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1987: Van Gogh fetches record price

A painting by Vincent Van Gogh has been sold for $49m (27m) - a world record for a work of art.

The final price was more than twice what the painting, called Irises, had been expected to reach.

The anonymous purchaser must also pay a 10% commission fee to the auction house, Sotheby's, bringing the total to $53.9m (29.5m).

The sale was also accomplished in what may have been a record time given the figures involved - the bidding rose from the starting point of $15m (8.5m) to reach the final sale price in less than two minutes.

Irises depicts the garden of the Saint-Remy mental asylum in France where Van Gogh was a patient.

It was painted in 1889, a few months before the artist committed suicide aged 37.


"There just is no other opportunity to buy a painting like this"

John Marion, Sotheby's

The previous record for a painting was set in March by another Van Gogh masterpiece, Sunflowers.

It was bought in London for just under $40m by a Japanese insurance company.

Traditionally art prices have reflected the state of the economy so in the wake of a stock market crash Irises had not been expected to fetch such a huge sum.

Sotheby's North America chairman John Marion said the sale proved the art world was "alive and well".

"This painting was beyond the stock market. It transcended the stock market. There just is no other opportunity to buy a painting like this," Mr Marion said.

Irises had been owned by John Whitney Payson, the heir to one of America's biggest fortunes.

His mother, Joan, bought it for $80,000 (44,000) in 1947, and hung it over the fireplace in her living room.

After her death in 1975, the painting was displayed in a gallery Mr Payson built in his mother's memory.

He said he decided to sell it after the record-breaking Sunflowers auction because he felt he could not guarantee the safety of a painting potentially worth $40m or more.

In Context
The anonymous purchaser turned out to be Australian entrepreneur Alan Bond.

Controversially, it emerged Sotheby's had lent him half the money to purchase Irises.

Critics said such practices artificially inflated the value of artworks.

After buying Irises, Mr Bond ran into difficulties repaying the loan.

In spite of many offers for Irises, it was three years before he agreed to sell it to the Getty Museum in California for a sum rumoured to be between $55m and $60m.


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