist’s death, and is now one of four Monets in the NGC’s permanent collection.
Purchased at auction June 19 from Sotheby’s London, Le Pont de bois (Wooden bridge) previously was owned by the prominent German art collector and philanthropist Gustav Rau who died at 79 in January, 2002. Rau, who never married or had children, left a will deeding some 533 art works, including Le Pont de bois, to UNICEF Germany. Proceeds from the June sale will finance long-term UNICEF relief programs as well as the operations of a hospital in what is now Democratic Republic of the Congo that Rau, a medical doctor, founded in the late 1970s.
The NGC loan has an illustrious provenance. Its first owner was another great French painter, Edouard Manet, who acquired it in 1872. Fourteen years later Manet’s widow sold it to Galerie Durand-Ruel in Paris, the pre-eminent dealer of Impressionist art. Rau purchased it at auction in November, 1971 after it had been consigned to Christie’s London by the noted California art connoisseur Norton Simon.
Fifty-four centimetres by 73, Le Pont de bois was painted just outside Paris in the town of Argenteuil in the same year as Monet’s epochal Impression, soleil levant (Impression, sunrise) from which the aspiring Impressionist movement took its name. As such, “it fills an important gap in the story Canada’s national collection can tell about the transition from Realism to Impressionism,” said MGC director Marc Mayer in a statement Tuesday. NGC deputy director and chief curator Paul Lang said the gallery “advised” the unnamed owner to purchase the painting, “knowing that he might loan it on a long-term basis to the gallery.” Lang “discovered” the work at an exhibition of the Rau collection in the Musee du Luxembourg in December, 2000. With Rau’s death in 2002, “we knew that it would come sooner or later on the art market,” he said.