But Christopher Burge, Christie’s most experienced auctioneer, who had a cameo in Oliver Stone’s 1987 film Wall Street and has sold four of the paintings in the top 10, has similar views. In 1990, Burge brought his hammer down on Van Gogh’s Portrait of Dr Gachet (1890), which sold in less than three minutes for $82.5 million, a world record at the time.
“There was sustained applause for five minutes,” he recalls. “And my feeling was one of great distaste. I seriously thought about walking off, because they weren’t applauding for Van Gogh, and they weren’t applauding the work of art. They were applauding for money.” Later, I asked Burge whether he enjoyed dealing with Christie’s wealthy clients. “Some of them are very spoilt,” he told me. “They treat me like a jumped-up butler, or a seal bouncing balls on his nose.”