LONDON - Sotheby’s London today announces that the collection of Ralph C. Wilson, Jr., visionary founder of the Buffalo Bills NFL franchise, who died earlier this year, will lead Sotheby’s Evening Sale of Impressionist & Modern Art in London on 23 June 2014. The group of four works, highlighted by two exquisite paintings by Claude Monet that represent the pinnacle of the Impressionist movement, was assembled by Mr Wilson with a remarkable vision over two decades ago. American Football as it is known today would not exist if it weren’t for Mr Ralph Wilson, but while he was best known as the longtime owner of the Buffalo Bills, privately he was a passionate collector of the highest order. Seeking out the finest examples of key artists of the Impressionist era, Wilson pursued great works of art and in the 1990s acquired these four canvases by the towering figures of the period.
Helena Newman, Sotheby’s Co-Head, Impressionist & Modern Art Worldwide comments: “We have seen how much appetite there is for works of true museum quality so we anticipate that these two extremely desirable works by Monet will appeal to buyers across the world. Outstanding paintings by Monet are more desirable now than ever before and these two works, each from a pinnacle of the artist’s career in two different decades, are both wonderful examples of why Monet has such an enduring appeal.”
David Norman, Sotheby’s Co-Chairman, Impressionist & Modern Art Worldwide comments : “For over 20 years, I knew Ralph Wilson to be a man who approached acquiring art in the most direct and intuitive manner. Too modest to style himself as a collector, he nonetheless chose works of great beauty, rarity and historic importance. His delight in great works of art was infectious and it is a true privilege to present these paintings to a new generation of collectors and honor his memory."
A distinguished expert in French Impressionism, Charles Moffett, Sotheby’s Vice Chairman, Impressionist & Modern Art, held positions at a number of noted American institutions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the National Gallery of Art and The Phillips Collection. During his time as a curator in San Francisco , Mr. Moffett so admired Monet’s La Seine a Argenteuil that he selected it for the cover of the catalogue for his landmark 1986 exhibition, The New Painting: Impressionism 1874-1886 . He commented, “ La Seine à Argenteuil is a quintessential Impressionist masterwork that was rightly treasured by Mr. Wilson until the end of his remarkable life. The opportunity for collectors today to acquire such a major work from a critical moment in the artist’s career is not likely to be repeated in the foreseeable future.”
The collection features two contrasting landscapes by Claude Monet each of the highest calibre of their kind. Monet’s paintings of the river at Argenteuil from the 1870s are among the crowning achievements of Impressionist art, and La Seine à Argenteuil is an exquisite example (est. £7-10 million/ $12-17 million). Now an iconic image of the period, this painting was among the works Monet chose to exhibit in the Second Impressionist Exhibition in 1876 and has since been extensively exhibited in numerous international museums, including the San Francisco Museum. The work was first owned by the celebrated French opera singer Jean-Baptiste Faure, who was renowned as a collector of Impressionist art and at one time owned over 60 works by Monet.
Antibes, vue du plateau Notre Dame (est. £6-8 million/ $10-13 million) is one of Monet’s most vibrant and brilliantly hued compositions of the 1880s, depicting a dazzling view of the south coast of France. The painting is closely related to the version in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, which bears the same title. Testament to the early and serious appreciation of Impressionism in the United States, the work has been part of a number of distinguished American collections from 1892, including that of Thomas Lincoln Manson, a friend of John Singer Sargent, and the Ferry family in America, before being acquired by Mr. Wilson in 1996.
Painted in 1879, Jeune femme dans les fleurs (est. £3-4 million/ $5-7million) represents the height of Édouard Manet’s interest in the Impressionist movement. During the 1870s and early 1880s Manet would set aside his more formal compositions and embrace his contemporaries’ passion for painting en plein air . The resulting images, including the present work, are masterpieces of deft, descriptive brushwork, executed in verdant colours which delightfully set off the tranquil subject matter. Jeune femme dans les fleurs was included in an auction of property from Manet's estate that was held at the Hôtel Drouot, Paris, in 1884. The work last appeared at auction in 1998, when Mr. Wilson acquired it from Sotheby’s auction of the Reader’s Digest Collection – one of the first and most significant corporate collections of art in America.
Les bords du Loing from circa 1892 captures the gentle afternoon breeze rustling through the tree-lined riverbanks, beautifully rendered by the artist's staccato brushstrokes (est. £1-1.5 million. $1.6-2.5 million). In 1880 Alfred Sisley settled with his family in the village of Moret-sur-Loing, fifty kilometres south of Paris, on the edge of the Forest of Fontainebleau. Sisley remained in Moret until his death in 1899, and it was here that his work achieved its final flowering.
The Legacy of Ralph C. Wilson, Jr.
As a founding owner of the American Football League in 1960 and an instrumental player in its merger with the National Football League a decade later, Mr Ralph Wilson’s impact on the world of sport was momentous. Over the years his name became synonymous with the Buffalo Bills, a franchise he built from the ground up and eventually took to four consecutive Super Bowls. Wilson himself was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009. Wilson and the Bills became and remain part of the fabric of the community in Western New York and the Bills’ stadium in Orchard Park, NY was renamed Ralph Wilson Stadium, The Ralph, in 1998. A tireless philanthropist, Wilson and his wife, Mary, supported numerous organizations in Buffalo, Detroit and across the United States. “
Ralph Wilson was born in 1918 and grew up in Detroit, Michigan. Trained in the law, but an entrepreneur by nature, he was a leading figure in many industries, from construction to entertainment. He was a creator and innovator, who also proudly served his country in the Navy during World War II as a commander on a minesweeper in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. It was with the same vision and passion that propelled his career that he approached collecting.