Henri Rousseau’s $43.5 Million ‘Les Flamants’ Sets a New Auction Record

Christie’s spring 20th and 21st Century sales week kickoff auctions included works from the collections of media tycoon S.I. Newhouse and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

Watercolor painting of flamingos standing on the edge of a pond
Henri Rousseau’s Les Flamants, (1910) Courtesy of Christie's.

Henri Rousseau’s previous auction record was shattered at Christie’s 20th Century Evening Sale yesterday (May 11) when the French post-impressionist painter’s 1910 Les Flamants sold for $43.5 million. It was presented alongside works by Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, David Hockney, Georgia O’Keeffe, Picasso and Henri Matisse.

Bidding opened at $16.5 million and a heated round pushed the price to $28 million before two parties reportedly went head to head for the painting in eighteen $500,000 increments.

Rousseau’s work, painted the year he died, came from the estate of the late Payne Whitney Middleton, daughter of New York Mets co-founder Joan Whitney Payson, who owned the piece since 1949.

Les Flamants has been in the legendary Whitney collection since 1949, and it could easily be another century before we see a work of this caliber come to market,” said Vanessa Fusco, head of Christie’s impressionist and modern art department, in a statement. “Rousseau is an artist who is undoubtedly recognized as one of the grandfathers of modern art and until our sale, one of his masterpieces has not been available since the last world record price was achieved 30 years ago.”

The artist’s previous auction record was set in 1993 when his painting Portrait of Joseph Brummer fetched $4 million.

An auspicious start to Christie’s spring 20th and 21st Century sales week

Sales kicked off with the 20th Century Evening Sale (which included seven works comprising the final installment of Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection) and Masterpieces from the S.I. Newhouse Collection, the third chapter in a series of historic auctions of works from the art collection of Newhouse, late chairman of Conde Nast.

Highlights from the Newhouse auction included Francis Bacon’s Self-Portrait, which sold for $34 million, and Willem de Kooning’s Orestes, sold for $30 million. Also featured among the lots were works by Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein and Cy Twombly.

Masterpieces brought in more than $177 million. Combined with $238 million in sales from the 2018 and 2019 auctions, Newhouse’s collection is now the sixth highest selling of all time. Together, the 20th Century Evening Sale and Masterpieces from the S.I. Newhouse Collection sales brought in more than $500 million.

The Allen collection alone brought in $88 million, following record-breaking sales in November and making it the highest-selling collection of all time at a combined $1.7 billion. Other private collections and estates included in yesterday’s sales were those of Alan and Dorothy Press, Sophie Danforth and Jacques and Emy Cohenca, which sold for $44 million, $23 million and $20 million respectively. Henri Rousseau’s $43.5 Million ‘Les Flamants’ Sets a New Auction Record