Van Gogh experts disagree over sketches

A book of drawings by Dutch Post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh at the architecture academy in Paris. Two scholars believe an old sketchbook containing 65 drawings is an authentic work by van Gogh, and one of them has released a book about th
A book of drawings by Dutch Post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh at the architecture academy in Paris. Two scholars believe an old sketchbook containing 65 drawings is an authentic work by van Gogh, and one of them has released a book about the drawings, titled Vincent Van Gogh: The Lost Arles Sketchbook.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Art history professor Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov, author of Vincent Van Gogh: The Lost Arles Sketchbook, believes the artist's doctor gave the sketchbook to the proprietors of an inn where van Gogh lived in 1888.
Art history professor Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov, author of Vincent Van Gogh: The Lost Arles Sketchbook, believes the artist's doctor gave the sketchbook to the proprietors of an inn where van Gogh lived in 1888.

Two scholars say old sketchbook contains artist's drawings but museum says they are copies

PARIS • Two scholars have said that they believe an old sketchbook containing 65 drawings is an authentic work by Vincent van Gogh and was created by the Post-Impressionist artist in Arles, France, where he painted many of his famous and beloved works.

The scholars - University of Toronto professor emeritus of art history Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov, and Mr Ronald Pickvance, who has written two books on the artist - spoke as Prof Welsh-Ovcharov announced the release of her book about the drawings, Vincent Van Gogh: The Lost Arles Sketchbook.

But experts at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, which owns the largest collection of the artist's works, immediately said they disagreed with the scholars and that they viewed the drawings as most likely imitations by another artist.

"In our opinion, it's not authentic," said Mr Louis van Tilborgh, a senior researcher at the Van Gogh Museum. "Owners of the sketchbook have asked our opinion in 2007 and 2012 again, and we studied the iconography, style and technique, and studied the provenance, and we came to the conclusion that it's not by him. We have not changed our opinion."

For example, he said, the drawings were made with brown ink, while van Gogh always worked with black or purple ink.

The announcement drew attention because Mr Pickvance and Prof Welsh-Ovcharov are highly respected van Gogh scholars. She has curated exhibitions on van Gogh at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris and other museums while Mr Pickvance has organised two van Gogh exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

DEFINITELY NOT

Owners of the sketchbook have asked our opinion in 2007 and 2012 again, and we studied the iconography, style and technique, and studied the provenance, and we came to the conclusion that it's not by him. We have not changed our opinion.

MR LOUIS VAN TILBORGH, a senior researcher at the Van Gogh Museum, disputing the claim by two scholars that the sketchbook contains works by the Dutch artist.

Mr Pickvance said in a phone interview that there was no chance the book or the 65 drawings are forgeries. "These are absolutely OK, from one to 65," he said. "End of song, end of story."

Prof Welsh-Ovcharov said she first encountered the sketchbook in 2013, and spent three years tracking its history. She believed the book had been given to the proprietors of the Cafe de Gare, a cafe and inn in Arles where van Gogh lived from May to early September 1888, by Felix Rey, a doctor who treated van Gogh. Not a typical artist's sketchbook, it was a commercial ledger that Prof Welsh-Ovcharov said had probably been given to van Gogh by the cafe's owners, Joseph and Marie Ginoux, and was later returned by the doctor, filled with the artist's creations, after van Gogh was admitted to an asylum.

Prof Welsh-Ovcharov said this version of events was supported by a cafe employee's datebook that she has reviewed and that has information on the cafe and the Ginoux family. In an entry for May 20, 1890, the datebook says: "Monsieur Doctor Rey left for M. and Mme. Ginoux from the painter Van Goghe (sic) some empty olive boxes and a bundle of checked towels as well as a large book of drawings and apologises for the delay."

The documents remained with the Ginoux family until 1944, said Prof Welsh-Ovcharov.

Mr van Tilborgh views the datebook as an "unreliable source". "The suggestion," the museum said, "is that Rey had visited van Gogh in the asylum in Saint-Remy, but there is no evidence that this physician remained in contact with van Gogh at all after the latter's admission to the asylum."

The sketchbook contains a portrait of van Gogh; sketches of French artist Paul Gauguin and of the Yellow House, where van Gogh once lived; seascapes of Saintes- Maries- de-la-Mer and other major landmarks from paintings now among the artist's most beloved artworks.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 17, 2016, with the headline 'Van Gogh experts disagree over sketches'. Print Edition | Subscribe