Furore over fake Van Goghs: Is this one of them?

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The Independent Online
The art world reacted swiftly yesterday to quash claims that Sunflowers, the world-famous painting by Vincent Van Gogh which was sold by auctioneers Christie's for pounds 24.75m in 1987, could be a fake.

The Art Newspaper alleged in a special investigation that up to 100 paintings and drawings had been wrongly attributed to the Dutch artist. The evidence came from an examination of several scholars' studies by Martin Bailey, an expert on the artist.

The allegation in the respected specialist publication brought a terse response from Christie's. "We have seen the story and there is no reason to question the authenticity of the picture," it said in a statement.

Experts at Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum were also unconvinced by the allegations. "These works have been declared fakes on the basis of very shaky provenance. They should not be a reason to put a question mark against them," said Sjraar van Heugpen, curator of paintings and drawings.

"You have to do a lot more research, both stylistically and technically, before you can say that ... We do not want to enter a discussion that we do not consider fair or trustworthy." Sixteen of the 45 works in question are at the Van Gogh Museum itself.

But the article quoted renowned expert, Jan Hulsker, who said 45 works listed as Van Gogh's were fakes and he was "very doubtful" about many more. The article also cast into doubt the authenticity of a study of the doctor who cared for Van Gogh, which fetched a record price of pounds 48.8m in 1990.

None of the contested works is thought to hang in the National Gallery in London, which has five Van Goghs on show.

There has been a long-running debate as to the provenance of many of Van Gogh's works. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam receives about 150 requests for authentication of his work every year, but only a tiny fraction of those are ever deemed to be genuine.

Experts say there are about 900 Van Gogh paintings and 1,200 drawings known to be in existence, and that they do not expect to find many more. The Art Newspaper notes: "The crux of the matter is that Van Gogh sold virtually no works in his lifetime and consequently there is no commercial proof of provenance or authorship."

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