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?"

Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning: The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier league

The Independent's live blog of today's Premier League action

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Polly Borgen at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2012
peopleThe Emmy award-winner starred in Cape Fear, the Sopranos and Desperate House Wives
people'I hated him during those times'
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Nursery Nurse

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

    Nursery Nurse

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

    SEN Teaching Assistant

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

    SEN Teaching Assistant

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teaching Assistant required in ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam