The decision that shaped van Gogh’s, and art’s, future


Vincent van Gogh’s life was awash with misfortune, from mental illness to inability to hold a job to the fact that during his lifetime he sold but one of the more than 900 paintings he created. Even today, this artistic giant is known by many for but a single work – Starry Night – despite having produced a wide array of images during his relatively brief career.

While van Gogh’s difficulty with mental illness is relatively well documented, as is its impact on his work, his struggle to find a job and the bearing it had on his art career is perhaps less well known, according to Alastair Sooke, art critic of The Daily Telegraph.

By age 25, van Gogh had failed in stints at art dealerships in The Hague, London and Paris; teaching jobs in England; and a spell in bookshop in The Netherlands. He then attempted to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the ministry, but this too proved a flop, and his family began to wonder if there was hope for the 25-year old, according to Sooke, writing for the BBC.

In was then that an event critical to van Gogh’s career as an artist occurred. In 1878, still bent on becoming an evangelist, he left for the depressed Belgian coal mining district of the Borinage, to the west of the city of Mons. His goal was to establish himself as a lay preacher to the working class.

Van Gogh efforts as an evangelist in Borinage were hampered by a number of factors. Not being gifted with a golden tongue, his talks were sparsely attended, at best. His ability to connect with locals was hindered by the fact that the latter spoke “Walloon French,” which van Gogh struggled to understand, while his own French sounded overly stilted to the blue-collar coal miners and their families.

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$50 million in art recovered after 40+ years


A trio of thieves apparently didn’t fully hash out details of a 1970 art heist beforehand, when they lifted paintings by Paul Gauguin and Pierre Bonnard from the home of a British couple.

Instead of trying to sell the works – valued today at $50 million – on the black market or to a specific art patron willing to purchase purloined paintings, they dumped the works on a train traveling from Paris to Turin, Italy.

The paintings were never claimed and railway authorities, unaware of the provenance of the masterpieces, put the works up for sale in 1975, when they were purchased at auction by an employee of automobile manufacturer Fiat for $25.

The paintings – Gauguin’s “Still Life of Fruit on a Table With a Small Dog” and Bonnard’s “The Girl With Two Chairs,” hung in the unnamed individual’s kitchen for nearly 40 years in Turin before he took them with him to a retirement home in Sicily.

Recently, the auto worker’s son decided to have the paintings evaluated by an art expert, who realized that the “Still Life” was likely a work by Gauguin, a leading French Post-Impressionist, according to the New York Post.

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Van Gogh painting from 1888 authenticated

Sunset at Montmajour1

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.

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Officials arrest three in 2012 art heist

Charing Cross Bridge monet

Authorities in Romania have arrested three men suspected of stealing paintings worth tens of millions of dollars late last year from Rotterdam’s Kunsthal museum.

Thieves made off with seven paintings, including works by Monet, Matisse, Picasso and Gauguin, in a brazen and meticulously planned operation last October.

A Bucharest district court made a ruling last month that allows authorities to hold the three men for 29 days, Reuters reported, citing the Romanian news agency Mediafax.

The seven masterpieces were stolen in a pre-dawn heist from Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam, the biggest such theft in the Netherlands in more than two decades.

The stolen paintings were: Pablo Picasso’s 1971 “Harlequin Head”; Claude Monet’s 1901 “Waterloo Bridge, London” and “Charing Cross Bridge, London”; Henri Matisse’s 1919 “Reading Girl in White and Yellow”; Paul Gauguin’s 1898 “Girl in Front of Open Window”; Meyer de Haan’s “Self-Portrait,” around 1890, and Lucian Freud’s 2002 work “Woman with Eyes Closed.”

It is the biggest art theft in The Netherlands since 20 paintings were stolen from Amsterdam’s Van Gogh museum in 1991.

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Stolen Matisse recovered after a decade

Ten years ago a 1925 work by French master Henri Matisse disappeared from a Venezuelan museum, having been swapped, it was later learned, with a fake.

The work, “Odalisque a la culotte rouge” (Odalisque in Red Pants), only surfaced recently when two individuals tried to sell the painting, valued at $3 million.

FBI undercover agents busted Pedro Antonio Marcuello Guzmanof Miami and Maria Martha Elisa Ornelas Lazo of Mexico City during a Miami Beach sting this past summer.

The pair sought to peddle the work for $740,000, negotiating with undercover agents posing as buyers, and then arranged for the painting to be flown from Mexico to Miami by Ornelas, according to Reuters.

The two pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transport and sell stolen property late last month, the US Attorney’s Office in Miami said in a statement.

Both told the agents they knew the post-Impressionist work was stolen, the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel reported.

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Cezanne watercolor fetches $19.1 million

A watercolor by Post-Impressionist master Paul Cezanne, missing for nearly six decades before being found recently in Texas, fetched $19.12 million Tuesday at Christie’s auction house in New York.

The work, titled “A Card Player,” depicts Paulin Paulet, a gardener on the Cezanne family estate near Aix-en-Provence in France.

It was found in the private collection of the late Heinz Eichenwald, a medical doctor and art collector who emigrated to the United States in the mid-1930s and spent his career in Dallas.

The work was last seen in public in 1953, according to Agence France-Presse.

It had been known to scholars only as a black-and-white photograph since then.

The late 19th-century work on paper is one of Cezanne’s preparatory studies for his seminal Card Players series of five paintings, “Joueurs des cartes,” according to the wire service.

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Long-lost Cezanne turns up in Texas

A watercolor by Post-impressionist master Paul Cezanne, missing for nearly six decades, has been relocated and will be auctioned this spring in New York.

The work depicts Paulin Paulet, a gardener on the Cezanne family estate near Aix-en-Provence in France. It was known to scholars only as a black-and-white photograph.

The late 19th-century work on paper is one of Cezanne’s preparatory studies for his seminal Card Players series of five paintings, “Joueurs des cartes,” according to Agence France-Presse.

It was unknown if the actual work still existed and, if it did, who owned it, according to the New York Times.

But the watercolor recently surfaced in the home of a Dallas collector and will be auctioned at Christie’s in New York on May 1, officials at the company said Monday.

It is expected to fetch up to $20 million.

“Cézanne’s images of workers on his family farm – pipe-smoking men sitting around a table, their expressions dour, their dress drab, absorbed in a game of cards – are among his most recognizable works,” according to the Times. “Some are pictured alone; others are shown in groups of two or more. Paulet is the only one of the figures to appear in all five paintings in the ‘Card Players’ series.”

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