Looted Vincent van Gogh Painting Slated for Auction to Cover Restitution

The complex history of "Meules de blé"

Van Goth
People attend a press visit of the immersive exhibition "Nuit Etoilée" devoted to painter Vincent Van Gogh by multimedia artist Gianfranco Iannuzzi, on February 8, 2019, at "l'Atelier des Lumieres", the first Digital Art Centre in Paris.

In 1888, Vincent van Gogh painted Meules de blé, a pastoral image of haystacks in a landscape, notable for its combination of textures and its evocative use of yellow and blue. In the years that followed, the painting had a far less idyllic experience than the peaceful scene it depicts might suggest. That culminated in it being looted by the Nazis when Germany occupied Paris during the Second World War.

Now, Meules de blé is slated to be auctioned off as part of a larger sale from Christie’s, focusing on the Impressionist collection of the late Edwin Cox. But as has been the case with a number of high-profile examples of looted art, the sale of this particular painting will be used for purposes of restitution. That’s no small amount of money, either — Christie’s listing for the painting estimates that it will be sold for between $20 and $30 million.

A new article by Angelica Villa at ARTnews offers a good overview of the painting’s complex history. In 1913, Max Meirowsky purchased the painting, but was left with no option but to sell it in 1938. The following year, Alexandrine de Rothschild bought the painting but then left Paris before the Nazis took it over; at that point, the painting was taken by the Germans. Cox went on to purchase the painting 40 years later.

As Villa writes, the money from the sale will go “to the heirs of Max Meirowsky, Alexandrine de Rothschild, and representatives for Cox’s estate.” The article also notes that Meules de blé might well set a record for a van Gogh work on paper — yet another historic moment in a painting that already has plenty of history.

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