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EDITIONS
Saturday, 8 February, 2003, 14:02 GMT
Van Gogh find sells for $500,000
The painting
The work has been worn away by restorers
Auctioneers in Japan who originally valued an unsigned painting by Vincent Van Gogh at $80 have sold the work for $550,000.

The Shinwa Art Auction Company was planning to auction off the small portrait of a peasant woman for between 10,000 and 20,000 yen ($83 to $167) after struggling to establish the identity of the artist.

Vincent Van Gogh
Van Gogh sold just one painting during his own lifetime and largely lived in poverty
His Portrait of Doctor Gachet was sold for $82.5m to a Japanese businessman in 1990, becoming the most expensive work of art in history
But a last-minute fax from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam confirmed that the picture was an early work by the Dutch impressionist master.

The auctioning of the work which was painted in 1884 or 1885 took place amid great excitement at a Tokyo auction house on Saturday.

The bidding price started at $125,000 but rose quickly.

Four minutes later the painting was bought by a broker on behalf of the head of a museum in western Japan, Toshio Nakamoto.

"I would say the painting was rather cheap in the end," said Guillermo Bierregaard an Argentinean attending the auction, reported Reuters.

The painting was part of a private collection owned by the late Japanese modern artist Kazumasa Nakagawa.

It aroused Shinwa's suspicions as it resembled catalogued works by Van Gogh.

"We didn't think it was the real thing," said Shinwa's president, Yoichiro Kurata.

Unknown origin

The auction house did not know how the Japanese artist came into possession of the painting.

The painting is believed to have been restored twice during the 1950s, degrading its quality and value.

Van Gogh Museum paintings curator Louis van Tilborgh said in his report that the work had "lost most of its original character and Van Gogh's characteristic brushstrokes are only partially recognisable".

The portrait was one of about 170 pieces of art in the auction from the collection of Nakagawa (1893-1991), an admirer of Van Gogh and French impressionist giant Paul Cezanne.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Sunita Nahar
"News that it was a genuine Van Gogh came two days before it was due to go under the hammer"
See also:

08 Feb 03 | Entertainment
26 Sep 01 | Entertainment
07 Dec 02 | Europe
08 Mar 01 | Europe
27 Jul 99 | Entertainment
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