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Why Qatar is behind the purchase of ‘the world’s most expensive piece of art’

Why Qatar is behind the purchase of ‘the world’s most expensive piece of art’

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In 1892 when Paul Gauguin first exhibited his latest painting Nafea Faa Ipoipo? (When Will You Marry? in Tahitian) on the wall of Durand-Ruel’s Gallery in Paris, the painting fetched an unusually large of sum of 1500 francs. The exotic setting of the painting and the carefully planted inscription at the bottom enthralled the Parisian audience who revelled in exotic artefacts bought back from the then burgeoning French Empire. The scene of the Tahitian marriage ritual would have no doubt been familiar to the audience who read and loved Le Mariage de Loti (The Marriage of Loti), which back then was an immensely popular novel in France, which portrayed a romantic liaison between a Frenchman and an exotic Tahitian girl. It was even adapted to an opera by Léo Delibes in the same year as Gauguin’s painting, the opera being the 19th century equivalent of a feature film.

Exactly 123 years later in an auction house in Basel, Switzerland Gauguin’s painting again fetched a whopping sum of £197 million, unseating his compatriot Paul Cézanne as the most expensive post-impressionist artist to date. In 2011, one version of Cézanne’s The Three Card Players was purchased by Qatar for £164 million becoming the most expensive work of art ever sold. The Qataris seemed to be determined to set the bar ever so higher and now they’ve paid £32 million more to acquire Gauguin’s Nafea Faa Ipoipo? from its previous owner Rudolf Staechlin, a retired executive of Sotheby’s. Mr. Staechlin had previously loaned the painting to Basel’s Kunstmuseum, where it remained for the past 60 years until last week.

The speculation is that Qatar is eager to acquire a collection works of art from especially Europe, to fill up its brand-new museums before the FIFA World Cup in 2022, where many art enthusiasts from around the world are expected to sweep in to escape from the heat under which the spectacle of football will be unfolded. There is no doubt that Qatar is capable of lavishing many millions of pounds on the owners of great works of art, a great source of wealth that seem to be as dry as the desert on which Qatar erects its brand-new showpieces when it comes to the welfare of its labour force. Having being recently cleared of all charges of corruption and bribery by the equally upright force for good that is FIFA, no doubt Qatar is now keen on showing the world that they are ready to embrace the liberal and western values that those painters espoused by their works of art.

The painting will however remain in Switzerland throughout the month of February and will make its way to Spain and then to the United States before going in to the possession of its new owner. Paul Gauguin would have found some solace in knowing how his painting is being appreciated a century after his death. He died in 1903 from an apparent overdose of morphine, a twisted and a bitter man much like his creative partner and friend, Vincent Van Gogh.


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