Vincent van Gogh’s photographs are only occasionally available on the market. They fetch high prices, which is not surprising considering their rarity. A few are sold privately by dealers, sometimes very discreetly. However, only a few are ever publicly auctioned in any given year.
This list includes the ten most valuable Van Gogh paintings ever sold at auction. A Christie’s May sale will add another one to the mix.
Portrait by Dr Paul Gachet. $83m, 1990
Van Gogh’s Portrait of Dr Paul Gachet (June 1890), sold for $83m at Christie’s, New York, 15 May 1990Courtesy of Städel Museum, Frankfurt
Portrait by Dr Paul Gachet holds the record for most expensive Van Gogh even though it was sold in 1990. It sold at Christie’s for $83m. This was the highest price paid by an artist’s work at auction. It would have been worth $180m today if inflation was taken into account.
It is therefore not surprising that it has a record price. It is without doubt one of Van Gogh’s most beautiful portraits. Vincent’s doctor Gachet was an important figure in Vincent’s life. He cared for him after the artist killed himself in Auvers-sur-Oise. The sitter also adds to the appeal. It was sold to Tokyo in 1990, when Japanese collectors were fiercely competing for the most important names of Impressionism or Post-Impressionism.
Portrait by Dr Paul Gachetwas purchased by Ryoei Saido, who later stated that he wanted the painting and his body to be cremated together. Fortunately, this didn’t happen upon his death in 1996. Instead, the Van Gogh was privately sold to Wolfgang Flottl (an Austrian investment manager). After facing financial difficulties, the portrait was sold again to , an extremely private European billionaire.
2. Labourer in the Field, $81m 2017, 2017
Van Gogh’s Labourer in a Field (September 1889), sold for $81m at Christie’s, New York, 13 November 2017
Labourer In a Field sold for $81m in 2017. Painted while Van Gogh was living in the asylum outside Saint-Remy-de-Provence, the composition was inspired by the view from his modest bedroom. Under one of Van Gogh’s powerful suns, a ploughman is at work. This landscape was sold anonymously, as with most Van Goghs.
3. Self-portrait with no Beard, $72m 1998
Van Gogh’s Self-portrait without a Beard , (September 1889), sold for $72m at Christie’s, New York, 19 November 1998
The price of a self-portrait with no beard soared to $72m in 1998 when it was sold. Van Gogh’s self portraits are extremely rare and few remain in private ownership. This one was particularly personal for Vincent, since he painted it in the asylum at Saint-Remy-de-Provence as a gift to his mother for her 70th birthday. The Courtauld Gallery attempted to borrow Self portrait without a Beard for its current Van Gogh exhibit, but it was too difficult to find and is now hidden in an unknown European collection.
4. Wooden Cabins among the Olive Trees & Cypresses . $71m, 2021
Van Gogh’s Wooden Cabins among the Olive Trees and Cypresses (October 1889), sold for $71m at Christie’s, New York, 11 November 2021
Wooden Cabins Among the Olive Trees & Cypresses was the most recent Van Gogh sale, selling for $71m in November. It is a striking, but little-known landscape painting that was created in the countryside around the asylum. We do not know the identity of the buyer, but we believe that Hugo Nathan, an art advisor in London Beaumont Nathan, purchased the painting for a private client.
5. The Avenue of Les Alyscamps – $66m, 2015
Van Gogh’s The Avenue of Les Alyscamps (November 1888), sold for $66m at Sotheby’s, New York, 5 May 2015
This is the Avenue of Les Alyscamps, which Van Gogh painted just days after his friend Paul Gauguin arrived. The landscape was sold by Christie’s in 2003 for $12m. However, an anonymous buyer bought it at auction in 2015 for $66m. This is five times more than the price of the original. Van Gogh’s prices have been on the rise almost every year.
6. Daisies and Poppies, $62m 2014
Van Gogh’s Poppies and Daisies (June 1890), sold for $62m at Sotheby’s, New York, 4 November 2014
Poppies and Daisies is an evocative and colorful still life that was completed only a few weeks prior to the artist’s passing in Auvers-sur-Oise. It was sold for $62 million and went to Wang Zhongjun, a Chinese entertainment company owner.
