Sunday, March 29. On the eve of Christie’s auction, Brian Sewell writes in The Sunday Times Magazine of Van Gogh’s intention to frame his Sunflowers series in slender wooden slats painted bright orange “to set the siennas, cinnabars, and ochres dancing.” The Observer predicts that the painting will “reach at least £10 million” in frenzied bidding. Putting this in a contemporary contest, Peter Watson compares the sum with the prices paid for artists’ works in the past. In 1836, 1,600 guineas for Madonna and Child by Sebastiano del Piombo, equivalent to £1,647,957 in today’s currency; in 1895, 8,500 guineas for Constable’s Young Waltonians (£63,329,950); in 1930, $1,084,953 for Rembrandt’s Woman Holding a Pink (£4,724,578); in 1970, £2,320,000 for Velazquez’s Juan de Pareja (£14,198,400). In other words. No Biggie.

Elsewhere in the Sunday papers, it was reported from Brussels that the worldly possessions of Rene Magritte would be auctioned off as a result of a legal squabble involving the artist’s 77 distant relations. Among the lots: Madame Magritte’s black jacket (estimated at £8), a double bed (£80), and a few bundles of books tied together with string (£8 each), in addition to a skull, a violin with broken strings, and a transistor radio. The artist’s famous bowler hat, as well as his easel and his palette, will be auctioned off at a later date by Sotheby’s London, along with the paintings.

Tuesday, March 31. The Sun runs a list of 20 “things you never knew” about Vincent Van Gogh. No. 4: “Van Gogh started out as a miner—so he could preach Christianity to the workers.” No. 18: “Sir Alfred [Chester Beatty] could afford his impressionist paintings because he made a fortune from mining.”

A Newman cartoon in The London Daily News. A woman is looking at the Sunflowers. Caption: “At that price I’d have expected orchids.”

The Sun points out that the Monday auction’s mystery buyer has paid £1,650,000 a stem. A Christie’s spokesman is quoted as saying they were “absolutely cock-a-hoop.”

The Daily Mirror observes that the cost of Lot 83 would, among other things, “pay for the education of 16,000 London secondary school kids for a year” or “solve the National Health Service nursing shortage by paying for the year’s wages of 3,200 nurses” or “fund 800,000 unemployed for a week.” In a happier vein, it could also “buy a fleet of Rolls Royce Silver Spirits—363 of them” or “buy ten Challenger tanks with spare change left over for the ammunition.” The Daily Express reports that as the auctioneer’s hammer went down, novelist Jeffrey Archer said: “That’s it, my next book will definitely be on the art world. I have never seen such an exciting finale.”

Wednesday, April 1. The Guardian, in an editorial, said the £24,75 million paid “for the most expensive helianthus annuus in the world” was “equivalent to nearly a third of the gross domestic product of a poor country like Bhutan,” and drew appropriate conclusions about the “game for megamillionaires, satiated with material possessions, who are making a play for the finite quantity of what the late Fred Hirsch called ‘positional goods.'” The money should have been used to buy “hospitals, schools, and homes,” or at least “thousands upon thousands of paintings by aspirant artists around the world among whom would be this century’s Van Gogh condemned to lifetime penury.” Best of all, this’ would deny Christie’s the £2.25 million commission it earned “for a couple of minutes of hammer holding.”

April Fools’ joke: a fake, duplicate Sunflowers was painted and displayed to greet visitors at Christie’s sale rooms in St. James’s.

The Guardian cannot let go of the story. The buyer “could have provided 1,000 artists with £25,000,” it says dreamily in a signed news article. He could have bought “The Guardian at 25p a day for 320,513 years.” He could have provided “1,235 specialised tractors for Algeria.”

The Times speculates about the identity of the mystery buyer: Stavros Niarchos? The Sultan of Brunei? Norton Simon?

A MAC cartoon in The Daily Mail. Two men in evening dress, one of them on crutches and missing an arm, are talking in front of the Sunflowers. Caption: ” . . . And this one’s by that artist who cut off his ear—it cost me an arm and a leg.” “Diary” reports that Sylvester Stallone “has decided it’s time he went into art . . . and even hired a curator named Susan Guggenheim.” “He says he doesn’t care how much things cost because it’s all in a good cause—culture.”

A Cookson cartoon in The Sun. A middle-class couple with the Sunflowers. Husband, dejected: “It doesn’t go with the curtains!” Japanese billionaire Nobutaka Shikanai is hotly tipped as the mystery buyer. “According to art experts, Van Gogh had a yen of his own—a yen for Japanese art!” This leads to jokes. “The price was ridiculous—you could have bought some real sunflowers for that kind of money.” The Guardian obligingly calculates: “33,000 tons of sunflower seeds.” The Sun: “The only way to get a Van Gogh at a reasonable price these days is to keep your ear to the ground.”

The Independent reports the discovery, by a Greek peasant on the island of Melos, of the Venus de Milo arms. The arms have been transported under escort to the Louvre where it was announced that “they are a perfect fit.” Melina Mercouri, true to form, “may decide to exhibit the arms separately in a Greek museum.”

Christie’s announces pre-tax profits of £18.3 million for 1986, £6.1 million better than the previous year, and its shares rise 5p in response to the news. Sotheby’s also reports a record year, with gross sales of £612.5 million.

Thursday, April 2. The Times reviews Tuesday night’s auction at Sotheby’s. Van Gogh’s Les Chardons—dated to August 1888, same month and year as the first four Sunflowers—which the artist described as “two thistles in a vague field, thistles white with a fine dust on the road,” was sold for £260,000. The auction is described by The Guardian as “a minor affair.”

Joke in The Daily Telegraph: “Did the 25 million include the frame?”

Friday, April 3. Front page of The Times: “Windsor gems fetch £20 million on first night.”

Saturday, April 4. As the Windsor gems fetch another £10 million, the Van Gogh story dies. The Duchess’ plain wedding ring, inscribed “To Wallis from David,” estimated at £600, goes for £74,073. The Duke’s pipe cleaner makes £12,000. A pearl handle broken off the Duchess’s handbag, sells for £18,500. A silver vesta case inscribed “To David” from his brother Harry (“scrap value”: £5) sells for £12,546. The Duke’s swords are bought by Mohamed Al Fayed, owner of Harrods, for £2,000,000: “I wanted Harrods, as a great British institution, to have these.”

Sunday, April 5. Anthony Holden in The Sunday Times describes the “Geneva spectacle of wealthy and greedy Americans baying in pursuit of the Windsor heritage”—for the benefit of a French medical institute. “Salt in the wounds of Britain’s impoverished art heritage, which had spent the beginning of the week watching helplessly as foreign megabucks hijacked Van Gogh’s Sunflowers.” Highbrow sentiment, lowbrow syntax from here on out.

The Sunday Times Magazine publishes a color spread captioned “Pretty Little Thing Seeks Ideal Home”: eight ways to frame Sunflowers, since it appears that “there are no rights and wrongs when it comes to hanging the Van Gogh.” Some of the choices: a sculptured frame made from wood laminates” £125), “a papier-mache frame with elegant sweep” (from £65), and “the orange-box look for the do-it-yourself fan.”

Sic transit gloria mundi.