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This Monet painting's return on investment just blew away the S&P 500

MarketWatch logo MarketWatch 5/15/2019 Brett Arends
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Wall Street will tell you stocks are always the best long-term investment.

Try telling that to art lovers. Especially after what happened Tuesday night.

A painting by legendary French Impressionist Claude Monet fetched a record $110.7 million in a frenzied eight-minute bidding war at Sotheby’s auction house in New York.

Not only is that reported to be the highest amount ever paid for an Impressionist painting, as well as the first time an Impressionist has sold for more than $100 million; it also marks a spectacular, equities-crushing return on investment.

The unnamed seller of the Monet “haystacks” masterpiece bought it for just $2.53 million back in 1986. Total return: 4,300%.

That’s nearly twice the total return on the S&P 500 stock index over the same period. The same investment in an S&P 500 index fund would be worth $62 million today.

But the Monet made a lot more money.

Of course, you have to factor in dealing costs, taxes, insurance and so on. On the other hand, the owner had the pleasure of hanging the gorgeous work of art on his or her wall for 33 years.

Sotheby’s said the famous painting, named simply “Meules,” was painted in 1890 and is one of 25 in a celebrated series of “haystack” paintings Monet, who died in 1926 at the age of 86. Most of his works are owned by museums and galleries. Just eight are in private hands. The painting sold Tuesday was first bought directly from Monet’s dealer by a wealthy Chicago family in 1890, and was owned by that family until 1986.

a person standing in a room: Sotheby's officials stand near Claude Monet's “Meules” during a media preview for the Tuesday auction. © AFP/Getty Images Sotheby's officials stand near Claude Monet's “Meules” during a media preview for the Tuesday auction.

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