September 9, 2013

Long-lost painting by Van Gogh found in attic

'Sunset at Montmajour' can be dated to the exact day it was painted because Van Gogh described it in a letter: July 4, 1888, at the peak of his artistic achievements.

The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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"Sunset at Montmajour" by Vincent van Gogh is seen during a news conference at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam on Monday.

AP

"That may be a painful admission, given that the same museum is now attributing it to Van Gogh, but it is understandable," since experts had no information about what the painting depicted, the Burlington Magazine article said.

Teio Meedendorp, one of three experts who worked on the project, said his predecessors might also have been confused because the painting was done at a "transitional" moment in Van Gogh's style.

"From then on, Van Gogh increasingly felt the need to paint with more and more impasto and more and more layers," he said.

Among other reasons experts had their doubts: The painting was unsigned. Parts of the foreground were not "as well-observed as usual," the researchers said. And part of the right side of the painting used a different style of brush strokes.

But when the museum took a fresh look at the work in 2011, its experts had the advantage of a new compendium of all Van Gogh's letters, and they were able to identify for the first time the exact location "Sunset" depicts: Montmajour hill, near Arles. The ruins of Montmajour abbey can be seen in the background.

Van Gogh mentioned the painting in two other letters the same summer.

The number 180 on the back of the canvas was an important clue, and new chemical analysis techniques showed the pigments were identical to others Van Gogh used on his palette at Arles.

Also, an X-ray examination of the canvas showed it was of the same type Van Gogh used on other paintings from the period.

Meedendorp said "Sunset" belongs "to a special group of experimental works that Van Gogh at times esteemed of lesser value than we tend to do nowadays."

He said it's not impossible another unknown or lost Van Gogh could be found someday. The artist is believed to have completed more than 800 works. While he destroyed some when he wasn't satisfied with the results, the whereabouts of others that are mentioned in his letters or early catalogs of his work are unknown.

The Van Gogh Museum houses 140 Van Gogh paintings and receives more than a million visitors a year.

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