A work by French painter Paul Gauguin, who died penniless in 1903, has reportedly smashed the record books as the most expensive ever sold. The piece, Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?), is believed to have fetched $300 million.
The oil-on-canvas was produced in 1892 during Gauguin's first visit to French Polynesia. It features a pair of Tahitian girls seated next to a tree.
The painting was sold by Swiss collector Rudolf Staechelin, a retired Sotheby's executive. Although Staechelin has declined to name the buyer or the price, The Telegraph reports that is believed to have been purchased by the state-financed Qatar Museums and to have topped the previous record, also set by Qatar, which reportedly bought Cezanne's The Card Players in 2011 for $259 million.
"The market is very high and who knows what it will be in 10 years. I always tried to keep as much together as I could. Over 90% of our assets are paintings hanging for free in the museum." Staechelin told The New York Times.
The Times reports: "In recent years the Qatar royal family and the museums authority have been reported to be expansive buyers of trophy quality Western modern and contemporary art by Mark Rothko, Damien Hirst and Cézanne."
Gauguin, a French Post-Impressionist, visited Tahiti twice.
"His first trip was in 1891 after becoming estranged from his wife and was facing financial difficulties given the unpopularity of his art.
"He came up with the idea of making the voyage to paint illustrations for the most popular novel at the time, Pierre Loti's The Marriage of Loti."
"He portrayed the natives as living only to sing and to make love," Nancy Mowll Mathews, the author of Paul Gauguin, An Erotic Life, told the Guardian in a 2001 interview. "That's how he got the money from his friends and raised the public's interest in his adventure. But, of course, he knew the truth, which was that Tahiti was an unremarkable island with an international, Westernized community."
Gauguin's efforts failed and on his return to France two years later, "what should have been a triumphant return turned into a morass of misunderstanding and disappointment as his paintings remained unsold," the newspaper says.
Within a few years, Gauguin returned to French Polynesia, where he eventually died of a morphine overdose.
"Gauguin seems to have fallen for the myth of Tahiti he created," Mathews told the Guardian in 2001.
"He returned expecting the erotic idyll that was only ever a figment of his imagination. Of course, he didn't find it and the disappointment was profound: he died a twisted and bitter man, having alienated everyone both at home and in Tahiti. It's a sad story of a man who believed his own fiction," the author said.