Film mogul buys a Van Gogh for $80m

One of China's richest men has bought a Vincent Van Gogh masterpiece for nearly US$62 million (S$80 million), reports said on Wednesday, becoming the latest tycoon to make an eyebrow-raising art purchase.

Wang Zhongjun, chairman of the high-powered Huayi Brothers film studio, bought Van Gogh's 1890 painting Nature Morte, Vase aux Marguerites et Coquelicots on Tuesday for US$61.8 million, according to the Shanghai news site The Paper.

The painting, which was auctioned by Sotheby's in New York, had been valued at US$30 million to US$50 million, the report said.

A Huayi Brothers representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The purchase makes Wang the latest wealthy Chinese businessman to make a splash on the international art scene.

Last year, tycoon Wang Jianlin's Wanda Group bought the 1950 Pablo Picasso painting Claude and Paloma for US$28 million, more than double the highest estimate of US$12 million.

At the time, the company came under fire for the extravagant purchase, with some Chinese Internet users questioning Wang's patriotism and the painting's value.

Wang Zhongjun came under similar criticism on Wednesday.

"One madman buying a painting by another madman," one user wrote on Sina Weibo.

Another wrote: "This is how he spends all the investors' money? What a waste."

Meanwhile, sculptures by Alberto Giacometti and Amedeo Modigliani fetched US$101 million and US$70.7 million on Tuesday to lead Sotheby's biggest auction in its history, with Modigliani's Tete setting an auction record for the artist.

The sale of Impressionist and Modern Art realised US$422.1 million, virtually meeting the highest pre-sale estimate of US$423 million for the 73 works on offer, of which 80 per cent were sold.

Sculpture went a long way toward driving the record sale, with 12 pieces bringing in a total of US$191 million, including the top lot, Giacometti's 1951 bronze Chariot.

While just shy of a record for both the artist or any sculpture at auction, the US$101 million price is likely to remain the top-priced work of the two weeks of key autumn sales at Sotheby's and rival Christie's.

Sotheby's had estimated Chariot would sell for in excess of US$100 million and Modigliani's Tete, a 1911-12 work in stone never before auctioned, in excess of US$45 million. Estimates do not include commission fees of just over 12 per cent.

The record total was driven in part by an increasingly global pool of collectors, said Simon Shaw, Sotheby's co-head of Impressionist and Modern Art, who noted that with more than 40 countries represented, "we saw the most diverse bidding pool at Sotheby's since 2004," including "terrific activity from Asia".

Collectors of increasingly rare trophy works in the Impressionist and modern arena spent heavily.

"The competition is intense and the appetite is great" for such iconic masterpieces, said David Norman, Shaw's colleague.

Among other highlights, paintings by Claude Monet drew strong prices, including four that were among the sale's 10 top-priced works.

Alice Hoschede au jardin fetched US$33,765,000 against an estimate of US$25 million to US$35 million, while Sous les peupliers sold for US$20.3 million, beating the US$18 million highest estimate. The auctions continued on Wednesday at Christie's sale of Impressionist and modern art.