Monday, February 19, 2007


Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) for whom color was the chief symbol of expression, was born in Groot-Zundert, Holland. The son of a pastor, brought up in a religious and cultured atmosphere, Vincent was highly emotional and lacked self-confidence. In 1886 he went to Paris to join his brother Théo, the manager of Goupil's gallery. In Paris, van Gogh studied with Cormon, inevitably met Pissarro, Monet, and Gauguin, and began to lighten his very dark palette and to paint in the short brushstrokes of the Impressionists.

After a while he decided to go south to Arles where he hoped his friends would join him and help found a school of art. Gauguin did join him but with disastrous results. In a fit of epilepsy, van Gogh pursued his friend with an open razor, was stopped by Gauguin, but ended up cutting a portion of his ear lobe off.

In May of 1890, he seemed much better and went to live in Auvers-sur-Oise under the watchful eye of Dr. Gachet. Two months later he was dead, having shot himself "for the good of all." During his brief career he had sold one painting :
The Red Vineyard, created in 1888, now on display in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, Russia.

Van Gogh made between 1888 and 1889 seven studies of the Sunflowers, some are quite dark, others more flashy and colorful. The firts one was destroyed by a fire during WW2. He also made studies of cut sunflowers. He was very produ of his paintings of Sunflowers and wrote to hisbrother Theo :"You may know that the peony is Jeannin's, the hollyhock belongs to Quost, but the sunflower is mine in a way."

This particular Sunflowers (39.5 ins by 30.25 ins) came for sale in 1987 from the Chester Beatty (the US King of copper) collection and was sold as the result of the death of his widow. Before the auction, the picture was taken to Zurich, Tokyo and New York. The Trustees were impressed and gave the sale to Christie's. It was then the last one in private hands. The sale took place on March 30th 1987 and was a great occasion to anyone in the art world : even luminaries like Jeffrey Archer and Baron Heinrich Thyssen had to be seen at the sale.

The room's atmosphere was electrical when the auctioneer started the sale at an initial offer of £ 5 million. The bidding went quickly up in £500,000 steps to 20 million. The bidding wnet into a nail-biting duel between two guys bidding on the telephone. Finally, one of them James Roundell knocked him down for £ 22,500,000 without the premium which made the final price to £ 24,750,000 ($39.9 million). The actual buyer was the Japanese corporation Yasuda Fire and Marine Insurance that had his own private museum. Between October and December 1987, 170,000 people in Japan paid to see the picture in the Yasuda Museum. The Australian magnate Alan Bond had commissioned Christie's to bid for it up to 22 million pounds.

Six months later, in Novembrer 1987, the Irises by van Gogh went for sale on auction in New York. The Irises was painted by van Gogh while he was at the asylum at Saint Paul-de-Mausole in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France, in the last year before his death.

This time the auction took place after the Black Monday
of the 19th October when the Dow Jones lost 27% of its capitalization in one session of the markets. Even Christie's shares dropped more than 400 pences from a higher of 700p to a low point of 239p on December 10th. However the crash had little effect on the Art market due to a) the weakness of the $ b) the low world interest rates.

On the 11th of November, the buoyancy of the Art market was demonstrated when Sotheby's Parke Bernet sold the Irises for
53.9 million dollars to the Australian tycoon Alan Bond. The sale made the headlines of every newspaper in the world but unknown to the public (and to the media who never know anything significant) half the sum was advanced to Alan Bond by the vendor. Some months later, Bond was declared bankrupt and the Irises never stayed in his offices for his colleagues to be impressed. It so became -allegedly- the most expensive painting ever sold, setting a record which stood for two and a half years but actually it was a total usurpation as Bond never paid this price. Irises is now owned by the J. Paul Getty Trust and is on display at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, USA.

The record was beaten by Van Gogh's
Portrait of Dr. Gachet sold for $82.5 million on May 15, 1990 at Christie's, New York to the Japanese businessman Ryoei Saito who died in 1996.

Vincent van Gogh's
Portrait of Dr. Gachet was painted in June 1890 at Auvers-sur-Oise, during the last months of his life before his suicide. He made two versions of the painting, which differ in color. Both are oil-on-canvas and measure 67 by 56 cm (26" by 22") in size. The current location of the painting is not known, probably somewhere in the vault of a Japanese bank or two as the rumor says that its property is shared by two banks.

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