Some 125 years after Vincent Van Gogh created “Sunset at Montmajour,” the painting has finally been authenticated as the work of the Dutch master, officials with the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam said Monday.
The painting, which was stashed in the attic of a Norwegian industrialist for more than 60 years after he was told it was a fake, is the first full-size Van Gogh to be discovered in 85 years.
Van Gogh, who would commit suicide in 1890, two years after painting “Sunset at Montmajour,” sent the work to his brother Theo. It was sold to French art dealer Maurice Fabre in 1901.
However, Fabre never recorded selling the work, and the painting disappeared until it reappeared in 1970 in the estate of Norwegian industrialist Christian Nicolai Mustad, according to The Associated Press.
“The Mustad family said that Christian had purchased the work in 1908 as a young man in one of his first forays into art collecting, but he had soon after been told by the French ambassador to Sweden that it was a fake. Embarrassed, Mustad banished it to the attic,” the wire service added.
After Mustad’s death in 1970, a noted art dealer said he thought the painting was either a fake Van Gogh or possibly the work of a less-known German painter. The painting was then sold to a collector. The Van Gogh Museum has declined to disclose who purchased it, or whether it has been resold since then.
Ironically, the museum itself declined to authenticate the painting in 1991. However, a recent investigation with new techniques forced officials to change their stance, according to the wire service.
“Sunset at Montmajour” depicts a dry landscape of twisting oak trees, bushes and sky, near Arles, France.
It was done during the period when Van Gogh was increasingly adopting the thick brush strokes that became typical of his work in the final years of his short life, experts at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam said.
It can be dated to the exact day it was painted because Vincent described it in a letter to Theo, and said he had painted it the previous day – July 4, 1888, The Associated Press reported.
“At sunset I was on a stony heath where very small, twisted oaks grow, in the background a ruin on the hill and wheat fields in the valley,” Van Gogh wrote. “It was romantic…the sun was pouring its very yellow rays over the bushes and the ground, absolutely a shower of gold.”
During the unveiling ceremony at the museum, director Axel Rueger described the discovery as a “once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
“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.’”
(Top: ‘Sunset at Montmajour,’ which was unveiled as an authentic work by Vincent van Gogh during a press conference at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam on Monday Sept. 9, 2013.)