Van Gogh work painted a month before artist chopped ear off sells for $66 million at Sotheby's

It led a spring sale that exceeded estimates by tens of millions

Matilda Battersby
Wednesday 06 May 2015 11:12
L’allée Des Alyscamps by Vincent van Gogh
L’allée Des Alyscamps by Vincent van Gogh

A van Gogh painting of an avenue of tombs lined by towering poplars in vibrant autumnal colours was the star of last night’s Sotheby’s spring auction which reaped a whopping $368 million (£242 million) overall.

The 1881 painting, L’allée Des Alyscamps, of the Roman necropolis in Arles, France fetched $66.3 million at auction in New York after five bidders competed to acquire the work pushing it well above its $40 million guide price.

The painting, which was produced just one month before van Gogh famously sliced off his ear, went to an unnamed Asian private collector as did three of the other top lots, reflecting an increasingly global group of buyers with extremely deep pockets.

David Norman, Sotheby's worldwide co-chair of Impressionist and modern art, remarked on the "tremendous bidding power we see in the market right now" considering the fact that when the same painting was auctioned in 2003 "it struggled to make $12 million."

The highest price paid for a van Gogh at auction was in 1990 when his Portrait of Dr Gachet went for $82.5 million.

The Sotheby’s sale's total, which included the auction house’s commission of just over 12 percent, exceeded the pre-sale estimate of about $260 million to $350 million and was its second-highest Impressionist and modern result ever.

Half of the 65 works in the sale had never before been auctioned and with 78 percent of works selling it was a testament to the appeal of fresh material.

"What you saw tonight was a market that is healthy, that is efficient, and incredibly vibrant," said Simon Shaw, Sotheby's' worldwide co-head of Impressionist art.

One of Monet’s iconic water lilies was another highlight exceeding expectations to sell for $54 million. Five Monets fetched a total of $115 million, far exceeding an estimate of more than $78 million for six works. One failed to sell.

Other highlights included Picasso's Femme au chignon dans un fauteuil, which fetched just under $30 million and doubled its estimate, and Giacometti's Femme de Venise VI, a smaller-scale sculpture that went for $16.2 million, comfortably beating the $12 million high estimate.

The auctions continue next week when four sales spanning collecting categories will be held at Christie's and Sotheby's.

Attention in the art world will next turn to Christie's Monday sale, Looking Forward to the Past, which includes works by Picasso and Giacometti that are expected to set records, boasting pre-sale estimates of $130 million and $140 million respectively.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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