Written by By Jessalyn Yuksel, CNN New York, US
Next to Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” the famous eyes of Vincent van Gogh may be the first place you think of when it comes to the Mona Lisa. That’s if you were looking at her at all after Giovanni Bellini’s “La Gioconda” rose to art prominence in 1636.
What fascinates us as much as the eye — or perhaps more so — is the expression on its face, to be found in different versions in different cultures. And though paintings of the eye have drawn huge financial rewards in recent years, the work found the most appeal at the art auction at Sotheby’s on Friday. “The Eye” by famed Japanese artist Tatsuo Miyajima , which portrays a nervous-looking woman’s confused reflection gazing at a fishing boat, shot up to $674 million.
Handed a price nearly quadruple its pre-sale estimate, the painting was sold by his second wife, Natsuko Miyajima , who got divorced from him in 2005.
‘The Eye’ depicts a frightened-looking reflection gazing at a fishing boat. Courtesy Sotheby’s
At Sotheby’s, Miyajima called it an “extraordinary work, which evokes something deeper than simply beauty.”
“This is the reason why art is such a universal, universal language,” she said. “It’s something that we can all understand.”
The $674 million sold by Tatsuo Miyajima is a record for a Japanese artist. Credit: Sotheby’s
Miyajima was born in 1951, and exhibited his work for the first time in 1972 in a tiny art gallery. Despite a heavy reliance on patterning for all of his paintings, the artist has described his work as a way of examining relationships.
“It could have anything, or any combination of images or scenes. In the realm of religion, I’d say a dream, but in art, a hallucination, like a dream,” he said in 2015.
Applying that theory to “The Eye,” he describes it as “a dream of a sad, concerned, internally troubled woman,” staring at a boat as if looking into the eyes of God. The sale price — the highest for a Japanese artist, Sotheby’s said — certainly seemed to do the trick.
While acknowledging Miyajima’s talent, Miyajima’s eye may be more than a one-dimensional depiction of something spiritual. In 2015, CNN reported that he had a Catholic penchant and had previously contributed “Anthem (Of the Birth of Jesus) From the Gospel of St. John,” which portrays the Virgin Mary as an angelic presence.
“Christ is tall and standing,” he said in an interview, “and he touches the shoulder of the angel.” He had also painted the Christ child as an angel in the Holy Rosary, a mass that is often used in the early church.
According to Miyajima, God “wouldn’t just come to me to tell me what to do,” according to CNN. “But the artist has his own role and he has to reflect the thoughts of God on his canvas.”
The painting sold Friday morning is the highest price for a Japanese artist. It follows another Miyajima piece, “Looking into a Tree in the Meditation of a Bird With Eyes,” which sold for $16.3 million in 2008, and will go on show in the Japan Foundation’s “Hideki to the World” exhibition.
For the artist, Miyajima said, art is “just an approach to the world.”