On May 15, 1990, 700 people crowded into the auction room at Christie’s in New York.
When lot 21 came up, three or four competing parties swiftly brought the price to $40 million and then, according to then-Christie’s president and auctioneer Christopher Burge, the bidding continued “at a very stately pace” and rose “almost relentlessly” one million dollars at a time. When only one anonymous bidder was left, the crowd began to cheer.
Vincent Van Gogh’s “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” sold for a groundbreaking $82.5 million, the highest price ever paid for a work of art at auction. (It would be unseated in 2008 by Francis Bacon’s “Triptych, 1976.”)