A Van Gogh Painting That Sold for £4 at a Farm Sale Is Now Worth €15m

The 2020 edition of the TEFAF Maastricht art fair closed early amid growing concerns over the COVID-19 spread. The biggest sale of the fair was made by a Van Gogh painting that sold to a private collector for €15 million (US$16.9 million). Sharing the story of many Van Gogh’s undervalued paintings, this artwork only sold for £4 when it first entered the market in 1967.

Vincent Van Gogh’s Peasant Woman in front of a Farmhouse

This artwork, titled Peasant Woman in front of a Farmhouse, dates to July 1885. It is one of the paintings from his cottage series. It is believed to be the first work sold by the Dutch artist.

The painting was once acquired by John Holme, a farmer who lived in Billington and supplied corn and straw in the area. He accepted the painting as payment for farm supplies by an unnamed debtor in 1929. The painting had been hung in the nursery until the family later banished it to the attic. When John’s son Charles retired in 1967, he sold the painting for £4 in a farm sale.

The work resurfaced the following year in an antique shop in Belsize Park, London, where it was spotted by Italian BBC employee Luigi Grosso, who suspected that the work might be an original. Grosso bought the painting for £45. The painting was authenticated with the help of curator Alan Bowness, who arranged for the picture to be x-rayed. Underneath the landscape he found an earlier composition, of a man ploughing with oxen, which was related to a known Van Gogh painting of August 1884.

The painting has the artist's signature at the bottom right

Since its authentication, Peasant Woman in front of a Farmhouse has been sold numerous times for various values after Grosso put the painting up for auction in 1970 at Sotheby’s in New York.

1970: Hollywood film producer Joseph Levine bought it for US$110,000 at Sotheby’s in New York
1983: The Cuban-born American collector Roberto Polo bought it for US$390,000 at Sotheby’s in New York
1985: A Montreal collector bought it for £264,000 at Sotheby’s in London
2001: The American owner bought it for US$1.7m at Sotheby’s in New York

The painting has remained with its current American owner since then and has only been shown in public once at London's Royal Academy of Arts in 2010. Now the painting has reappeared in the market and was sold by Dickson to a private collector for €15m at the TEFAF Maastricht.

Established in 1988, TEFAF is widely regarded as the world’s pre-eminent organization for fine art, antiques, and design. This year, the prestigious annual TEFAF show in the Netherlands shut down four days ahead of schedule after an exhibitor contracted coronavirus. 

TEFAF is a prestigious annual art fair for fine art, antiques, and design