Vincent Van Gogh was indeed the painter of a large canvas that languished for years in an attic because no one thought it was his, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has announced:
“Sunset at Montmajour” depicts a dry landscape of oak trees, bushes and sky, painted with Van Gogh’s familiar thick brush strokes. It can be dated to the exact day it was painted because Vincent described it in a letter to his brother, Theo, and said he painted it the previous day — July 4, 1888.
He said the painting was done “on a stony heath where small twisted oaks grow.” . . .
Museum director Axel Rueger described the discovery as a “once-in-a-lifetime experience” at an unveiling ceremony.
“This is a great painting from what many see as the high point of his artistic achievement, his period in Arles, in southern France,” he said. “In the same period he painted works such as ‘Sunflowers,’ ‘The Yellow House’ and ‘The Bedroom’.”
The museum said the painting now belongs to an unidentified private collector and will be on display at the museum from Sept. 24. . . .
Rueger said the museum had itself rejected the painting’s authenticity once in the 1990s, in part because it was not signed by the artist.
But a new two-year investigation had convinced them, with new techniques of chemical analysis of the pigments showing they were identical to others Van Gogh used on his palette at Arles — including typical discolorations.
Meanwhile, an X-ray examination of the canvas showed it was of the same type Van Gogh used on other paintings from the period, such as “The Rocks,” which hangs in Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts.
Researcher Teio Meedendorp said he and other researchers “have found answers to all the key questions, which is remarkable for a painting that has been lost for more than 100 years.”
Experts at the museum were not the only ones in the painting’s history to fail to recognize it as one of Van Gogh’s:
Until 1901, it was in the family collection once owned by Vincent’s brother, Theo, said Marije Vellekoop, the head of collections, research and presentation for the museum. His widow, Johanna van Gogh-Bonger managed that collection, and sold it to a Paris art dealer. In 1908, the art dealer sold it to a Norwegian collector, Ms. Vellekoop said. Shortly after that, Ms. Vellekoop added, “it was declared a fake, or not an original” and the Norwegian collector banished it to his attic, where it stayed until the current owners purchased it from him. Ms. Vellekoop declined to give any more information about the date of purchase or the owners.
Two years ago, the current owner brought it to the Van Gogh Museum to seek authentication, and researchers from the museum have been examining it ever since, said Mr. Rüger. The museum recently concluded that the work was a genuine van Gogh painting because the pigments correspond with those of van Gogh’s palette from Arles.
Louis van Tilborgh, the Van Gogh Museum’s senior researcher, who worked on the painting for the last two years, said that since 1991 the museum has developed a number of new techniques for identifying and authenticating works of art. He said that all those methods were put to use when they had the chance to look at this painting again.
According to Mr. van Tilborgh, it was painted on the same type of canvas, with the same type of underpainting van Gogh used for at least one other painting, “The Rocks” (owned by the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston) of the same area at the same time. The work was also listed as part of Theo van Gogh’s collection in 1890, with the number “180” on the back, which corresponds to the number in the collection inventory.
“We were able to reconstruct everything you can find out about it,” said Mr. van Tilborgh. “We know what it depicts, we know the history, we have a full quote in the letter about it. And the research and technical investigation shows that it’s on a canvas that he painted a week after the letter.”
Paintings by Van Gogh are rarely sold at auction, but they are among the world’s most valuable. “Sunset at Montmajour” is 36.7 by 28.9 inches.
For last week’s news in photos from around the world, see the gallery below.