Van Gogh portrait auction shatters expectations, sells for over £4.8 million
An oil portrait of Gordina de Groot was auctioned off by Christie's in London for 4,842,000 pounds, the equivalent of over 5.5 million euros, nearly 2.5-times the auction house's top estimate. The 1885 painting titled Kop van een vrouw, or Head of a Woman, was expected to be sold for 1 million to 2 million pounds, or between 1.1 and 2.3 million euros.
Gordina de Groot is also featured in another famous 1885 Van Gogh painting, The Potato Eaters. The more well-known masterpiece is owned by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
Head of a Woman sparked controversy at the time, leading to persistent stories that the artist and his subject had a child out of wedlock when he lived in Nuenen. “The intimate nature of the painting reverberated beyond the canvas and rumours swept Nuenen that van Gogh was the father of de Groot’s child. While he vehemently denied these claims, the present work nevertheless suggests a particular tenderness between artist and sitter, evident in the potency of her stare,” Christie’s wrote about the artwork.
It was after he followed his parents to Nuenen that Van Gogh decided to paint portrait studies of peasants, as well as The Potato Eaters. “I see an inexhaustible resource for subjects from peasant life and the question is just – to seize it – to work,” Van Gogh wrote in a letter to his brother, Theo. “They remind one of the earth, sometimes appear to have been modelled out of it.”
Van Gogh described the look created by women wearing traditional white bonnets as being "eternally beautiful." De Groot wears one in both paintings, and also in a similar painting at the Van Gogh Museum where she is also wearing earrings. He also painted another portrait of her wearing a reddish hat, which the museum said was part of a study on complimentary colors.
Head of a Woman was on display at Christie's in February, the first time it was exhibited since a show at Kunsthaus Zurich in 1943. The painting last changed hands in the 20th century when it was bequeathed to Anna-Marie Veuve-Pierson of The Hague before she moved to Switzerland. Her heirs held the painting before auctioning it off on Tuesday.
Reporting by ANP