Most of the over 2,100 pieces of art left behind by Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh are in public hands, which is wonderful. Anyone can go to a museum and see most of his works – the largest collection of them are in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, which holds hundreds of pieces. The art world has considered them a public treasure almost since the artist’s death in 1890.
Only a very few remain in private hands. And one of these rare van Gogh works is “Street Scene in Montmartre,” a small, intricate painting of a derelict windmill behind a fence, ignored by the people passing by in front of it. Van Gogh painted it in 1887, while he lived in the Montmartre part of Paris with his brother, Theo. He painted that particular windmill, which still stands today, often enough that it typifies a period of his career, known as Le Moulin de la Galette, or the Pepper Windmill. It is a winter scene, sere and brown and crowded with empty branches, but with pops and promises of color.
A family, which is not identified, has owned the rare Van Gogh original for over a century, and has never displayed it in the public eye. On Thursday, March 25th, it was brought to auction at Sotheby’s Paris. The auction house expected the rare find to sell between 5 and 8 million euros, but it broke expectations and sold to another private buyer for €13.1 million, or $15.4 million USD.
It is a shame that this newly resurfaced piece of Van Gogh’s art is moving back into private hands, perhaps not to be seen again by the public for generations, but it was good to have this glimpse.
The rare Van Gogh piece was the highlight of Thursday’s auction, but it was in illustrious company. Also sold that night were paintings by Rodin, Degas, and Magritte, over 30 works in all.