The Edsel & Eleanor Ford House, Detroit sold a Paul Cézanne oil painting in 2013, keeping the sale of the work a secret; selling the piece by the French post-impressionist to a private buyer for $100 million, or £63.9 million – to help protect Detroit-owned artworks under threat due to the city’s bankruptcy. This likely makes the piece one of the 15 most expensive works of art ever sold.
The sale of “La Montagne Sainte-Victoire vue du bosquet du Château Noir,” painted around 1904, was confirmed by Ford House president Kathleen Mullins. The sale of the French Impressionist masterpiece ‘appeared’ on the nonprofit institution’s 2013 tax form, and removes from the 1929 Grosse Pointe Shores mansion a painting that had been in the Ford family since the mid-20th century, the Detroit Free Press reported.
The painting depicts one of Cézanne’s favourite subjects, the Ste.-Victoire Mountain in southern France, and it is widely known among scholars and prized for its intrinsic beauty and is seen as an influential work in terms of its steps toward abstraction.
Mullins said Ford House officials decided against releasing news of the sale when it occurred for fear of causing problems for the Detroit Institute of Arts, which was the focus of debate over whether the city had the right to sell works of art from its collection as part of Detroit’s bankruptcy; after An $800 million (£511 million) promise from foundations, major corporations and the state to helped protect the DIA’s art from possible sale.
Detroit Institute of Arts Director Graham Beal, was unaware of the Cezanne sale until recently, and has stated that the publicity and price would have emboldened creditors in heated debate concerning the museum’s absolutist stance against selling art. “I am very glad the Ford House proceeded with such caution” in announcing the sale, Beal added.
The Ford House is using proceeds from the sale to create a special endowment for preservation, conservation and restoration. It includes the 87-acre estate of auto industry pioneer Henry Ford’s only son on the shores of Lake St. Clair,. The Ford House is on solid financial footing and carries no debt. Mullins added that Ford House trustees received an unsolicited offer for the masterpiece in mid-2013 but at first turned down the substantial offer. The buyer came back with further offers and the Ford House’s board, which includes Ford family members and the family’s lawyer, decided to give the idea consideration.
“This was really a once-in-a-lifetime offer,” Mullins stated. “The family thought it was a way to guarantee the estate would be taken care of the way Eleanor would have wanted.”
Mullins said the Cézanne sale was within the legal terms of Eleanor Ford’s will; and added that the buyer of the Cézanne painting also attempted to purchase a watercolor by Cezanne from the collection, but the board had refused.