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Sotheby’s $50 M. Van Gogh Actually Failed to Sell in 1990

The work in question. COURTESY SOTHEBY'S

The work in question.


Sotheby’s has put together an impressive evening sale for next week, led by two guaranteed works estimated to go for above $100 million and $45 million each (by Alberto Giacometti and Amedeo Modigiani, respectively). The catalogue cover lot for the sale, a Vincent van Gogh from 1890 with the sale’s third-highest estimate, however, was actually bought in under a $12 million-to-$16 million estimate in 1990. They’re now calling it Nature mort, Vase aux marguerites et coquelicots and its current estimate is $30 million to $50 million.

The painting was acquired in 1928 by A. Conger Goodyear, the first president of the Museum of Modern Art, who then gave it to his son George Forman Goodyear, who gifted 60 percent of it to the Buffalo’s Albright-Knox Art Gallery before deciding to sell it in 1990. According to Artnet’s price database, it was in the November 14, 1990 sale as Vase de Bleuets et Coquelicots. (That actually makes much more sense as a title since in French one would be more likely to say “vase de marguerites et coquelicots” to describe this painting, depending on whatever kinds of flowers you think those are. “Vas aux” more describes a real-life vase with a depiction of something on it, Vas aux Guerriers, etc.) In 1991 Goodyear apparently managed to sell it to an “important European collection,” the seller of this work.

Why does a painting buy in? Who knows! Doesn’t mean it’s a bad work. In fact, the auction-record-setting Van Gogh, Portrait du Dr. Gachet (1980) sold that May for $82.5 million. Should that have helped or hurt the attempted sale of this painting in 1990? Who knows! (Maybe that means the market for Van Gogh was hot at the time, or, with the sale of that painting, satiated!) Is this current estimate over-ambitious or the reflection of a booming market? Who knows! At any rate, this not-guaranteed lot is definitely one to watch.

Correction 11/3: An earlier version of the story misstated the estimate for the Modigliani.

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