AMSTERDAM For roughly a century, the painting â Sunset at Montmajourâ was considered a fake, stored in an attic and then held in a private collection, unknown to the public and dismissed by art historians. But on Monday, the Van Gogh Museum declared the work a genuine product of the master, calling it a major discovery.
Sunset at Montmajour,â painted in Arles in 1888, is a work from the most important period of his life, when he created his substantial masterpieces, like "The Sunflowers," " The Yellow House" and " The Bedroom, " the museum' s director, Axel Raiger, said in an interview. The painting depicts dusk in the hilly landscape of Montmajour, in Provence, with wheat fields and the ruins of a Benedictine Abbey in the background. The area around Montmajour was a subject that Van Gogh explored repeatedly during his time in Arles.
One or two early Van Goghs do sometimes come out of the woodwork now and again, but from the mature period itâ s very rare,â said James Roundell, an art dealer and the director of modern pictures for the Dickinson Galleries in London and New York, which deals in impressionist and modern art. Roundell said it would be hard to predict precisely how much this work would fetch on the market but expected it would be â in the tens of millions and quite a few of them,â he said.
He added, " It' s not the iconic status of something like the "Sunflowers"' or the " Portrait of Dr. Gachet, " which sold at auction for $82.5 million in 1990.
Fred Leeman, a former chief curator of the Van Gogh museum and now an independent art historian and Van Gogh scholar based in Amsterdam, said the work, which he called â 100 percent genuine,â contributes to an alternative understanding of the artist.
"We have the impression of Van Gogh as a very modern painter, but here he' s working in the tradition of 19th century landscape painting," he said.
Van Gogh Museum director Axel Ruger, left, is interviewed as he stands next to the newly discovered "Sunset at Montmajour" painting by Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh during a press conference at the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Monday Sept. 9, 2013. The Van Gogh Museum says it has identified a long-lost Vincent Van Gogh painting that spent years in a Norwegian attic, the first full-size canvas by the Dutch master discovered since 1928. The museum said the painting belongs to an unidentified private collector and will be on display at the museum from Sept. 24. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong) (Peter Dejong)
The painting has been in the private collection of a family for several years and RÃ¼ger said that because of privacy concerns, he couldnâ t release any more information about the owners.
Until 1901, the painting was in the collection once owned by Vincentâ s brother, Theo, said Marije Vellekoop, the head of collections, research and presentation for the museum. His widow, Johanna Van Gogh-Bonger sold it to a Paris art dealer. In 1908, the art dealer sold it to a Norwegian collector, Vellekoop said. Shortly after that, Vellekoop added, â it was declared a fake, or not an originalâ and the Norwegian collector banished it to his attic, where it stayed until the current owners purchased it from him.
They brought it to Van Gogh Museum in 1991, said RÃ¼ger, but at the time experts there said they did not think it was an authentic Van Gogh. Two years ago, the owners brought it back to the museum to seek authentication, and researchers from the museum have been examining it ever since, RÃ¼ger said. The museum recently concluded that the work was a genuine Van Gogh painting because the pigments correspond with those of Van Goghâ s palette from Arles. " This time, we have topographical information plus a number of other factors that have helped us to establish authenticity,â said the museum director. â Research is so much more advanced now, so we could come to a very different conclusion."
Louis Van Tilborgh, the Van Gogh Museumâ s senior researcher, who has worked on the painting for the last two years, said that since 1991 the museum has developed a number of new techniques for identifying and authenticating works of art. He said that all those methods were put to use when they had the chance to look at this painting again.
According to Van Tilborgh, it was painted on the same type of canvas, with the same type of underpainting Van Gogh used for at least one other painting of the same area, â "The Rocks" (owned by the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston). The work was also listed as part of Theo Van Goghâ s collection in 1890. The painting has a number "180â " on the back, which corresponds to the number in the collection inventory.
The date of the painting has been identified as July 4, 1888. In a letter Van Gogh wrote to his brother the next day, he seemed to have described the scene: "Yesterday, at sunset, I was on a stony heath where very small, twisted oaks grow, in the background a ruin on the hill, and wheat fields in the valley. It was romantic, it couldnâ t be more so, la Monticello, the sun was pouring its very yellow rays over the bushes and the ground, absolutely a shower of gold. And all the lines were beautiful; the whole scene had charming nobility.â "
" Sunset at Montmajour" is comparable in size to Van Gogh' s ' Sunflowersâ " painting of the same year which sold for $39.9 million in 1987 at an auction at Christie' s London.