Christie's was supposed to auction off Marc Chagall's La Tour Eiffel in New York City on May 15. However, the auction house is now releasing the canvas back to the National Gallery of Canada. (National Gallery of Canada/Christie's)

National Gallery of Canada to auction Chagall masterpiece

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The National Gallery of Canada is putting a Marc Chagall masterpiece on the auction block next month for the largest art sale in its history, hoping to raise money to buy another unnamed work of art before it leaves Canada.

Christie’s New York auction house will auction off Chagall’s 1929 masterpiece The Eiffel Tower on May 15.

“Acquired by the museum in 1956 from the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York, La Tour Eiffel’s dynamic colouration, exquisite detail and enigmatic atmosphere make it truly exceptional,” Christie’s deputy chair Cyanne Chutkow said in a statement.

“This painting is being offered for sale at an ideal time in the market, when singular examples by Chagall are more in demand than ever.”

Christie’s is hoping the oil painting by the Belorussian-born French artist, which was bought for $16,000 in 1956, will fetch between US$6 million and US$9 million, although it could go for much more.

In November, Sotheby’s estimated Chagall’s 1928 painting Les Amoureux would sell for $12 to US$18 million US, but it fetched for more than $28 million US.

The proceeds will be used to buy an important work of “national heritage,” according to the gallery.

“There’s a work that’s about to leave Canada that we feel should not leave Canada,” Marc Mayer, director and CEO of the National Gallery of Canada, told CBC News.

“It’s a more important work of art than the ones that we’re proposing to sell.”

The decision to sell one of two Chagall paintings owned by the National Gallery has not gone over well with some art lovers in Canada.

“The sale of this art is a monumental stupidity. It has to be stopped,” Ninon Gauthier, former president of the Canadian branch of the International Association of Art Critics, told CBC News.

Gauthier said the Chagall belongs to all Canadians.

“Future generations will not forgive the gallery for that loss … The National Gallery is not just for Canadian art. It’s for international art.”

With files from CBC News

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