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Van Gogh Painting Auctioned For $13.7 Million

May 12, 1988

NEW YORK (AP) _ One of Vincent van Gogh’s last paintings before his suicide, an 1890 portrait of his innkeeper’s teen-age daughter, sold at auction Wednesday for a disappointing $13.7 million.

″Portrait of Adeline Ravoux,″ sold at Christie’s auction house, was expected by art expects to bring $15 million.

The anonymous buyer bid by telephone, paying the fourth highest price at auction for a painting. The three highest prices were all for Van Goghs.

The picture of the 13-year-old girl was made a month before van Gogh committed suicide at age 37 in 1890 in the village of Auvers outside Paris. In an essay written when she was in her 70s, Adeline Ravoux Carrie described the artist’s final hours as he lay in his room at her father’s inn, dying of a gunshot wound.

Interest in the painting was keen, experts had said before the auction, in part because it serves as a link to the artist’s last days.

But the standing-room-only crowd was still after the final bid; there was no applause as is customary when a high price is paid for an artwork in which interest has been expressed prior to the sale.

″Bidding wasn’t too spirited. The price was disappointing,″ said Ellis Abraham, a New York attorney who was interested in bidding for a client or himself.

Auctioneer Christopher Burge, president of Christie’s in America, called the sale ″a wonderful price for a beautiful picture.″

The bidding started at $6 million. The $13.75 million included the 10 percent commission paid to the auction house.

The portrait last changed hands in 1980 when an anonymous buyer purchased it at a Sotheby’s auction for $1.98 million.

Over the past 14 months, three of paintings by van Gogh - who sold almost nothing during his lifetime - have fetched previously unheard-of multimillion- dollar prices that shocked the art world.

In March 1987, van Gogh’s ″Sunflowers″ sold for $39.9 million at Christie’s in London to a Japanese insurance company. Three months later, ″The Trinquetaille Bridge″ went for $20.2 million, also at Christie’s in London. It was bought by an unidentified collector in Switzerland.

Then, in November, history was made when van Gogh’s ″Irises,″ a composition of purple flowers and green leaves set off by a single white iris, sold at Sotheby’s in New York for $53.9 million to an anonymous buyer, the highest price paid at auction for a painting.

In the painting auctioned Wednesday, Adeline, dressed in blue, sits in profile on a chair. Her blond hair is tied with a blue ribbon, her gaze is serene, her posture correct and her hands are folded demurely in front of her. ″He observed her very deeply, and when he came to paint her, he painted both the grace and stiff awkwardness of an adolescent girl,″ said Michael Findlay, senior vice president of Christie’s and an expert on impressionist and modern painting.

But Mrs. Carrie, who died in 1965 at the age of 88, said in a 1956 essay that she didn’t immediately appreciate the painting.

″I admit that I was only moderately satisfied with my portrait; it was somewhat of a disappointment, for I did not find it was true to life,″ Mrs. Carrie wrote.

However, she was quoted in a 1953 interview as saying, ″Monsieur Vincent divined not the young girl I was, but the woman I was to become.″

Mrs. Carrie described van Gogh, who lived at her father’s inn during the last 2 1/2 months of his life, as a disciplined artist and ″a soft and calm″ man who enjoyed playing with her baby sister.

She described how a doctor and police were summoned after he returned to the inn after shooting himself, and how his brother, Theo, who was the artist’s chief backer, came running from the train station, his face ″distorted by grief.″

At the same auction Wednesday, Alberto Giacometti’s sculpture of three walking men, ″Trois Hommes Qui Marchent,″ sold for $3.8 million, the most ever paid at auction for a 20th century sculpture.

Pierre Renoir’s painting ″L’Ombrelle″ of a woman sitting in a garden with an umbrella in her hand brought $6.6 million.

Mary Cassatt’s painting ″The Conversation,″ of two women talking to each other, sold for $4.51 million, a record for the artist.