Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Genealogy Techniques Help Authenticate Van Gogh Painting

You may have heard that a painting by Vincent Van Gogh was recently authenticated. What you may not know is that some of the tools used to identify Sunset at Montmajour as a Van Gogh work were those used by genealogists.

From the Van Gogh Museum website [1]

Over the weekend I listened with fascination to a brief (about seven minutes) interview with Teio Meedendorp, one of the Van Gogh Museum researchers who worked over the past two years to examine the painting and its history. You can listen to the interview at Studio 360. While naturally, an investigation of the painting itself (pigments, style, canvas, etc.) was an integral part of the process, techniques close to a genealogist's heart also played an important role. [2] A detailed account of the authentication process won't be released until the October edition of The Burlington Magazine is published. [1] However, a few of the ways Sunset at Montmajour was identified were shared by Meedendorp on air.

Old Letters:
In a letter written in the summer of 1888 by Vincent to his brother, Theo, Van Gogh stated that he planned to send him this painting. [1,2]

Estate Records:
After Vincent Van Gogh died in 1890 (two years after painting Sunset at Montmajour) an inventory of his paintings was drawn up. In the present day there was no known painting that corresponded with #180 on the inventory. The number written on the back of Sunset at Montmajour? 180. [2]

Old Newspapers:
To provide further evidence, the research team looked at old newspapers. In one clipping, a critic described a painting he saw at an exhibition in Amsterdam in 1892 that matched Sunset at Montmajour. A second showing in 1901 again included the piece, and was apparently mentioned in the newspaper. [2]

Although Meedendorp didn't elaborate during the interview, he stated that one could practically trace this painting from the current owners “back to the easel.” [2]

I guess the moral of the story is to keep plugging away at your genealogy because, apparently, these are transferable skills.

1. Van Gogh Museum, News, Van Gogh Museum discovers new painting by Vincent van Gogh: Sunset at Montmajour, Van Gogh Museum (http://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/vgm/index.jsp?page=330726&lang=en : accessed 16 Sep 2013), published 9 Sep 2013.

2. Studio 360, Interview (Kurt Anderson interview with Teio Meedendorp 13 Sep 2013), A Van Gogh Is Born, Studio 360 (http://www.studio360.org/story/317123-a-van-gogh-is-born/ : accessed 16 Sep 2013), Air date 15 Sep 2013.

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