Van Gogh's `Shoes' may reach pounds 4m

A LITTLE-KNOWN painting of a pair of shoes by Vincent Van Gogh that has been lost to public view for more than 50 years is to be auctioned in December.

A Pair of Shoes was part of the artist's famous series of five shoe pictures he painted between 1886 and 1887. The other four are in museums around the world but this one was bought by a private collector 50 years ago. The pre-sale estimate is a relatively modest pounds 1.6m but experts believe it could easily fetch pounds 4m.

Van Gogh was struck with the idea of painting a series of studies of rough working men's shoes while living with his brother in the run-down artists' quarter of Montmartre in Paris.

An artist friend described in his diaries how Van Gogh bought a pair of boots from a Parisian flea market and, feeling that they were not sufficiently worn in, trudged around the muddy streets of Paris to give them more character.

Jussi Pylkkanen, the senior director of Christie's Impressionist department, said Van Gogh gave the painting to Albert Aurier, a young art critic who was the only person to identify the avant-garde talent of the painter.

Aurier died only two years after Van Gogh committed suicide in 1890 but had collected six of his paintings. The family kept only two of them and in 1943 they decided to sell. A Pair of Shoes was exhibited in 1946 but since that time it has not been seen in public.

"It is a very important painting and it was the last one of his shoe pictures," Mr Pylkkanen said. "It was very hard to put a price on it and opinions differed but there is no doubt that it was from a very important period and it is a very reasonable estimate."

But the painting could easily double or treble its estimate as Van Gogh's paintings are few and far between at auction and competition is likely to be stiff. At such a low estimate it is possible that a museum could afford to add it to its collection but at the same time a private collector who does not have a Van Gogh will realise that time is running out to acquire one.

The pictures did not start out as a series but Van Gogh was very satisfied with the idea of them and carried on with the motif, which he felt represented the honest labour of the working classes. The wooden sabot, or clog, of the working man also featured strongly in his work.

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