There are very few artists whose oeuvre resonates as strongly or have the kind of star quality as acclaimed Dutch painter’s Vincent van Gogh’s works. An artist whose name has the same appeal in China as it does in Europe or the US attracts buyers from all over the globe that are willing to pay record-breaking prices at auction for the most expensive Van Gogh's paintings.
But that wasn’t always the case.
Born in a small town Groot-Zundert in the Netherlands, van Gogh was a replacement child conceived shortly after the death of his older sibling. A Post-impressionist artist, who's known for his erratic behavior just as much as for his vibrant imagery, suffered his first mental breakdown after a failed proposal attempt in 1873. In the early 1880s, he moved to Brussels to become an artist, but he was far from the celebrated figure we know today. Widely unknown during his lifetime the Dutch painter was not only struggling with physical illness but also with the lack of demand for his works.
Joining forces in 1888 with another famous artist, Paul Gauguin, van Gogh was ready to start what will be the most prolific part of his career. With vibrant energetic brushstrokes and striking bright colors, he depicted people of Arles and its captivating landscapes painted in all its glory. Flowers, forests, crop fields and of course sunflowers gave him an opportunity to practice his innovative use of colors especially yellow which he considered to be a symbol of emotional truth. It was there where he applied a new technique that juxtaposed the saturated colors in the background and one single figure appearing in the landscape.
Having famously severed his ear off after a passionate argument with Gauguin, the Dutch painter ended up in an asylum where he spent over a year. There, he portrayed a series of paintings documenting his injuries in his famous self-portraits with bandaged ear. In his final years, the artist returned to painting landscapes enriched with a deeply emotional component that conveys his feeling of loneliness and a desperate desire to regain his sanity.
During his lifetime, van Gogh managed to sell only a handful of his paintings and was forced to exchange some of his works for food or medical treatment. But his energetic brushstrokes, inventive perspectives, contrasting colors and contours and of course his tragic yet legendary life story made him into a worldwide celebrity granting him almost a rock star status among painters.
Today, van Gogh's exhibitions draw people like magnets and his works have become the most valuable possessions worth several million dollars. Though the majority of the prominent painter’s artworks are located in museums like the MoMA in New York, Musée d'Orsay in Paris and his very own museum in Amsterdam, only a few lucky and wealthy private collectors managed to get their hands on some of the artist’s recognizable pieces.
Scroll down to find out which paintings hold the title of costliest van Gogh's pieces sold at auctions.
Editor's Tip: Vincent van Gogh
Anyone interested in van Gogh's paintings with their heavily articulated brushstrokes, dazzling color, and hypnotic perspective will wonder about the artist who created such masterpieces. Drawing on the artist's correspondence, this book by Isabel Kuhl allows readers to experience the artist's life and work synchronistically, with brilliant reproductions of his most famous and lesser-known works. Van Gogh's fans will find much to discover in this appealing and accessible overview of one of the world's most compelling figures.
Featured image: Vincent van Gogh - L’Allee des Alyscamps, as seen at Sotheby's New York auction, via blogcdn.com; Portrait du Docteur Gachet. 1890 (detail); Paysage sous un ciel mouvemente, via Sotheby's.
Painted in the asylum in October 1889, L'homme est en mer represents a vibrant yet deeply disturbing depiction of a young mother worried about her husband who is away at sea.
Like many other van Gogh paintings from that period, this portrait is marked with a bright, shimmering palette and striking color contrast. Warm yellow tones of the fire and the floor are set in juxtaposition with cold blue shades of the main subject’s dress and the wall behind her.
This van Gogh painting that evokes contemplative and almost dreamy sensation was sold to a private collector at Sotheby’s Evening Sale in 2015 for $24,462,000 (without buyer's premium).
For additional info please follow this link.
Featured image: Vincent Van Gogh - L'homme est en mer, via sothebys.com
Sous-bois, a $24,5 million worth artwork, represents one of the very last paintings that acclaimed Dutch impressionist ever made. The painting is a part of a series depicting trees and undergrowth that was inspired by one of his favorite songs Charles Dickens poem, Ivy Green.
Green and yellow tones dominate the artwork that depicts a wild forest in full bloom. Van Gogh applied colors in short brushstrokes across the canvas and used the interplay between light and shadows to portray the filing of loneliness characteristic of his final works.
For more information about the painting that reached a multi-million dollars price at an auction, click here.
Featured image: Van Gogh - Sous-bois, via pinterest
Among the first works that Van Gogh painted while he was recovering at the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum in Saint-Rémy, Le moissonneur (d’après Millet) is an image based on a print by Van Gogh’s arguably most favorite artist, Jean-François Millet. Van Gogh painted 10 works, according to the 10 drawings Millet had produced in 1852.
Le moissonneur (d’après Millet) is one of just three in private hands (the other seven are now in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam). The painting depicts a reaper at work, sweeping his scythe in the fields.
Le Moissonneur (D'Apres Millet) reached a price of $27,426,970 at Christie's Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale in London, and more details can be seen on this link.
Featured image: Vincent Van Gogh - Le Moissonneur (D'Apres Millet), via Christie's
Painted in October 1889, Arbres Dans Le Jardin de L'Asile is another work Van Gogh created during his stay at the asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. The work demonstrates the artist's total, intimate immersion within the landscape, but also the developing synthesis of pictorial ideas that he had been incorporating into his work.
A month before he painted this canvas, he wrote to his brother Theo: "I started working again a little—a thing I see from my window, a field of yellow stubble that is being ploughed.” In a subsequent letter to his brother, he wrote that "more than ever I have a pent-up fury for work, and I think that this will contribute to curing me.” Van Gogh's production during the fall of 1889 constitutes an astonishing run.
