Sunday, November 9, 2008


One of the most expensive pictures in the world, l'Homme à la hache (The man with an axe), was painted in 1891 as an oil on canvas in the Pacific island of Moorea (Tahiti) by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903).

Gauguin's arrival in Tahiti, after a passage of 69 days, was not especially memorable. His ship dropped anchor in the port of Papeete during the dead of night, as per normal practice, to take advantage of the high tide. Stories in the local press had anticipated Gauguin's coming, for the artist carried a commission from the French government to paint the island and its people.

A young naval lieutenant named Jénot helped him get settled in town. The famous painter's presence quickly raised eyebrows--because of his longish hair, he was called taata-vahine ("man-woman"). Gauguin returned to France in August 1893, with only four francs in his pocket. He rented a room in Paris, and made use of a studio in the same building that the painter Alphonse Mucha had lent him. Gauguin convinced the dealer Paul Durand-Ruel to mount an exhibition of his new paintings. The show opened on 10 November, and consisted of 41 Tahitian paintings, plus some sculptures and three earlier Breton pictures, accounting for almost all of the work he had done in the South Seas and deemed important, including L'homme à la hache. Only eleven paintings were sold, and the show was not a financial success.

But in 2006, this picture got its revenge and reached new heights when it was sold for
$ 40,33 million in New York City. This particular sale by Chrisite's set nine new auction records, including for Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Paul Gauguin. Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II sold for $87,936,000 (with premium), the third highest price for a painting at auction.

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