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‘$83’ Van Gogh fetches $550,000

Tokyo, Feb. 8 (Reuters): From neglected old painting to sought-after masterpiece.

Excitement ran high in the Tokyo art world today as a painting, first thought worth $83 but now believed to be a work by Vincent Van Gogh, fetched more than $550,000 in auction.

The unsigned painting, a portrait of a heavy-set, grim-faced peasant woman in a white cap, was greeted with a buzz of excited conversation as it was placed on the auctioneer’s stand, just a day after the dramatic revelation that it appeared to be a previously unknown early work by the Impressionist master.

Bidding at the packed gallery in Tokyo’s fashionable Ginza district began at 15 million yen ($125,200) and rapidly rocketed upwards. Less than four minutes later, the painting was bought by a broker on behalf of 73-year-old Toshio Nakamoto, head of a museum in western Japan, for 66 million yen ($550,800).

“I would say the painting was rather cheap in the end,” said Guillermo Bierregaard, an Argentinian attending the auction. The sale was the final scene in an unusual saga that saw the painting, now called “Peasant Woman,” transformed from an unremarkable part of a consignment of paintings that arrived at Shinwa Art Auction Co Ltd from a Japanese collector and was first priced at a mere 10,000 yen ($83) for the auction.

But nagging suspicions on the part of officials at the auction house that the style of the painting resembled that of another Van Gogh piece prompted them to send a photograph of the work to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. What happened next was an art lover’s dream come true.

“We got a call from the Van Gogh Museum in January and they asked us if they could see the painting,” Shinwa president Yochiro Kurata said. “So we took it to Amsterdam. “The whole process took two weeks but they came back to us and said it was an original.”

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