A portrait of a woman rumored to be Van Gogh’s lover and mother of his child was sold by Christie’s on Tuesday for a total of €5.5 million to an undisclosed British buyer.
‘Head of a woman’, which had been estimated to fetch between €1.1 and €2.3 million, is part of a series of portraits Van Gogh painted of farmers in 1884 and 1885, when he was staying at his parents’ house in Nuenen. They would later figure in the Potato Eaters (1885).
The woman, Gordina, or Sien, de Groot, the only one of the farmers who was ever named, was painted over 20 times by Van Gogh, giving rise to the rumor that the painter had an affair with her and made her pregnant.
Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo that he had been ‘much bothered by the reverends’ because of his involvement with ‘people beneath your class’, When Sien gave birth to a child it was widely assumed in Nuenen that Van Gogh was the father. Van Gogh denied this and said Sien had told him the father was her cousin, whom she reportedly later married.
Although the two were not in a relationship the experts at Christie’s said the portrait does show ‘a particular tenderness between artist and sitter, evident in the potency of her stare’.
In 2021, a comparison between the dna of two of Sien de Groot’s great-grandchildren and that of Lieuwe van Gogh, son of murdered film maker Theo van Gogh and third cousin to the painter, showed once and for all that Vincent van Gogh could not have fathered the child.
The painting of Gordina de Groot, or the Mona Lisa of Gerwen as she was dubbed, was among 40 paintings Van Gogh left behind before he left Nuenen for Antwerp in 1885. They were sold as a job lot for one guilder to a rag and bone man in Breda by a carpenter who later sold them to an art dealer in Rotterdam.
They eventually ended up in the possession of The Hague banker Henri Pierson whose great-grandchildren offered the painting up for sale.
The sale price, although considerably higher than the estimate, shows that Van Gogh’s Dutch paintings are not as highly valued as the work he did shortly before his death in the south of France.
Last year a watercolour he created in Arles went for €31 million. Van Gogh’s Portrait du dr. Gachet fetched €71.5 million at auction in 1990, making it the highest amount ever paid for a work by the artist.
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