Vincent van Gogh’s “Portrait of the Artist Without His Beard,” which he painted in an asylum near the end of his life and gave to his mother for her birthday, sold for more than $71 million at auction Thursday.
The 1889 self-portrait, believed to be the last such work ever completed by the troubled artist, brought the second highest price ever for a work by van Gogh and the third highest price ever achieved at auction. The price was more than triple the $20 million the painting was expected to bring.
“It’s an absolutely stunning painting,” said Andree Corroon, a spokeswoman for Christie’s auction house. “He was very upset that he couldn’t make it back for [his mother’s] 70th birthday, so he painted this painting to show her that he was in good health, which he wasn’t. And he shaved his beard off to make himself look younger.”
Van Gogh’s “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” is the only work by the artist that has fetched a greater price. It was sold for $82.5 million by Christie’s in 1990.
Bidding for “Portrait of the Artist Without His Beard” began at $14 million, and three bidders were still competing for the work when it reached $39.5 million. Two bidders--both anonymous and on the telephone--drove the price higher until the final bid was cast.
The self-portrait, intense and haunting, is said to be one of the artist’s most powerful works.
“This painting has some of the highest level of technical command and emotional and psychological characteristics of van Gogh,” Corroon said. “His eyes are so filled with emotion that they just have this depth and intensity and really show what was going on in his interior life at that time.”
The audience broke into sustained applause as the gavel came down, perhaps cheered by the boost to the art market. Auctions of impressionist and contemporary art at Sotheby’s and Christie’s since Monday have seen most works selling within or below their presale estimate ranges. Some major works by such artists as Cezanne, Renoir, Matisse and Jasper Johns failed to sell at all.