Chicago’s Union League Club Board Approves Sale of Prized Monet, Other Works

The Union League Club, home to one of the most significant private art collections in the American Midwest, is reportedly planning to liquidate a portion of its collection, including a coveted Monet painting, to alleviate economic strain resulting from the pandemic.

According to a report published by Politico, Union League president Nancy A. Ross confirmed the board’s approval to sell the Monet. In an email to the club’s members, she wrote, “Key to the board’s decision is the inherent uncertainty of the length of the negative effects of the pandemic on the club’s operations and Chicago’s economy.”

The historic private social club, a 501(c)(7) tax exempt organization, has already made moves to deal with financial fallout from the pandemic. The organization has cut around 75 percent of its full-time staff, from 275 to 67 employees, and issued 10–20 percent salary cuts for management figures and raised $520,000 in member donations.

Currently on loan at the the Art Institute’s “Monet in Chicago” exhibition, the Monet first showed at the museum in 1895, at which point its value was $1,500, according to its authenticity record. Club member Judge John Barton Payne acquired the work and later sold it to the Union League for $500. By the late 1950s, it was valued at $20,000, and in 1985, it was said to be worth $900,000. Today, its market value is estimated to be between $5 million and $15 million.

Sally Metzler, the club’s art director, served as a member of a task force overseeing the deaccessioning, according to the Chicago Tribune. Ross said in the letter to the club’s members that, alongside the Monet, a selection of works could potentially go up for sale, including ones by George Inness, Victor Higgins, William Wendt, and the Chicago Imagist Jim Nutt. The club’s general manager, Mark Tunney, told the Tribune that plans to sell the Monet and other works are not finalized.

Reached by Art Market Monitor, Metzler referred a request for comment to a Union League spokesperson. Multiple attempts to reach the spokesperson were unsuccessful.

The Monet landscape is considered the gem of the Union League Club’s collection, which comprises more than 700 works by the likes of Donald Judd, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Kerry James Marshall, and Angel Otero, as well as Chicago artists Ed Paschke, Jim Nutt, William Conger, and Dawoud Bey. The collection has historically been available for public view.

The work’s inclusion in the Monet showcase at the Art Institute of Chicago could increase the work’s value if it comes up for auction.

The sale would not mark the first time the Union Club has deaccessioned art in recent years. In 2015, at Christie’s, the club sold a Félix Ziem landscape for $62,500 to benefit its acquisition fund.

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