NEW YORK – One of the greatest landscapes by Vincent van Gogh remaining in private hands, The Fields (Wheat Fields), will be offered for sale on Nov. 7 at Sotheby’s.
Painted in June-July of 1890, in the final weeks of the artist’s life, the canvas is estimated by the auction house to bring as much as $35 million, but will probably go much higher. Prior to its exhibition and sale in New York, the painting has been on view at Sotheby’s offices in Hong Kong and London.
The Fields (Wheat Fields) belongs to a celebrated series of canvases painted in early July 1890. Van Gogh’s final months were spent at the Ravoux Inn in Auvers, and this canvas was among the works that hung in his room at the time of his death. His brother, Theo, kept it in the family for nearly 20 years before selling it in 1907 through the dealer Paul Cassirer. From 2001-2007, it was on loan to the van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
“Based on the comments I’ve been hearing in the trade, I would expect The Fields to reach nine figures,” said Jim Alterman, owner of Jim’s of Lambertville in New Jersey, which specializes in Pennsylvania Impressionist and Modernist paintings, as well as 18th-, 19th- and 20th-century American and European art.
“When you look at the strength of the contemporary market, it makes the prices for our speci alty look quite affordable,” Alterman said in an interview with Antique Trader, citing Andy Warhol’s Green Car Crash that topped $71 million this year at Christie’s. “And when you’re dealing with van Gogh, you can expect to see prices that look like phone numbers.”
The Fields (Wheat Fields) is one of a serie s of oil paintings done on oversized canvases in Saint-Remy-de-Provence by van Gogh. All of them depict the view from the window of his room on the top floor of the asylum at Saint-Remy: a field enclosed by stonewalls just beneath his window. Beyond this enclosure, farmland, olive groves and vineyards ran up to the hills at the foot of the mountain range called Les Alpilles.
For more than a year the artist painted this scene, meticulously noting the changing settings, from storms to harvest to fresh crops growing in the fall to flowers covering it in the spring.
Van Gogh was born Vincent Willem van Gogh on March 30, 1853. Van Gogh was eventually recognized as one of the most important artists of his time. His influence continues to be felt today, as his paintings and drawings are among the world’s best known, most popular – and most expensive – images.
His early life was spent working for a firm of art dealers. After a brief stint teaching, he embarked as a missionary worker in a mining region burdened by poverty. It was not until 1880 that he decided to become a painter. Initially, his palate consisted of dark colors, but then he discovered Impressionism and Neo-impressionism in Paris. He incorporated their philosophy into his own work, which evolved quickly into his unique and easily recognizable style.
The house where van Gogh stayed in Cuesmes in 1880; it was while living here that he decided to become an artist.
Van Gogh’s work output was considerable for such a relatively short career. He produced more than 2,000 works, including around 900 paintings and 1,100 drawings and sketches, during the last 10 years of his life. The works for which he is best known, however, largely come from the last two years of his life when depression and mental illness were leading him down a steady decline to suicide. It was in this period that he famously cut off his left ear when his friendship with painter Paul Gauguin fell apart.
His recurrent bouts of mental illness in this period – from which The Fields (Wheat Fields) comes – led him in May 1890 to the physician Dr. Paul Gachet, in Auvers-sur-Oise near Paris, where he was closer to his brother Theo, the central figure in his life. Vincent later painted two portraits of Gachet in oil. Van Gogh’s emphasis is on Gachet’s melancholic disposition. In fact, van Gogh once observed that that Gachet was “sicker than I am, I think, or shall we say just as much.”
On July 27, 1890, he walked into the fields that he had painted so lovingly and shot himself in the chest with a revolver. Not realizing that he was fatally wounded he returned to the Ravoux Inn where he died two days later. His last words to his brother were, “The sadness will last forever.”
Van Gogh was buried at the cemetery of Auvers-sur-Oise, where his gravesite still attracts tourists. He is buried next to Theo, who contracted syphilis – though this was not admitted by the family for many years – not long after Vincent’s death. He was not able to come to terms with the grief of his brother’s absence, and died six months later on Jan. 25 at Utrecht, the Netherlands. In 1914, Theo’s body was exhumed and buried beside Vincent.