James Wang, Director of ELI (Elm Lane International Holdings Inc.), won 87 Hackford Road, Brixton at auction in London last Tuesday for £565,000 (around RMB5.6 million).
Speaking to former GoChengdoo contributor Jessie Levene after his successful bid, Wang confessed that although he had not yet been to view the house, whatever the price would have risen to he would still have bought it.
"It's not a business," Wang said. "It's something that I want to protect."
"Van Gogh is a great artist who linked East and West—he was like a bridge. I plan to invite contemporary Chinese artists to the house, where we will look after them, have an exhibition, promote them and so on."
"I'm a very emotional person because I'm an artist myself. I cannot afford to buy his [Van Gogh's] paintings, so I buy his house!"
Van Gogh was 20 years old when he moved to London in 1873 to work for a French art dealership. Reportedly a very contended time for the aspiring artist, the experience nonetheless ended badly when Van Gogh fell unrequitedly in love with his landlady's daughter (the first of what would prove to be many unhappy romantic encounters in his life). These events were the inspiration for the stage play Vincent in Brixton by Nicholas Wright, performed in London and New York in 2003.
The house, which is described by the estate agent as "presented in poor decorative order" and "in need of modernization," includes an original 19th-century outside toilet—possibly the very one the artist himself used. The building also features a blue plaque on the outside wall commemorating Van Gogh's residence. A sketch of the building drawn by Van Gogh is now on display at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
Wang, who describes himself as a "violinist-turned-dealmaker", is married to a British woman and divides his time between London and China. He also an art collector and a close friend of several prominent Chinese artists such as Zhang Xiaogang and Yue Minjun. His company, ELI, is described on its website as "Providing investment, trading and government relations solutions in China" and has offices in London, Chengdu, Chongqing, Shanghai, and Beijing.
Buyers from China are a small but growing presence on the London property market. While still as yet not in the same category as investors from Russia or the Middle East, their share of all purchases by foreigners of London properties valued from £500,000 to £1 million rose from less than 1 percent in 2009 to 5 percent in 2010.