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Art

Amsterdam museum authenticates Van Gogh’s long-lost ‘Sunset at Montmajour’

A museum has identified a long-lost Vincent Van Gogh painting once thought a fake. "Sunset at Montmajour" depicts a dry landscape of oak trees, bushes and sky, painted with Van Gogh's familiar thick brush strokes.

Experts dated the first full-size canvas by the master discovered since 1928, to the exact day Van Gogh painted it because the artist described it in a letter to his brother Theo and said he had painted it on July 4, 1888, "on a stony heath where small twisted oaks grow." In addition to tracing the painting's history through Van Gogh's letters, the experts authenticated the style and physical materials used.

"This is a great painting from what many see as the high point of his artistic achievement, his period in Arles, in southern France," said Axel Rueger, the director of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. "In the same period he painted works such as 'Sunflowers,' 'The Yellow House' and 'The Bedroom'." Rueger described the discovery as a "once-in-a-lifetime experience" at an unveiling ceremony.

"Sunset" now belongs to an unidentified private collector who will allow the museum to display it for a year beginning on September 24, alongside its 140 other works by Van Gogh and several dozen from contemporary artists. Though the museum did not disclose full details of how the collector had recovered the painting, officials said that a Norwegian man had bought the painting as far back as 1908 and then let it languish years in his attic, believing it a fake.

Rueger said the museum had itself rejected the painting's authenticity in the 1990s, in part because the artist had not signed it. However, a two-year investigation using new techniques of chemical analysis found the pigments identical to others Van Gogh had used on his palette at Arles, including typical discolorations. And an X-ray examination of the canvas showed it of the same type Van Gogh used on other paintings from the period, such as "The Rocks."

mkg/ph (Reuters, AFP, AP)