Paul Cezanne’s still life “Bouilloire et Fruits” sold for a near-record $59 million at auction Monday, in another remarkable chapter in the story of a painting that was once owned by a French baron, stolen from a Stockbridge home by a gambler who was murdered for his debts, and stashed in a Swiss vault for two decades by a lawyer who would go to prison for selling it illegally.
The name of of the purchaser is not currently being disclosed by auction house Christie’s, where the painting had a “hammer price” of $52 million but an overall price tag of $59 million Monday. That’s near the $60.5 million record price for a Cezanne, which was paid for “Rideau, cruchon et compotier” in 1999.
“Bouilloire et Fruits” had been owned since the late 1990s by the late media mogul S.I. Newhouse, whose estate is selling some of his collection. Christie’s had expected the painting to sell for $50 million, but bidding quickly drove it to the final price of $52 million.
Cézanne, one of France’s famed Impressionists, painted the image of a kettle next to a clutch of fruit between 1888 and 1890. But the painting has a colorful backstory: It was stolen from the Stockbridge home of Michael Bakwin in 1978, apparently by a Pittsfield gambler named David Colvin who was then murdered in 1979.
Before he died, he left the Cezanne and six other paintings stolen from the Stockbridge home in the attic of his then-lawyer Robert M. Mardirosian, who hid them for decades before finally selling the Cezanne back to Bakwin in 1999.
Mardirosian was later successfully prosecuted in federal court and was released from prison in 2014.
Newhouse brought the painting at auction from Bakwin for $29.3 million in 1999.