An unknown Monet painting has surfaced at Marks and Spencer (M&S), the British retail chain. It is not for sale and has just gone on loan to what may seem a surprising venue: a gallery at the University of Leeds.
Autumn at Jeufosse is unrecorded in the comprehensive Wildenstein catalogue raisonné of Monet’s work. It is almost certainly a major rediscovery, although until it has been properly authenticated there is always a risk that it will turn out not to be the real thing.
So how did a Monet end up at M&S? It was bought by Simon Marks, the son of Michael Marks who, in 1884, had established his “penny bazaar” in Leeds. In 1894, Michael joined with Thomas Spencer to set up what became a chain of clothing shops, which later branched out into food.
Simon Marks derived huge wealth from M&S, and he and his wife Miriam developed a taste for art in the 1920s. They began with Renoir, buying a painting and nine drawings, and quickly went on to acquire works by Pissarro and Degas. But they kept a low profile as collectors, so never became well-known names in the art world.
In 1937, Simon Marks bought Monet’s Autumn at Jeufosse, probably from the Paris-based Durand-Ruel gallery. The landscape dates from 1884, by coincidence the year his father’s first penny bazaar opened. It depicts a stretch of the Seine at Jeufosse, not far from Monet’s home in Giverny. The artist completed a dozen views at Jeufosse that year.
Simon and Miriam hung Autumn at Jeufosse in the colonnaded entrance hall of their house in London’s Grosvenor Square. They lent the Monet only once, to the Tate in 1963 for a one-month display called Works from the Collections of Twenty Friends of the Tate Gallery. There was only a modest catalogue list, which is now scarce, and Autumn at Jeufosse does not seem to have been noticed by the Monet specialists. The painting is unrecorded in both the 1979 and 1996 editions of the Wildenstein catalogue raisonné.
Miriam died in 1971, after Simon, and she bequeathed the Monet to the M&S company. It then hung in the directors’ suite at their headquarters in London’s Baker Street. In 2017, the Monet was deemed too valuable to keep in an office and it was moved to a secure art storage facility.
M&S is unwilling to disclose the valuation but a similar riverscape of Jeufosse sold in 2019 at Christie’s in New York for $3.5m.
Although one might have expected a national institution to be interested in borrowing a Monet landscape, assuming it is good condition, it has been lent to the University of Leeds’s Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery. The M&S company archive is located on the campus of the university, which explains the choice of venue.
Along with the Monet, M&S has also lent four other pictures. These include an important Turner that has never been exhibited, The Pantheon the Morning after the Fire (1792). It was bought because in 1938 M&S had opened a flagship store on the former site of the Pantheon opera house in Oxford Street.
Lowry’s Market Stalls was aquired to mark the opening of a new M&S store in Manchester in 1961. Two other paintings now on loan to Leeds are by Maurice de Vlaminck and Edward Seago.
An M&S spokesperson says that there are “no plans” for the sale of the Monet and the long-term loan runs until 2030.
In January, following inquiries by The Art Newspaper, M&S and the Leeds gallery approached the New York-based Wildenstein Plattner Institute, which authenticates Monet’s work, to consider Autumn at Jeufosse. Its verdict is likely to be given later this year.