Wang is an amateur artist and enjoys painting still lives of flowers. He commented after the auction that the final amount was “a little lower than I had expected”. Wang’s purchase shows how Van Gogh has changed dramatically over the last few years, from North America and Europe to East Asia (China Hong Kong, Korea)
7. Landscape under Stormy Sky,$54m, 2015
Van Gogh’s Landscape under Stormy Sky (April 1889), sold for $54m at Sotheby’s, New York, 5 November 2015
Landscape Under Stormy Sky was created in Arles shortly after Van Gogh had badly damaged his ear, and only a few weeks prior to his departure for the asylum. The meadow is filled with springtime flowers and a couple strolling on the left, all set against a dramatic sky. In 2015, the picture was worth $54m.
8. Irises, $54m, 1987
Van Gogh’s Irises (May 1889), sold for $54m at Sotheby’s, New York, 11 November 1987Credit: J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
The Irises,, which was most likely the first painting by Van Gogh at an asylum, has a strangely tumultuous recent history. It was sold by Sotheby’s in 1987 for $54m to an Australian businessman, Alan Bond. However, he was facing financial difficulties and was unable pay so the auction house retained ownership. The Van Gogh was then sold by Sotheby’s to the J. Paul Getty Museum, California in a private transaction in 1990. The museum paid around the auction price, although it has not been revealed the exact amount. It is now one of the most important pieces in the Getty’s collection.
9. A Young Man with a Cornflower. $47m, 2021
Van Gogh’s Young Man with a Cornflower (June 1890), sold for $47m at Christie’s, New York, 11 November 2021
Young man with a cornflower, was painted in Auvers-sur-Oise. Its estimate of $5m-$7m was exceeded and it eventually reached $47m. It is an unusually expressive work and was completed in the final weeks of Van Gogh’s life in Auvers-sur-Oise. Although the identity of the buyer is not known, there was great interest from Far Eastern collectors.
10. Sunflowers, $40m, 1987
Van Gogh’s Sunflowers (January 1889), sold for £24m ($40m) at Christie’s, London, 30 March 1987
Sunflowers barely made it to the top ten in 1987, as the art market was still in its infancy. It is one seven still lives of sunflowers by Van Gogh painted in Arles. This is his copy of the original with a yellow background. It is currently at London’s National Gallery.
It was worth PS24m ($40m), three times the amount of any artwork ever sold at auction. Inflation would make it equal to just over $100m. The record price was paid for a Modern painting, not an Old Master. Yasuda, a Tokyo-based insurance company, was the buyer. Later, the Yasuda insurance company from Tokyo purchased the firm. The Van Gogh is now the main attraction at the Sompo Museum of Art.
Sunflowers is an amazing investment. It would fetch several hundred million dollars if it were ever put on the market again.
Two other Van Goghs have now matched the Sunflowers1987 sale price of $40m: Larlesienne, Madame Ginoux (February 1890), and Trees at the Garden of the Asylum on 13 May 2019, both sold by Christie’s New York.
Private sales of several Van Goghs were in the same price range as those sold at auction. Portrait of Joseph Roulin (January 18,89), which was acquired by New York’s Museum of Modern Art (in 1989); a version of Wheatfield with Cypresses (1993), acquired by New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (in 1993); and Girl against the Background of Wheat (June1890), purchased by Steve Wynn, a casino boss in 1999 and now owned and managed by Steven Cohen, a hedge fund manager.
Surprisingly, our survey covers all works Van Gogh painted during the last two years of his life. He was in Provence or in Auvers-sur-Oise. These late works are what fetch the most. All but Sunflowers were purchased in New York. This indicates that America is the primary market, and not Europe.
One new company could soon be in the top ten. On 12 May, Christie’s, New York is to offer Fields near the Alpilles (Champs pres des Alpilles) (November 1889), a view painted on the outskirts of Saint-Remy-de-Provence. The auction house anticipates that it will sell for around $45 million, although no estimate has been made. Christie’s visited the painting recently in Taipei and Hong Kong. This is a sign of growing East Asian interest.
Fields close to the Alpilles has a rich history that may be of interest to potential buyers. It was once owned by Pierre Berge and Yves Saint Laurent, a couturier.
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