Inside the Impressionist art collections of Henri Canonne

Parisian Henri Canonne picked out a place for himself in medical history in 1902 with the introduction of the Valda tablet.

Valda pastels are a type of throat sweet and one of the earliest types of self-medication. Containing peppermint, eucalyptus, thyme, wood lignum vitae and the Landes pine, the little green dots had an antiseptic effect which few easily available products did.

As a result, they became enormously  popular - especially in Brazil from their arrival in 1914 where they became a welcome source of relief for those fighting unpleasant respiratory infections.

Canonne enthusiastically assisted in the creation of a plant for the manufacture of the medication locally in Brazil to match the spiralling demand. Early in WWII, a plane was even sent over Rio de Janeiro dropping many tins of Valda with parachutes onto its beaches.

Over a century later the brand name remains a household name, now under the control of Glaxo SmithKline, even recalled in the idiom 'Spit it out, your Valda', when someone seems to be 'chewing' on something they want to say.

The innovation naturally made Canonne quite wealthy, and like some other industrialists such as Viktor Zuckerandl, decided to plough his wealth into an art collection.

Canonne's collection centred on Impressionist art which was at the end of its reign over the art world in 1920 when the pharmacist entered the market.

Claude Monet, who dominated the art movement and after whose work the term 'Impressionism' was coined (albeit in a satirical article suggesting the paintings were further from being finished than wallpaper designs) was entering his final years.

Monet was far from retired, however, being engaged in his famous series of Water Lily pictures.

One of Claude Monet's Water Lilies, owned by Henri Canonne
One of Claude Monet's Water Lilies (Click to enlarge)
Once owned by Henri Canonne and sold for $10m in 2003

Canonne formed a collection of over 40 paintings by the artist, of which 17 were Water-Lilies, and these and other paintings owned by him were well-selected enough for his name to be a mark of quality when Impressionist works are listed.

One of the paintings, Water-Lilies, Setting Sun, depicts a corner of Monet's water garden at Giverny with a reflection of a weeping willow, and this was certainly appears to have been highly regarded by the artist himself.

Selling the work along with eight others directly to Canonne, Monet requested that he might hold onto the work, painted in 1907, for a few weeks until after he had a cataract operation and could look at it afresh once more.

One of the Water Lily paintings is due to be sold at Christie's in London with an estimate of £30m-40m.

Renoir Still Life
Renoir's Bouquet of Roses in a Blue Vase

Whilst Monet's works formed the backbone of Canonne's collection, it contained a range of exquisite paintings that any collector of the period would be proud to own, including works by Bonnard (7), Cézanne (2), Pissarro, Renoir (10 including that pictured), Signac, Sisley (3) and Vuillard.

Another of the finest works in Canonne's collection, that of Henri Matisse's Nu à la chaise longue, is also to sell shortly at Christie's. Canonne bought it within a few months of its completion and it was immediately recognised as a masterpiece.

The critic A Alexandre praised the work for Matisse's draughtsmanship and the portrayal in full light which avoids the common artist's tendency to be sidetracked into trivial details of contrast. "There is here a double discovery, of drawing, and of colour", he explained.

Matisse's Nu à la chaise longue
Henri Matisse's Nu à la chaise longue

Alexandre was so impressed by Canonne's collection overall that he devoted a book to it which was published in 1930.

His belief in the enduring quality of the collection has been borne out by the continued fame and regard for the individual paintings, many of which are now the prize possessions of museums around the world. Christie's sale will take place on June 23.

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