Painting dismissed as a fake is unveiled as early Van Gogh

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A painting now thought to be an early Van Gogh that was dismissed as a fake for more than five decades goes on show today amid claims that dozens of other pictures once judged worthless may be authentic.

The painting, Houses near The Hague, is being displayed in a small museum in Breda in the Netherlands and carries the familiar Vincent signature. The origins of the work, which depicts a row of red-roofed houses, are a source of fierce disagreement. The Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam is sceptical of its authenticity, pending a formal examination.

Owned by a private Dutch collector, the work is thought have been completed in 1882. It was painted on canvas and later glued to a panel. It is one of about 250 works judged to be fake when examined in the 1940s.

Experts have now established an historical link explaining how the composition came to be found where it was in the Netherlands. They believe it may have been left with his mother by Van Gogh when he left for France in 1885, never to return.

The Breda museum, which is a few miles from Van Gogh's birthplace in Zundert, said the painting was among a collection discovered in 1939 in the attic of an eccentric collector called Barend den Houter.

The haul of paintings, the so-called Breda crates, was examined after the Second World War by the Stedelijk Museum of modern art in Amsterdam, which dismissed them as forgeries or the work of Van Gogh's contemporaries.

But the Breda experts have uncovered a connection between Den Houter and Van Gogh's mother. When the artist's mother moved from Breda to Leiden in 1889, she rented a house that was owned by the uncle of the collector, who was also called Barend den Houter. The younger Barend den Houter, who became a collector, was working as a ship's boy and may have been involved with the house move.

According to the Breda museum, Van Gogh's sister, Lies, said in 1911 that during the move her mother had given several things away to "a boy who liked drawing" - a possible reference to Barend den Houter.

The Breda museum's case has been bolstered by X-rays showing that Houses near The Hague was painted over an earlier work showing a woman knitting and was similar to a Van Gogh watercolour.

"The authenticity of the small painting strengthens the supposition that the collection from which it comes also contains more works by Van Gogh," the Breda museum said. "These are works from his early period and from his youth."

That does not appear to be the view of Amsterdam's Van Gogh museum, the country's most respected authority, which took a decidedly cautious position this week. It said: "The chances are very small that more paintings will be discovered, but you can never exclude it."

If the painting is genuine it will help to fill an important gap for lovers of Van Gogh's work because much of his output from the early 1880s has been lost. When the artist left the Netherlands for good in 1885, his work remained behind in Nuenen. Shortly afterwards his mother moved to Breda and had some of the work stored there, where it was forgotten until 1902, when a large number of paintings were sold in the street.

The Breda exhibition opens today and is called "Vincent van Gogh: Lost and Found".