Van Gogh painted the work in the spring of 1887, only three years before his death. Scène de rue à Montmartre is one of a series the Dutch artist created to document the hill of Montmartre where he lived (in the 18th arrondissement of Paris). The neighborhood was the playground of the Impressionists. An important gathering place for the artistic types was the Moulin de la Galette. The 17th-century windmill became a popular watering hole and dance hall. The social scene inside and around the windmill were depicted by the likes of Auguste Renoir and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Van Gogh himself painted the scene many times, creating what is known as the Le Moulin de la Galette series of works. Most of these paintings are now in public museums, which makes the display of the Scène de rue à Montmartre an important moment.
Van Gogh’s later life was troubled, and he passed away in 1890. The Scène de rue à Montmartre was purchased in 1920 by a French collector. It depicts the Moulin Dubray or Moulin à Poivre, another windmill in Montmartre. In the background, the decorations of the Moulin de la Galette are visible. For the past century, the painting has remained in the hands of one family. Although known to scholars through several exhibition catalogs, the work has never been exhibited publicly. As a rare treasure, the piece is expected to sell for between five and eight million euros (approximately six to 10 million dollars) at auction in March 2021. Aurélie Vandevoorde of Sotheby’s said in a statement, “The appearance on the market of a painting of this calibre, from such an iconic series, undoubtedly marks a major event.”