Asian collectors spare no expense for Van Gogh's paintings

Most of the Vincent Van Gogh paintings that have gone under the hammer in the past decade have been acquired by Asian buyers

Published: Mar 14, 2023 01:15:16 PM IST
Updated: Mar 14, 2023 01:17:58 PM IST

Asian collectors spare no expense for Van Gogh's paintings"Nature Morte: Vase aux Glaïeuls" by Vincent van Gogh sold for HK$71 million (around US$9.1 million) in 2021. Image: Courtesy of Sotheby's©
Vincent van Gogh's works often fetch astronomical sums when they appear at auction. This is largely fueled by voracious Asian buyers, who are driving up prices in the market for the Dutch painter.

Most of the Van Gogh paintings that have gone under the hammer in the past decade have been acquired by Asian buyers. Martin Bailey, a specialist in Van Gogh's work and contributor to The Art Newspaper, estimates that at least three of the seven most expensive Van Gogh paintings ever sold at auction were purchased by collectors from mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. All for sums exceeding $60 million.

"Vase with Poppies and Daisies" is one of these artworks. This still life, painted just one month before Van Gogh's death in Auvers-sur-Oise on July 29, 1890, sold for $61.8 million at Sotheby's in 2014. Its buyer was none other than the Chinese billionaire Wang Zhongjun. When he acquired "Vase with Daisies and Poppies" he said it would "make [his] home more colorful," according to The Art Newspaper.

"The Avenue of Les Alyscamps" and "Laborer in a Field," two landscapes by Van Gogh from 1888 and 1889, respectively, were also auctioned to Asian collectors. Taiwanese gallerist Robert Wu bought the former for $66.3 million at Sotheby's in 2015, although it is possible that he was acquiring it for one of his clients; while the latter went for $81.3 million to an anonymous Chinese buyer at Christie's in 2017.

The enthusiasm of Asian collectors for Van Gogh's paintings has not gone unnoticed at Sotheby's. Indeed, the auction house decided to include a painting by the Dutch master, titled "Nature Morte: Vase aux Glaïeuls" ("Still Life: Vase with Gladioli") in its evening sale dedicated to modern art that took place on October 9, 2021, in Hong Kong. This was the first time that a work by the artist was offered at auction on the Asian continent. The still life fetched HK$71 million (or approximately US$9.1 million), compared to an initial estimate of HK$70 to 100 million.

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For Marie Laureillard, a lecturer in Chinese studies at Université Lumière Lyon 2 in France, Asian buyers' interest in Van Gogh may be linked to the tumultuous personality of the artist. "His madness, perceived in a positive way, appears to be considered as a sign of this famous creator’s sheer genius," she told The Art Newspaper.

The dominance of Asian collectors in the Van Gogh market is evidence of the significant arrival of buyers from the region in the global art world. And the proof is in the numbers. China (mainland, Taiwan and Hong Kong) represents 20% of the world art market, according to the latest "The Art Market" report from Art Basel and UBS. China is also the country with the highest proportion of art collectors having spent more than $1 million in 2021 (44%), far ahead of Germany, France and the United States. In fact, the Asian market is evolving at high speed, shifting the region further towards the center of the art world.

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