Vincent van Gogh: Irises (Les Iris)

Vincent van Gogh Irises Les Iris 1889 300x236

Irises (Les Iris), oil painting of 1889 by Vincent van Gogh, 71 cm x 93 cm, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California, USA

‘Irises’ (Les Iris) is an oil-on-canvas painting by the Dutch post-impressionist artist Vincent van Gogh. It is currently on display at J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California, USA.

Vincent van Gogh painted ‘Irises’ in May 1889, days after he was admitted at the psychiatric center at Monastery Saint-Paul de Mausole in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, southern France.

The French art critic and one of Van Gogh’s initial supporters Octave Mirbeau who paid 300 francs for Irises was the painting’s first owner.

In November 1987 it an auction at Sotheby’s in New York it was sold for $53.9 million ($102 million in Sep 2010, after adjusting for inflation based on wholesale price index) to Alan Bond, the debt-ridden Australian businessman known for his high-profile business deals and one of the largest corporate collapses in Australian history. The sale set a record for Irises as the most expensive painting in the world, and the record was unbeaten for nearly two and a half years.

Because Alan Bond did not have enough funds to pay for the painting, the auction house Sotheby’s lent him the money, keeping Irises as collateral, to pay the seller who was the heir of Joan Whitney Payson. Before the auction, the painting was at the Joan Whitney Payson Gallery of Art at Westbrook College in Portland, Me., USA.

In 1990, Irises was re-sold by Sotheby’s to J. Paul Getty Museum, one of the richest in the world and one of the most visited art museums in the United States.

According to van Gogh scholars, Irises, with its asymmetrical design and the strikingly odd depiction of a single large white iris flower among purple irises, is one of the finest works of the artist. Unlike his later works that show high emotional discontentment and high tension as if mirroring van Gogh’s own turbulent state of mind, Irises is painted in a relaxed mood, and it radiates pleasant positive emotions. Moreover, the painting gives the idea that van Gogh was reinventing himself with a radically different style, a style that is more realistic than impressionistic. It is also noted for the absence of circular patterns, swirls, etc. found in his paintings.

Vincent van Gogh was highly inspired by the Japanese art form ukiyo-e, a genre of woodblock prints and paintings, and its influence is pronounced in some of his works. Irises is a typical example of the ukiyo-e influence.

On May 8, 1889, van Gogh got himself admitted at the psychiatric center at Monastery Saint-Paul de Mausole in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France, for treatment. Some of his best works had been created while he was there, including ‘The Starry Night’ (1889), which is considered as his magnum opus by art historians and art writers.

After his release from the asylum in May 1890, van Gogh lived at Auvers-sur-Oise, near Dr. Paul Gachet, who treated him during the last months of his life. The portrait of this doctor painted by him, ‘Portrait of Dr. Gachet’ (June 1890), was sold in a 1990 auction for a record price of $82.5 million ($75 million plus 10% commission), which adjusted for inflation as on Sep 2010is equivalent to $139.5 million. His ‘Self-portrait without beard’ (1889) was sold for $71.5 million in 1998 (inflation adjusted price as on Sep 2010: $95.3 million).

Incidentally these are some of the paintings created by van Gogh when he was the most unstable mentally, and strangely, these paintings are in the list of the most expensive paintings ever sold in the world.

He had been a victim of mental troubles throughout his life. It was acute during his last years, making him incapable of work as an artist and subjecting him to frequent severe bouts of depression. On 27 July 1890, at the age of 37, he shot himself in the chest with a revolver and died two days later.


  1. [...] oil painting that comes in the list of the most expensive paintings in the world is ‘Irises’ (Les Iris) by Vincent van Gogh, which was sold for $53.9 million (inflation adjusted price: $102 million in Sep 2010) in November [...]

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