A drawing by Vincent Van Gogh made during the artist’s final years will sell at Christie’s as part of the drawing collection sale titled “A Family Collection: Works on Paper, Van Gogh to Freud” on March 1 in New York. Estimated at $7 million–$10 million, the work is titled La Mousmé (1888).
The rare drawing comes from the family collection of London dealer Thomas Gibson and depicts an anonymous young female sitter. It is the last work of a group of 12 originally gifted by the artist to Australian painter John Russell that still remains in private hands. Other works from that gift, which include 9 landscapes and 2 portraits are held by the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Saint Louis Art Museum, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
“The work is incredibly rare,” said Giovanna Bertazzoni, Christies co-head of 20th and 21st century art department, adding that pieces of this quality typically end up in museums. “When I saw it in the flesh for the first time, I was very moved.”
Van Gogh made the drawing after he completed a painting of the same sitter that now resides at the National Gallery of Art. Van Gogh took inspiration for the work from a Pierre Loti’s 1887 novel Madame Chrysanthème, which centers around a young woman in a relationship with a naval officer based in Japan. “The drawing is sort of reinterpretation of the subject,” said Bertazzoni.
According to the specialist, the work shows the influence of Japonisme, a tendency to draw on styles imported from Japan in 19th-century France. At the time this work was created, van Gogh was working in Arles.
Russell sold La Mousmé anonymously at auction in Paris in 1920, and it was acquired later in 1928 by Amsterdam-based collectors Kurt and Henriette H. Hirschland. In 1936, the Jewish couple fled the Netherlands, and the drawing was transferred among the Hirschlands’ neighbors as they faced prosecution. Eventually, the work ended up at Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum in 1943. In 1956, five years after its exhibition in a show at the museum, the work was returned to the family. Gibson acquired the work through the Hirschlands’ heirs in 1983.
The work subsequently traveled to the Royal Academy of Arts in London, the Tate, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, among others.
Three Van Gogh drawings have achieved prices near the value of La Mousmé, all of them landscapes sold nearly two decades ago. The record for a drawing by Van Gogh is held by La moisson en Provence Garden of Flowers (1888), a pen and ink landscape which sold for $14.6 million in 1997 at Sotheby’s in London. When it sold it again, in 2003, it made only $10.3 million. Jardin de fleurs (1888) sold for $8.4 million at Christie’s in 1990, and Olive Trees with Les Alpilles (1889) went for $8.5 million at Sotheby’s in 1999.
In Christie’s early March sale, the Van Gogh will sell alongside seven works by Rene Magritte, Lucian Freud, and Henri Matisse that are expected to fetch a collected $15.8 million.