The Union League Club of Chicago Is Selling Its Treasured Monet

The social club is putting its crown jewel, 'Pommiers en Fleurs,' on the market to fund planned renovations.

Oil painting of garden road
Claude Monet, Pommiers en Fleurs, 1872. Courtesy Union League Club of Chicago

The Union League Club of Chicago is selling a rare Claude Monet painting that has been in its collection for over a century. The social club, which previously explored the artwork’s sale during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, will use sale proceeds to fund a $10 million renovation.

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“This is no easy decision for the Board and our club and we recognize that art is an iconic part of our identity,” said Cynthia Doloughty, the club’s president, in a statement. “So, too, are premiere facilities, second-to-none experiences and a solid financial foundation.”

The club traces its roots back to the Union Leagues of America. Formed in 1862 to support Abraham Lincoln and the Union, the association had branches across the U.S. In 1879, former members helped establish the Union League Club of Chicago (ULCC), which since 1926 has been located in a Beaux-Arts building in Chicago’s Loop neighborhood.

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For more than a century, Monet’s 1872 painting Pommiers en Fleurs has adorned the club’s second floor when it wasn’t loaned out to museums like the Chicago Art Institute. The work was acquired in 1895 by Judge John Barton Payne, chair of the club’s art committee, who subsequently sold it to ULCC for a mere $500.

The painting was valued significantly higher in 2020 when the club proposed selling the work for between $5 million and $15 million amid financial struggles stemming from the pandemic. During that time, it cut around 75 percent of its staff, in addition to decreasing salaries and raising more than $500,000 in member donations. However, the club eventually declined a $7.2 million offer for the painting from an Australian art dealer, who subsequently took ULCC to court. In 2021, a judge ruled that the club wasn’t bound to the deal.

Second time’s a charm?

Now, the 19th-century painting is back on the market. ULCC is also offering up the 1917 Land of Mañana by Walter Ufer, a German-born artist who was raised in Kentucky. Both works will be sold through the Winston Art Group, a New York-based art advisory and appraisal firm. The club didn’t specify the estimated price of either painting, but Frank DeVincentis, who is heading its renovation efforts, told The Chicago Tribune that the Monet’s value is in “much greater excess” of the $7.2 million figure offered in 2020.

Funds will support Project Burnham, a multi-year renovation initiative that will see the club’s facilities, rooms and other infrastructure upgraded. In addition to capital investments in event and dining spaces and athletics and spa services, proceeds from the paintings will also be used to pay off some of ULCC’s debt.

The social club is also considering funneling money into expanding its art holdings. “The Board, with the Art Committee, will consider reinvesting a portion of the sale proceeds to augment the art collection,” said Doloughty. Although the Monet has long been considered the “crown jewel” of the ULCC, the clubhouse still has a 700-piece art collection that has been referred to as “the other art institute in Chicago.”

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering the club’s close ties to several cultural institutions (it supported the establishment of the Art Institute, Field Museum and the Harold Washington Library). With paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints and photographs, the club’s collection has everything from early American portraits to contemporary works. Highlights include Ed Paschke’s 199 Primondo and Roger Brown’s 1989 Chicago Taking a Breather. Around one-third of the club’s holdings were produced by female artists, including local artistic heavyweights like painter Gertrude Abercrombie.

The Union League Club of Chicago Is Selling Its Treasured Monet