The London-based Reuben family has been revealed as the buyer of a $15.4 million Vincent van Gogh landscape purchased during Sotheby’s Impressionist and modern art sale in Paris on Thursday. Scène de rue à Montmartre (Impasse des deux frères et le Moulin à Poivre), from 1887, made its auction debut there after more than a century in private hands. A representative for the Reubens confirmed that the family had purchased the work.
The Reuben family collection, which comprises modern and contemporary art, including works by Picasso, Modigliani, Warhol and Basquiat, is jointly owned by British billionaire Simon Reuben, his brother David and daughter Lisa. Lisa, who ranks on the ARTnews Top 200 Collectors list, manages the collection and has previously worked as a specialist in Sotheby’s contemporary art department in London.
In Thursday’s Paris evening sale, the van Gogh was offered twice. When it was initially offered, Lisa Reuben believed she had won the picture, which was estimated at €5 million–€8 million, but was outgunned by an online bidder, whose winning bid was received as the auctioneer let the hammer down. This brought the final price to €14 million ($16.5 million).
Later in the sale, auctioneer Aurélie Vandevoorde, Sotheby’s Paris director of the Impressionist and modern art, announced to the audience’s surprise that the van Gogh would be re-offered at the very end of the auction, without any explanation. The second time round, two bidders from Hong Kong, represented by Sotheby’s Asia chairmen Patti Wong and Nicolas Chow, competed for the work against London’s Sam Valette in increasing increments. Eventually, the Asian bidder backed down after Valette’s winning bid of €11.25 million ($15.4 million), which finally secured the painting for Reuben, and earned a big round of applause in the sale room.
In this case, the issue with the initial hammer bid made for the van Gogh was a matter of timing. In pre-pandemic times, it was easier for auctioneers to respond immediately to live bids in the sale room. Now, with the increase in telephone and internet bidding, and with the split-second difference in timing between those channels, simultaneous “with the hammer” bids, made as the gavel falls, have increased.