On this day in history : 11th November 1987 – ‘Irises’ ~ a painting by Vincent Van Gogh sells at Sotheby’s for a record of £27m, more than twice the amount the painting had been expected to reach….
It had beaten the previous world record for a work of art, which had stood for two and a half years – also a painting by Van Gogh – ‘Sunflowers’ – which had sold for $40m….
Irises had been painted in 1889, just a few months before Van Gogh killed himself at the age of 37…. He had painted it in the garden of the French mental asylum in Saint-Remy, where he was being treated….
After Van Gogh’s death Irises came into the possession of Julien ‘Pere’ Tanguy, an art dealer…. He later sold it to art critic Octave Mirbeau for 300 francs…. In 1975 it came into the ownership of John Whitney Payson, heir to one of America’s biggest fortunes…. He inherited the painting from his mother who had paid £44,000 for it in 1947 – and had kept it hanging over her fireplace…. Payson had a gallery built in his mother’s memory and this is where Irises was displayed….
However, after the sale of Sunflowers and realising the potential value of Irises he began to worry about the painting’s safety – and so decided to sell it…. The purchaser remained anonymous at the time but turned out to be Australian entrepreneur Alan Bond…. He purchased it with the help of a loan from Sotheby’s – causing controversy as critics claimed such practices artificially inflated values…. As it was, Bond ran into difficulties repaying the loan and in 1990 Irises was sold to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles for $53.9m….