Chicago’s Union League Club to Sell Monet Painting to Fund $10 M. Building Renovation

The Union League Club of Chicago is selling its prized painting by Claude Monet and a work by Walter Ufer to help pay for a $10 million renovation of its building.

The Monet painting, Pommiers en fleurs (1872), shows a French lane with blooming white flowers and bushes. It was purchased in 1895 by club member Judge John Barton Payne and sold to the club for $500. The value of the 23-inch by 29-inch painting rose to $20,000 in the late 1950s, and then its estimated worth ballooned to $900,000 in 1985. Aside from an exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2020, the spring scene has been on display on the second floor of the club since its purchase.

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The historic private social club had previously approved the sale of the Monet painting in December 2020, due to economic strain from the Covid-19 pandemic. The 501(c)(7) tax exempt organization had already cut approximately 75 percent of its full-time staff, given salary cuts to its management and raised $520,000 in member donations.

By the end of 2020, the painting’s market value was estimated to be between $5 million and $15 million. However, the Union League Club rejected an offer of $7.2 million from an Australian art dealer. A deal to sell the work ended up in court, and a judge ruled the club did not need to complete the transaction in March 2021.

While the club is now in a much better financial position, the Chicago Tribune reported the sale of Pommiers en fleurs and Ufer’s Land of Mañana (1917) are due to a “significant mortgage” and capital for the renovation of its building, which will be 100 years old next May.

“We believe that now’s the time to raise capital,” board vice president Frank DeVincentis told the Tribune, which first reported news of the sale. “Rather than impose on our existing members with a one-time assessment, we believe that raising the funds through the sale of some art is most appropriate.”

There is also hope that Pommiers en fleurs is now worth a lot more.

“It is in excess of that $7.2 million figure,” DeVincentis told the Tribune. “Much greater excess.”

The Tribune reported that New York–based Winston Art Group has been hired for the sale of Pommiers en fleurs and Land of Mañana. Both the Union League Club and Winston Art Group did not respond to inquiries from ARTnews.

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