Back in 1908, a Norwegian collector was told that what he thought was a Van Gogh oil landscape was actually a forgery. So he tucked it away in his attic where it languished for six decades. Now, art experts have authenticated the piece — and it is indeed a Van Gogh.
It's not everyday that a new Van Gogh gets added to his astounding collection of works. And indeed, the experts who authenticated the painting, titled "Sunset at Montmajour," are calling it a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Incredibly, the large oil landscape was painted in 1888, a time when Van Gogh created some of his most important works, including "Sunflowers," "The Yellow House," and "The Bedroom." The researchers authenticated it by comparing it to Van Gogh's techniques, style, paint used, and a letter he wrote on July 4th, 1888, in which he described the work. They also conducted a chemical analysis of the pigments and took X-rays of the canvas.
The piece depicts a dry landscape of twisting oak trees, bushes and sky in the south of France. It was done during the period when the artist was increasingly adopting the thick "impasto" brush strokes characteristic of his later works.
From Yahoo! News:
According to a reconstruction published in The Burlington Magazine by three researchers, the painting was recorded as number 180 in [Vincent Van Gogh's brother] Theo's collection and given the title "Sun Setting at Arles." It was sold to French art dealer Maurice Fabre in 1901.
Fabre never recorded selling the work, and the painting disappeared from history until it reappeared in 1970 in the estate of Norwegian industrialist Christian Nicolai Mustad.
The Mustad family said Mustad purchased it in 1908 as a young man in one of his first forays into art collecting, but was soon told by the French ambassador to Sweden that it was a fake. Embarrassed, Mustad banished it to the attic.
After Mustad's death in 1970, the distinguished art dealer Daniel Wildenstein said he thought the painting was a fake Van Gogh or possibly the work of a lesser-known German painter, and it was sold to a collector. The museum would not say who bought it or whether it had been resold since then.
In 1991, the museum declined to authenticate the painting when whoever owned it at the time brought it to them.
Thankfully, the museum eventually came to its senses and launched a formal study of the piece. Reasons for skepticism are understandable, as it's a transitional/experimental piece from Van Gogh, it's unsigned, and parts of the foreground are "not as well-observed" as per his other works. And in fact, Van Gogh himself admitted that, the painting was "well below what I'd wished to do."
It's the first full-size canvas by Vincent Van Gogh to be discovered since 1928.
The identity of the collector cannot be divulged, but the work will be on-loan to Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum for an entire year starting September 24th.
AFP PHOTO / ANP / OLAF KRAAK