A lost Van Gogh painting has been found after spending decades inside the attic of a Norwegian collector, who was told in the early 1900’s that it was a fake. The Vincent Van Gogh painting is the first full-size canvas discovered since 1928. “Sunset at Montmajour” depicts a “dry landscape of oak trees, bushes, and sky, painted with Van Gogh’s familiar thick brush strokes”. Investigators were able to identify the exact day it was painted because Van Gogh described it in a letter to his brother, Theo.
The painting was created on July 4, 1888, and described by Van Gogh as being done “on a stony heath where small, twisted oaks grow.” The painting was listed among Theo van Gogh’s collection as number 180, and that number can still be seen on the back of the canvas. It was sold in 1901 and exhibited in Paris by a Paris art dealer. The painting was sold again in 1908 to a Norwegian collector and shortly after that, declared a fake. Despondent, the Norwegian collector banished the painting to his attic where it stayed until its current owners purchased the work from him.
Unconvinced that the painting was a forgery, the new owners launched a two-year investigation in an attempt to trace the painting’s history. A new technique of chemical analysis of the paint pigments showed they were identical to others Van Gogh used on his palette at Arles (where Van Gogh lived in 1888). An X-Ray examination of the canvas showed it was the same type Van Gogh used on other paintings from the period. The definitive proof of its authenticity came from a letter from Vincent Van Gogh to his brother Theo Van Gogh. The letter directly references the painting, including the location where it was painted. Investigators found that the scene depicted in the painting is near Arles, France, where Van Gogh was living at the time, near Montmajour hill, and the ruins of an abbey of the same name. The abbey can be seen in the background of the work, on the left side.
Vincent Van Gogh struggled with bouts of mental distress throughout his life and died of a self-inflicted gun wound in 1890. He sold only one painting while he was alive, though his work was just beginning to win acclaim when he died.
Sunset at Montmajour will be on display to the public at the Van Gogh Museum, in Amsterdam, starting on Sept. 24.