It was the most important Van Gogh to come on to the market since his portrait of Dr Gachet made pounds 43m in May 1990, but it had been scheduled as a French 'national monument' and could not be exported. That drastically cut its price and it was bought by Jean Marc Vernes, a French businessman, below the Fr60m ( pounds 7.2m) estimate.
The last month's art sales have shown the market limping back towards health. November and December are always a big test, as the best art that has come in for sale over the previous six months is off-loaded in London, Paris and New York. This time two Matisse paintings made pounds 9.6m and pounds 7.3m in New York and a Monet pounds 8m, while a Kandinsky brought pounds 5.5m in London. It is the first time since the market collapsed in 1990 that modern paintings have sold for more than pounds 5m. Quite why, or who is buying, remains unclear. L'Asie, the cheaper Matisse went to the Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth, Texas - an institution of legendary wealth. The expensive Matisse, Harmonie Jaune of 1927- 28, however, is said to have been bought by a US businessman who was entering the art market arena for the first time.
The Monet Waterlilies, an exceptionally fine painting of 1919, is also said to have been bought by a first-time US buyer. The Kandinsky is said to have gone to a German tycoon who does not usually buy pictures.
Apparently the very rich are beginning to think that art is a 'good buy' again - though a different set of the rich to the ones who got their fingers burnt last time. But less important paintings will only sell if the owners accept prices well below 1990 levels.
At the forced sale of dealer Alain Lesieutre's picture collection in Paris - on behalf of a bank to which he owed pounds 3m - paintings were selling at one- third to one-fifth their 1989-90 prices. The Dubuffet circus picture, La Calipette, which had set an auction price record for the artist at Sotheby's in 1989 at pounds 2.53m was resold for pounds 600,000.
Charles Saatchi, the British advertising tycoon and contemporary art collector, offered 14 works at Sotheby's contemporary art sale in New York and saw five of them fail to sell. Mr Saatchi had apparently told Sotheby's to sell at almost any price they could get. His Warhol Marilyn X 100 made pounds 2.5m against an estimate of pounds 2.7m, his Roy Lichtenstein cartoon made pounds 1.2m compared with an estimate of pounds 2m, and a Rauschenberg made pounds 730,000 against a pounds 1.2m estimate.
Most of the buying is at present coming from the US, though German collectors are still prepared to compete for good German pictures - they have been doing this throughout the recession, making German art the strongest sector of a suffering market.
Sotheby's had some particularly good German pictures last week. An Egon Schiele gouache of a boy in a sailor suit, dating from 1914, topped estimate to sell for pounds 429,000.
There have also been a good many problem sales in London. Sotheby's had back for sale the Turner watercolour that had set an auction record price for the artist in 1988. The hazily impressionistic Venice: The Grand Canal with Santa Maria della Salute had sold for pounds 440,000 at Phillips in 1988 and this time was left unsold at pounds 400,000. It was one of five Turner watercolours sent for sale by Hermann Schnabel, a Hamburg chemicals tycoon who made expensive investments at the top of the 1980s market. Only two of his five Turner watercolours found buyers. At the spring sales in New York, a Renoir that Schnabel had paid dollars 12.1m ( pounds 7.7m) for in 1989 was left unsold at dollars 5m ( pounds 3.2m).
A more embarrassing failure at Sotheby's, London, was a rare landscape by John Constable, Harnham Bridge looking towards Salisbury Cathedral, which failed to sell at pounds 850,000.
The great sensation of the month, however, was the sale of silver and jewels from the German princely family of Thurn und Taxis. Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis is trying to pay off the debts of her late husband's estate. The sale at Sotheby's in Geneva made pounds 9m, well above the high estimate of pounds 7.5m.
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