A work on paper by the Dutch painter described as “exceptional” by Christie’s: Van Gogh‘s “La Mousmé” will go under the hammer as part of A Family Collection: Works on Paper, Van Gogh to Freud, which will be livestreamed from New York on March 1.
This drawing is based on a detail from “La Mousmé,” a portrait of a young Provençale girl that Van Gogh painted in 1888 while he was living in Arles. This oil on canvas, now at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, draws inspiration from Pierre Loti’s bestseller, “Madame Chrysanthème,” which presents the story of a naval officer’s temporary marriage to a Japanese woman when he was stationed in Nagasaki, Japan.
This literary source had a profound impact on Van Gogh, as testified to in a letter he wrote to his younger brother Theo on July 29, 1888. “[I]f you know what a ‘mousmé’ is (you will know when you have read Loti’s ‘Madame Chrysanthème’), I have just painted one. It took me a whole week…but I had to reserve my mental energy to do the mousmé well,” he said. He also added that “La Mousmé” was one of a group of portrait studies that were “the only thing in painting that excites me to the depths of my soul, and which makes me feel the infinite more than anything else.”
A few days after completing “La Mousmé,” Van Gogh made the drawing which is now coming up for sale at Christie’s. It is estimated to fetch between $7 million and $10 million, which could make it the most expensive drawing by the Dutch painter ever sold at auction. Only two Van Gogh drawings have fetched seven-figure sums in the past, including “Garden of Flowers.” This ink image of summer fields sold for $8.36 million at Christie’s New York in 1990, surpassing the auction house’s high pre-sale estimate of $7 million.
According to the Art Newspaper, “La Mousmé” is currently from the family of the London art dealer Thomas Gibson. It was displayed in various exhibitions around the world, including at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, London’s Royal Academy and, most recently, at Tate Britain.