A record-breaking charity donation: the monks auction their wares

01:00 Sat 02nd Mar 2002 The AnswerBank

Q. Record breaking

A. Three paintings put up for sale by the Saint Francis of Assisi Foundation, a charity run by the Franciscan Order, went on sale at Christie's in London on 4 February. They were L'Estaque by Pierre-August Renoir, Golfe d'Antibes by Claude Monet and Maurice de Vlaminck's La Seine � Chatou. The Vlaminck sold for the highest price ever paid for one of the artist's works at auction.

Q. How much did they fetch

A. The two Impressionist paintings each went for �2,203,750 (it was estimated that they would sell for between �1.5 and �2.5 million apiece), while Vlaminck's Fauve piece, which had been expected to net around 3.5 to 4 million, eventually sold for �7,153,750. The total of �11.5 million far exceeded the �8 million or so predicted by most punters before the auction. The buyer has not been named.

Q. What were an order of monks who have taken a vow of poverty doing with such valuable paintings

A. They were given them.

Q. By whom

A. An anonymous benefactor. The 'deeply religious European collector', as he has been described, had originally intended the pieces to go to the charity after his death. However, he was persuaded by the monks that he might gain greater spiritual satisfaction if he saw the good work being done with the money from their sale in his lifetime.

What is known about the benefactor is that he is a very wealthy Catholic and that he bought the works in the 1980s. He chose the Franciscans precisely because of their vow of poverty.

The previous owner of the Vlaminck - considered by some critics to be artist's most important work - was the French actor Alain Delon.

Q. Is this a record-breaking art bequest

A. Not quite. Unicef received a donation from an anonymous couple in 2000 worth �32 million, though this one does take the silver medal.

Christie's international director of Impressionist and modern art, Jussi Pylkkanen, said of the sale: 'Not since the auction following our sale of Van Gogh's Sunflowers in 1987 has Christie's arranged a sale of such outstanding quality in London.' So the auction house was impressed.

Q. Who was Vlaminck, then

A. Maurice de Vlaminck (1876-1958) was a French painter of Flemish parents, noted for his brash temperament as well as his flair for painting landscapes. His interest in art dated from 1895 and his early influence was Impressionism, but in 1901 he began to show the influence of the art of Vincent van Gogh. Though his work remained representational, its free use of colour moved in the innovative direction of Fauvism, and in 1905 he participated in the controversial group show at the Salon d'Automne when the term 'Fauve' was first coined. Later, however, he turned to painting landscapes of thickly applied greys, whites and deep blues, and his mature work moved in an Expressionist direction

Q. And Fauvism

A. Fauvism was a style of painting that flourished in France from 1898 to 1908. It used pure, brilliant colour, applied straight from the paint tubes in an aggressive, direct manner to create a sense of an explosion on the canvas. The Fauves painted directly from nature as the Impressionists had before them. The critic Louis Vauxcelles, came up with the name Fauves (Wild Beasts), because of the violence of their works.

Q. What about the order of St Francis

A. Giovanni (the name he was christened under) Francesco di Pietro di Bernardone (1881/2-1226) founded his order at his birth-place of Assisi in the early 13th century, and he remains one of the most venerated Christian figures of all time - he was canonised within two years of his death, which is still something of a record. The Franciscans reject all things material and are dedicated to helping the poor and needy. The St Francis of Assisi Foundation organises aid projects for the poor in countries such as Brazil, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Chad. St Francis's feast day is 4 October.

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By Simon Smith

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