gachet bonzo! odlok   I  txuma In 1990, auctioneers Christies sold one of two 100 yearold Van Gogh portraits of Doctor Paul Ferdinand Gachet for $85.2 million dollars. The buyer was Ryoei Saito, the CEO of paper manufacturers Daishowa. The last time the portrait was seen was on a winter’s day in 1996. Just a few days before the death of Ryoei Saito. The strange story of Doctor Gachet’s portrait, however, started way before then. The Nazis took the portrait of the doctor who looked after Van Gogh in Arles from the Stadel Museum in Frankfort. Hermann Goering had it in his possession for a while until he sold it to banker Franzo Koenigs. Before the war started he in turn sold it to the Jewish collector Siegfried Kramarsky who took it to the States when he fled Germany. His descendants lent it to the Metropolitan Museum until impressionist artists came into vogue, which was when they decided to sell it. They sold it well, too. The huge sum of money paid by Ryoei Saito opened the doors to a period of craziness in the world of auctioneering. That said, the Japanese businessman always complained of the taxes he had to pay on his work on art: "My descendants won’t have to worry about paying any taxes on the painting because when I die, I’ve ordered it to be cremated with me." They were his words. When he died in 1996 he was cremated and nobody has seen the portrait of Doctor Gachet since. Tax evasion or love beyond life or death. We don’t know the real reason but we think that the fate of, at its time the most expensive work of art in history, is the most beautiful example of poetic justice we’ve come across. The Dutch painter who never sold a painting in his life would probably have a good laugh at it, too. We still have the second portrait of Gachet, not as good as the one that’s disappeared but it stills moves prints, photos and reproductions by the truckload. The original has become, rather biblically, the most expensive ashes ever. We have no qualms in accepting that money can buy art... but if we follow that logic... are we prepared to accept that money can also destroy it?