Search for the true language of Van Gogh

John Leighton, former curator at the National Gallery in London, was last year the first foreigner to be appointed director of Amsterdam's famous Van Gogh museum. Visited by nearly a million a year, it is the most prominent and well loved museum devoted to a single artist in the world.

"I think it is the astonishingly direct nature of Van Gogh's work which makes him so accessible to so many, irrespective of prior knowledge," says Mr Leighton, who was born in Belfast and has learned to speak Dutch for the post. "Some people come to the museum who are not necessarily art lovers, but are drawn by the Van Gogh myth, the legend of the romantic artist, suffering and dying for his art. For some, it is almost like an act of devotion. One of our roles is to make this museum as user friendly as possible and to concentrate on the art itself, which helps to dispel the myth".

Almost immediately on taking up his appointment last autumn, the so- called Van Gogh fake crisis broke with an article published in the Art Newspaper. Respected scholars, such as Jan Hulsker, have questioned the authenticity of up to 100 Van Gogh works. Sixteen of the problem paintings are in the Van Gogh Museum, his brother Theo's collection which comes directly from the artist's sister-in-law, Johanna van Gogh Bonger.

Although Van Gogh died in despair in 1890, 20 years after his suicide he was internationally acclaimed and his works were selling for huge sums. By the 1920s, Van Gogh was already one of the most expensive modern artists. Today the paintings continue to break records at auctions, fetching prices of over pounds 40m.

As he failed to sell in his lifetime, there is virtually no commercial proof of authorship. To complicate matters further, a number of works were known to have been abandoned or given away.

When Van Gogh's prices started to escalate, fakers saw their chance. Their efforts were further aided by the detailed information and descriptions Vincent gave of his work in his almost daily letters to Theo, first published in 1914.

In 1932 the first fake scandal broke. After an exhibition of Van Gogh's work in Berlin in 1928, the dealer Otto Wacker was arrested, charged with fraud and sentenced to 19 months' imprisonment.

It is harder to accept the theory that such a large number of supposed fakes in national collections have escaped scholars' attention. Modern methods such as infra-red reflectography can now aid research into materials and technique.

"Of the works being questioned, there is no agreement between the scholars," says Mr Leighton. "There is clearly now a need for a detailed re- examination of his work.

"I believe our role here at the museum is to provide a focal centre for discussion between experts to tackle these problems of authenticity."

Vincent seemed half aware that one day his paintings would count. "Well, in the end, my dear brother, we can only make our pictures speak," he wrote in his last letter to Theo. "For myself, I am risking my life for it and my reason has half foundered because of it, mais que veux-tu?"

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Guru Careers: Carpenter / Maintenance Operator

    £25k plus Benefits: Guru Careers: A Carpenter and Maintenance Operator is need...

    Recruitment Genius: Experienced Magazine Designer

    £18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This London based publishing co...

    Recruitment Genius: Lettings Negotiator - OTE £30,000+

    £13500 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Previous experience is benefici...

    Recruitment Genius: SharePoint Consultant

    £50000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A technical SharePoint Consulta...

    Day In a Page

    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'
    Singapore's domestic workers routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals

    Singapore's hidden secret of domestic worker abuse

    David Cameron was shown the country's shiniest veneer on his tour. What he didn't see was the army of foreign women who are routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals
    Showdown by Shirley Jackson: A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic

    Showdown, by Shirley Jackson

    A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic
    10 best DSLRs

    Be sharp! 10 best DSLRs

    Up your photography game with a versatile, powerful machine
    Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

    Solved after 200 years

    The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
    Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

    Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

    Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
    Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

    Sunken sub

    Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
    Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

    Age of the selfie

    Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
    Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

    Not so square

    How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
    Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

    Still carrying the torch

    The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
    The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

    The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

    ...but history suggests otherwise
    The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

    The bald truth

    How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
    Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

    Tour de France 2015

    Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
    Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

    A new beginning for supersonic flight?

    Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash