Union League Club Selling Monet Painting to Raise $

Claude Monet "Pommiers en Fleurs," 1872

By Ginny Van Alyea

Yesterday the news made the rounds the private Union League Club is (again) planning to sell its famed 1872 Monet painting in order to raise much needed funds to support a $10 million renovation of the 330,000 square-foot Club. A couple of years ago the Club rejected a sale for just over $7 million. 

The painting's name, value and importance to Chicago comes up every few years in will-they-wont-they sale discussions. The pandemic was financially devastating to many of the city's private clubs, in particular the Union League, which is located in the hard-hit Loop and has extensive hotel and dining facilities. 

Claude Monet’s Pommiers en Fleurs (Apple Trees in Blossom) measures 23" x 29" and is a classic springtime image by the artist. A Chicagoan, Judge John Barton Payne, who was a member of the Union League Club, purchased the painting from a show of the artist's work at the Art Institute in 1895 just when the artist's star was skyrocketing. According to the description of the Art Institute's Monet in Chicago, "When Monet’s paintings first appeared alongside his contemporaries’ in a Chicago gallery in 1888, he was singled out for praise by the press. And when his works were shown in the city again as part of the last Inter-State Industrial Exposition in Chicago (also known as the “American Salon”) in 1890, they not only captured the eye of local collectors—they ignited a collective passion." A Chicago Daily Tribune review in 1888 exclaimed “Why go to Paris since Paris has come to Chicago?”

Payne sold Pommiers en Fleurs to the Union League for $500. A 2020 Art Monitor article said that at the time of its exhibition in 1895 its value was $1,500. By the late 1950s, it was valued at $20,000, and in 1985, it was said to be worth $900,000. 

The work has been part of museum exhibitions over the years, recently Monet in Chicago at the Art Institute in 2020, but it has always maintained its status as the jewel of the Club's valuable private collection, which is frequently opened to the non-member public.  

The club's website description of its collecting history states, "The Club supported the establishment of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum and the Harold Washington Library. It also built one of the most comprehensive private collections of American art.
This outstanding, museum-quality collection is one of the first things one notices about the Union League Club: art is everywhere! Some work is familiar – Monet’s Apple Trees in Blossom – while others may be less familiar – Sabraw’s Chroma S4 Chimaera, David Anthony Geary’s Back of the Bus for Now, and Roger Brown’s Cathedrals in Space, for example.

It offers ticketed tours of its art collection. It's unclear if the Monet is still on view.