An Anne Vallayer-Coster Still Life, Thought Lost for 200 Years, Fetches a Record-Smashing $2.8 Million at Auction
The impressive still life had only been exhibited once, in 1783.
The French still life painter Anne Vallayer-Coster, the second woman ever admitted to France’s Royal Academy (or Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture), has smashed her auction record with a €2.58 million ($2.8 million) sale at Christie’s Paris of a rediscovered masterpiece last exhibited in 1783.
The painting, titled Nature morte au vase d’albâtre rempli de fleurs avec sur une table plusieurs espèces de fruits, comme ananas, pêches et raisins, has been identified as the artist’s submission to that year’s Paris Salon, a painting of a vase of flowers with a pineapple that had long assumed to be lost.
“We knew the painting existed, but it had completely disappeared,” Pierre Etienne, Christie’s international director and deputy chairman of Old Master paintings, told Artnet News. “What’s absolutely exceptional in that picture is the story.”
Following the deaths of Vallayer-Coster in 1818, and her husband in 1824, their heirs held an auction of their collection. Nature morte was lot number one.
“The specialist described the painting as the best painting that Vallayer-Coster painted in her career, and said that she had always refused to sell the painting to clients although she had multiple occasions to do so,” Etienne said.
The painting did sell to one of her husband’s family members, and dropped out of sight for nearly 200 years. Then last year came the phone call. There was a family in Northeast France with a Vallayer-Coster painting about which they knew very little. Would Christie’s take a look?
The father of the current owner, it turned out, had purchased the work from the Coster family in the 1940s. It was still in its original frame from the 1783 Salon, and in remarkable, near-pristine condition.
“It was a real surprise. It’s the reappearance of a painting from the 19th century, exactly as it was at the time,” Etienne said. He immediately recognized the importance of the rediscovery, and its market potential: “I knew that a picture of that could beat the world record.”
But the family was thrilled even with the prospect of a sale at the low end of the estimate, at €600,000 ($641,711), let alone potentially hitting €1 million ($1.06 million). The tantalizingly low estimate—which came on the heels of three high-performing sales during Old Masters Week at Sotheby’s New York this January—proved enticing, sparking a five-person bidding war that sent the hammer price soaring.
With fees, the final total was a full 158 percent above the pre-sale high estimate. The sale was first reported on Instagram by Art Herstory.
The artist’s previous high at auction, according to the Artnet Price Database, was $1.84 million, set in January 2022 with the sale of her Still life of flowers in a vase on a table beside a bust of Flora, with fruit and other objects with a curtain beyond at Sotheby’s New York.
Etienne declined to shared details about the winning bidder in last week’s sale, other than to say that “this is a painting that could reappear and could be visible in the forthcoming years,” and that the buyer was not from Europe.
Though Vallayer-Coster’s work appears regularly at auction, other paintings will be hard-pressed to match her new auction record, Etienne said. “A painting of that size, that history, and that importance in the artist’s career? That won’t happen again.”
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