This van Gogh painting was sold on May 15th, 2019 at Christie's New York during their Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale for $40,000,000.
More data on the work here.
Created in mid-October 1889, Vue De Lasile Et De La Chapelle Saint-Paul De Mausole (Saint-Remy) depicts the Twelfth-Century Romanesque tower and chapel at the entrance to the former Augustinian monastery of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. The edifice was converted into a private asylum for the mentally ill, where the artist had been a patient in voluntary confinement since early May, due to his fits of temporal lobe epilepsy.
Van Gogh painted the work en plein air while an asylum attendant kept an eye on him. It is the only painting from the period which shows the buildings of Saint-Paul from the outside looking in.
The work was sold on May 15th, 2018 at Christie's New York during their Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale for $35,000,000.
More data about the work here.
L'Arlésienne: Madame Ginoux is the title given to a group of six similar paintings depicting Marie Ginoux, Van Gogh’s landlady. Both Vincent and Paul Gauguin stayed in Café de la Gare, for several moths in 1888 that was owned by madame Ginoux and her husband.
Madame Ginoux had a portrait session with both artists but while Paul Gauguin only produced a charcoal drawing of the women, his companion created an entire series of paintings depicting the subject in various situations.
While most pieces from the series belong to museums all over the globe, the portrait of Madame Ginoux with books become a part of a private collection in 2006.
The painting was sold by Christie's New York for $36 million, slightly below the low estimate, and all information about the sale can be found here.
Featured image: Van Gogh - L'Arlésienne, Madame Ginoux, via Christie's
The dramatic and atmospheric Paysage sous un ciel mouvemente painting conveys the restless feeling of anticipation. The dark cloud is disturbing the colorful landscape as field workers hurry to finish their harvest before the upcoming storm. Thick layers of strong, vibrant colors dominate the painting that presents one of the finest examples of artist’s Arles period.
Paysage sous un ciel mouvemente was sold for $48 million at Sotheby's in New York in 2015. For more information about the artwork visit this link.
Featured image: Van Gogh - Paysage sous un ciel mouvemente, via Sotheby's
The painting of a richly-colored bouquet of flowers was created mid-June 1890 at the very peak of Van Gogh's career. The masterpiece was painted at doctor Gachet's house and it was possibly traded in exchange for medical treatment.
The artwork depicting a bundle of poppies, daisies, and cornflowers was sold in 2014 at Sotheby's New York ago for the tremendous sum of $55 million. For more information about this painting, click here!
Featured image: Van Gogh - Nature Morte, Vase Aux Marguerites Et Coquelicots, via sothebys.com
Van Gogh’s short yet fruitful collaboration with Paul Gauguin resulted in numerous relevant pieces, including L’Allee des Alyscamps, a painting created in 1888 in Arles.
The artwork depicts ravishing colors of the fall in all of their splendor, but also the ruins of Romanesque sarcophagi that can be seen peeking down the promenade, while people nonchalantly walk by.
This vibrant piece was sold to Asian private collector reaching the price of $59 million at Sotheby's New York sale dedicated to Impressionist and modern artworks in 2015. For more information about the painting, click here.
Featured image: Van Gogh - L’Allee des Alyscamps, via Sotheby's
Portrait de l'artiste sans barbe is considered to be the last self-portrait the painter ever made. The artwork represented a birthday gift for Van Gogh’s mother who was also an artist. It was created just after the artist had shaved his beard, following his admission to hospital for cutting off his ear.
Portrait de l'artiste sans barbe was sold at a 1998 Christie's sale in New York for the hammer price of $65 million, which made it one of the most expensive pieces sold at the time. For more data on the piece, click here.
Featured image: Van Gogh - Portrait de l'artiste sans barbe, via Christie's
The view depicted in Laboureur Dans Un Champ was what Vincent Van Gogh saw from his asylum window every morning through the years 1889 and 1890. Depicting a ploughman tilling the soil on a wheat field is what the artist depicted almost a year after painting his previous piece.
When he started working on the painting, Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo:
Yesterday I started working again a little - a thing I see from my window - a field of yellow stubble which is being ploughed, the opposition of the purplish ploughed earth with the strips of yellow stubble, background of hills. Work distracts me infinitely better than anything else, and if I could once again really throw myself into it with all my energy that might possibly be the best remedy.
A few days later, he added:
I’m struggling with a canvas begun a few days before my indisposition. A reaper, the study is all yellow, terribly thickly impastoed, but the subject was beautiful and simple. I then saw in this reaper—a vague figure struggling like a devil in the full heat of the day to reach the end of his toil—I then saw the image of death in it, in the sense that humanity would be the wheat being reaped. So if you like, it’s the opposite of that Sower I tried before. But in this death is nothing sad, it takes place in broad daylight with a sun that floods everything with a light of fine gold. Good, here I am again, however I’m not letting go, and I’m trying again on a new canvas. Ah, I could almost believe that I have a new period of clarity ahead of me.
For more information about the artwork, which sold at Christie’s New York in 2017 for $72,000,000, click here.
Featured image: Van Gogh - Laboureur Dans Un Champ, via Christie's.
Another portrait made it to the top of our list.
The portrait of doctor Paul Gachet, who took care of the artist in the final years of his life, was sold to a private collector for the record price of $75 million in 1990 at Christie's in New York thus making it the most expensive van Gogh painting ever sold. The artwork depicts Dr. Gachet sitting at a table with his head bowed while leaning on his arm. We can also notice a foxglove on the table, a herb that was used at the time to make medicine for certain heart problems.
Van Gogh made two different versions of the painting, and the second piece can be seen at Musée d'Orsay in Paris.
For more information about this version, click here.
Featured image: Van Gogh - Portrait du Docteur Gachet, via Christie's. All images via their respective auction houses.
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