Within ten years of Vincent van Gogh's death in 1890, his paintings and drawings were being faked, and forgeries continue to distort our understanding of his work. Martin Bailey discusses the reasons why Van Gogh has attracted forgers in such number and then examines thirty eight works in the current catalogue raisonne whose authenticity can be questioned.
In recent years there has been increasing concern about the problem of Van Gogh fakes, with a range of experts denouncing a large number of works. Even the icons have been questioned by critics, including the Tokyo Sunflowers and the Muscle d'Orsay's Portrait of Dr Gacbet. (1) Heated debates over authenticity have led to considerable confusion. Nevertheless, questions of attribution do need to be resolved, since the presence of fakes is obscuring our view of the real Van Gogh.
As an initial step towards clarifying Van Gogh's oeuvre, I have recorded thirty-eight paintings and drawings that have now been downgraded by museum curators, or at least seriously questioned by them. All are in the 1996 Hulsker catalogue raisonne. What may come as a surprise is the sheer number of catalogued works which have, often in a low-key way, been downgraded. The list of thirty-eight downgraded or seriously questioned works has been culled from a wide variety of specialist publications. It represents the most comprehensive survey of questionable Van Goghs that has been published for decades. (2)
This compilation still represents only a partial list, since it excludes many paintings and drawings in private collections that have not been examined by the experts. Altogether; I would estimate that there must be roughly 100 fakes that will ultimately be excluded from the oeuvre. In the meantime, the present list of thirty eight provides a start. Many belong to leading museums, including the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam; the Kroller-Muller Museum, Otterlo; Stockholm's Nationalmuseum; the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford; and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
Although it is often assumed that the rise in Van Gogh prices is a relatively recent phenomena, his work began to become popular within a decade of his death in 1890. It is now clear that the first fakes came onto the market as early as around 1900--and disturbing evidence has recently emerged to suggest that major dealers were involved.
Teio Meedendorp, a researcher at the Kroller-Muller Museum, has identified three paintings that he believes were produced by the same hand, probably around 1905-10 (nos. 30-32 in the following list). Meedendorp goes on to discuss how they were sold through leading Parisian dealers: 'Blot, Druet and probably others (Vollard, Bernheim Jeune) were not always equally careful about the pictures they sold', while Amedee Schuffenecker, brother of the artist Emile, 'remains a "suspicious" independent dealer'. These five were among the main dealers handling Van Gogh in the early years. Meedendorp concludes that 'a pattern of suspicious practices in the sale of Van Goghs in Paris in the early twentieth century has now begun to emerge. (3)
Much better known is...
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