After being dismissed as a fake and banished to an attic for over a century, a painting created by the Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh, is finally getting the respect it deserves and being hailed as one of the greatest discoveries ever in the history of the Van Gogh Museum - The same experts that deemed it a 'fake', not too long ago.
Now believed to have been painted between 1888 and 1889, 'Sunset at Montmajour' which was unveiled at the Amsterdam museum on September 9th, is the artist's first full-sized canvas discovered since 1928. In fact, experts are now even able to pin down the day it was painted to July 4th 1888, because in a letter the artist wrote to his brother the following day, he talked about completing a piece of work "on a stony heath where small twisted oaks grow". All these years, they had believed that the letter referred to another one of Van Gogh's paintings - 'The Rocks' (see below) even though it did not quite fit the description.
Added to that is the fact that it is listed among Van Gogh's collection as number 180, which can still be seen on the back of the canvas and the scene has been identified as the Montmajour hill, near Aries in France, where the artist happened to be living during the time and had painted a number of his other masterpieces including 'Sunflowers', 'The Yellow House' and 'The Bedroom'. The color pigments used in the painting, including the cobalt blue, the artist's favorite during this time, also add credence to the claim that it is a true Van Gogh. All this anecdotal evidence is of course in addition to more sophisticated analysis with X-Rays and other methods that firmly establish that it is the work of the Dutch master.
But all this was not known to Norwegian industrialist Christian Nicolai Mustad who bought the painting some time around 1908. He apparently believed the 'expert' opinion of a French diplomat who thought it was a fake or mistakenly attributed to Van Gogh. Mustad was so upset that he banished the canvas to his attic, where it lay until he died, in 1970.
But things did not get any better for this beleaguered painting even after that. The industrialist's family had it re-examined by experts who once again deemed it a fake. Following that, the painting changed hands several times, and then in 1991 the owner decided to take it to the ultimate experts for evaluation - The folks at the Van Gogh museum, only to be shunned one more time.
One of biggest problems the painting faced was that the artist had not signed it - Perhaps because as he wrote to his brother in another letter where he described the stony heath that he had just visited, "And I brought back a study of it too, but it was well below what I’d wished to do.” Also, the museum officials at that time could not verify the scenery it depicted - Ironically, they have now not only been able to do that, but also, pinpoint the exact spot the artist stood at, whilst painting his masterpiece.
'Sunset at Montmajour' would have probably continued to languish in obscurity for the rest of its life had it not been for one lucky break - About two years ago, the experts at the Van Gogh museum were finally able to identify the location of the scene and asked the owner if they could get another shot at verifying its authenticity.
While they are reluctant to put a value on this now genuine Van Gogh, previous paintings by the artist have sold for as much as $50 million USD. The good news is that the current owner who wishes to remain anonymous, does not seem to have any plans to put it on the auction block yet and has instead agreed to loan it to the museum, where it will go on display starting September 24th, 2013.
Born on March 30th, 1853 in a small village in Netherlands, Vincent Van Gogh began his life as a missionary. However, his younger brother and best friend, Theo, convinced him to take up painting and after several years of study, he completed his first work 'The Potato Eaters' in 1885. His initial works were done in dark colors. That changed when the artist encountered Impressionism and Neo-Impressionism in Paris, after which he not only began incorporating brighter colors, but also, developing a distinct style. Over his lifetime, the artist produced more than 2,000 masterpieces. His best ones however were those created between 1888-1890, the last two years of his life when he was also suffering from a mental illness. Unfortunately, it got the better of him, eventually leading to his suicide at the tender age of 37.
As is the case with so many of these brilliant artists, Van Gogh's genius talent was never recognized whilst he was alive. In fact the artist sold only one painting! Things of course are different today - Not only is he being credited with pioneering 'Expressionism', but also, hailed as one of the most influential artists ever.
Resources: makingartfun.com, bloomberg.com, BBC.Co.UK