It was painted before his first attack at the asylum. There is a lack of the high tension which is seen in his later works. He called the painting "the lightning conductor for my illness", because he felt that he could keep himself from going insane by continuing to paint.
The painting was influenced by Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints, like many of his works and those by other artists of the time. The similarities occur with strong outlines, unusual angles, including close-up views and also flattish local colour (not modelled according to the fall of light).
He considered this painting a study, which is probably why there are no known drawings for it, although Theo, Van Gogh's brother, thought better of it and quickly submitted it to the annual exhibition of the Société des Artistes Indépendants in September 1889, together with Starry Night over the Rhone. He wrote to Vincent of the exhibition: "[It] strikes the eye from afar. The Irises are a beautiful study full of air and life."
Its first owner was the French art critic and anarchist Octave Mirbeau, who was also one of Van Gogh's first supporters: he paid 300 francs for it.
In 1987, it became the most expensive painting ever sold, setting a record which stood for two and a half years. Then it was sold for US$ 54,000,000 to Alan Bond, but he did not have enough money to pay for it and it had to be re-sold. Irises is currently (as of 2008) seventh on the inflation-adjusted list of most expensive paintings ever sold, and in 18th place if the effects of inflation are ignored.
Irises is now owned by the J. Paul Getty Trust and is on display at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, USA.
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