There are not many artists, maybe none, with quite the star power of Vincent Van Gogh. Partly it’s the story: the mad genius, uncelebrated in his day, who had the ultimate posthumous reversal of fortune. But largely it’s the paintings he left behind when he died in 1890: singular, ahead of their time, emotional, but sensual and easy to love.
So the announcement this week, by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, that there’s a new Van Gogh painting has stirred quite a bit of interest. Sunset at Montmajour is a winter sunset scene that was declared a fake eighty years ago and stowed away in a disappointed collector’s attic.
Teio Meedendorp, a researcher with the Van Gogh Museum, says that a team from the museum has been examining the work for two years since the current owners brought it in on a tip from someone who knew the setting depicted. The chemistry of art conservation and attribution has improved vastly in recent decades, but in this case, old-fashioned detective work played a lead role. “We recognized it from a critic who saw an exhibition in 1892 in Amsterdam. We found a newspaper clipping. And then again we found a new exhibition in 1901. Also in the Netherlands. And of course the nicest fitting provenance is the one you can almost trace back to the easel of the painter, and that’s what happened in this case.”
Major Van Goghs sell in the tens of millions of dollars (as high as $82.5 million, in 1990). The lucky owners of Sunset at Montmajour have chosen to remain anonymous.