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Tuesday, 27 July, 1999, 09:18 GMT 10:18 UK
$82m Van Gogh painting missing
Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
Metropolitan Museum of Art has been unable to trace the painting
The world's most expensive painting appears to be missing following a sinister threat from the man who bought it.

The portrait of Dr Gachet by Vincent Van Gogh sold for more than $80m nine years ago but has not been seen in public since then.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which is mounting a Van Gogh exhibition, has been unable to trace the picture.

The 1890 painting by Vincent Van Gogh is of a tired-looking Paul Ferdinand Gachet - Van Gogh's doctor and the man who cared for the artist in the last weeks of his life.

Gachet admired Van Gogh's ability but the feelings were not reciprocated. Van Gogh once wrote: "He is sicker than I am, I think, or shall we say just as much?"

Painting not seen for nine years
In 1990 a Japanese businessman, Ryoei Saito, bought the picture for $82m, the most money ever paid for a painting.

He then threatened to have it burned when he died to prevent his heirs paying a large inheritance tax.

Six years later he did die and the painting has not been seen in public since.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is exhibiting all of Van Gogh's works owned by Dr Gachet and they hoped that the famous portrait would be one of the exhibition's highlights.

But the museum catalogue simply lists the picture as "present whereabouts unknown".

A museum spokesman said it had probably been acquired by someone who wanted to keep its details a secret but it is possible that it may no longer exist.

The BBC's Tom Carver: "It is possible it may no longer exist"
See also:

20 Nov 98 | Your Money
Art back in fashion
20 Nov 98 | Americas
Van Gogh goes for $71m
12 May 99 | Entertainment
Art goes online in virtual museum
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