65 sketches attributed to Vincent Van Gogh are at the center of a controversy over their authenticity

The Olive Trees by Vincent Van Gogh
The Olive Trees by Vincent Van Gogh

Yesterday in Paris a book containing 65 sketches attributed to Vincent Van Gogh titled “Vincent Van Gogh, the brouillard d’Arles, retrouvé carnet” (Vincent Van Gogh, the fog of Arlet, sketchbook found) was presented. It would be a sensational discovery and as such was promoted except that the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam responded to the presentation by stating that the sketches are fakes.

The book on the alleged Vincent Van Gogh sketches was written by the Canadian expert Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov, credited as one of the most important expert of the great painter, in the past already the author of other essays about his works and curator of exhibitions of the artist’s works. The sketches that have become the subject of the dispute were made available to Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov initially to ask for her opinion about their origin and, after the first attribution, for a series of analyzes to verify it that lasted three years.

According to Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov, Vincent Van Gogh really drew the sketches during his Provencal period, from the moment he arrived in Arles in February 1888 to the moment he moved to Paris in May 1890. Those are preparation versions of various paintings and the analysis of their style but also of the ink and the paper are elements that were considered confirmations of their authenticity.

If that’s the case, it’s a truly extraordinary discovery but at this point it’s become a dispute among experts who offer totally opposite conclusions about those sketches. In fact, in response to the presentation that took place in Paris, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam published a press release in which the sketches are regarded as just imitations of the great painter’s works and it’s claimed that the notebook raises many questions.

In the press release, it was written that the Van Gogh Museum knew about the existence of the drawings just published and that between 2008 and 2012 its experts already provided an opinion about their authenticity. Those experts examined the original drawings in 2013 and haven’t changed their mind about the fact that they’re imitations after the publication of Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov’s essay.

The opinion of the Van Gogh Museum’s experts derives from years of research on the great painter’s drawings included in its collection and others. The museum holds about 500 drawings of Vincent Van Gogh and four of his notebooks and the exam of the sketches included in the newly published essay, which means the exam of the style, technique, materials and iconography of the drawings led the experts to conclude that those are imitations.

Now that Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov’s essay has been published and the controversy became public, there will likely be other expert opinions on the drawings with other scientific research on paper and ink by other scholars. For now, the English version of the book is already available with the title “Vincent van Gogh: The Lost Arles Sketchbook” waiting to see whether it’s really an extraordinary discovery or the sketchbook is a fake.

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