LONDON — A painting of dazzling yellow sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh was sold today for $39.85 million, more than three times the highest price ever paid for a painting at auction.
The 98-year-old "Sunflowers" still life by the Dutch artist--who never sold a painting before he shot himself to death at age 37--was bought by an anonymous foreign collector, said Peter Rose, chief spokesman at Christie's auction house.
Although Christie's declined to identify the "anonymous foreign buyer," some speculation at the sale centered on the J. Paul Getty Museum of Malibu, Calif., which under its statutes must spend $110 million this year alone.
The final bid for the painting was $36.2 million and there was a commission of 10% of the bid price charged to the buyer by the auctioneer, boosting the total to $39.85 million.
There was scattered applause in the packed auction room as the bidding went up by increments of $800,000.
Christie's had valued the Impressionist masterpiece at more than $16 million.
What was generally recognized in the art world as the previous record price for a painting was set two years ago when the Getty Museum paid $10.449 million at a London auction for "Adoration of the Magi" by Andrea Mantegna.
Van Gogh never knew riches--no one bought the Dutchman's pictures until years after he took his own life in 1890. Always broke, he was supported by his brother Theo, an art dealer.
The artwork sold today, painted in January, 1889, is one of seven featuring sunflowers.
"The sunflowers . . . have contributed perhaps more than any other of Vincent's paintings to make his name known throughout the world (and) . . . are in some cases the only works with which he is identified," wrote art historian Jan Hulsker in 1980.
One Destroyed in Bombing
Four sunflower paintings are in museums in Amsterdam, London, Munich and Philadelphia, one is privately owned and one was destroyed in Japan by World War II bombing.
The painting sold today was bought in Paris in 1934 by the Beatty family, which made a fortune in mining. It was sold by executors of the estate of Helen Chester Beatty, who died in 1986.