Van Gogh… or no?

I’ve just seen on arthistorynews the discovery of this lost Van Gogh landscape, which was announced to the world on artnet yesterday.


Apparently the Spanish authorities discovered it in a raid on some tax-dodgers’ safe deposit boxes.

Nearly 40 years since it was last exhibited at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, a painting believed to be Vincent van Gogh’s Cypress, Sky and Country(1889) has been discovered in Madrid, according to a report in Spanish newspaper,  El Mundo. The painting was found by Spanish tax authorities during a raid, which began last October on some 542 safe deposit boxes belonging to 551 individuals who allegedly owe a combined €319 million in back taxes.

According to the paper, the individual under whose name the safe deposit box was registered told authorities in December that the painting belonged to a millionaire living outside of Spain and that he was merely holding on to it for safe keeping on the unnamed individual’s behalf. The box, which presumably contained the painting at the time, was brought to Spain in 2010.

The painting is approximately 35×32 cm ((13.7×12.5 in) in dimension and depicts a single cypress tree in its left third backed by a purple hillside and crescent moon. According to experts, the painting was likely created while Van Gogh was in Saint-Remy-de-Provence, the same period during which he painted Starry Night (1889). The artist committed suicide the following year.

Three stamps on the reverse of the canvas have bugeyed two experts’ confidence in the paintings veracity. The stamps note an exhibition at the Rijksmuseum in 1944, an undated show at Berlin’s Museum der Schöne Künste, and an exhibition Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum in 1974. The canvas is also signed on its rear.

This is all strong supporting evidence; but even in the out-of-focus photograph the painting surprises me. Van Gogh usually paints like he draws, much more draughtsman-like with not a line out of place. His drawings have the precision and clarity of a Rembrandt etching, and he bring the same technique to his painting. Allowing for the blurry photograph I still think this painting is a bit messy. Time will tell…

Meanwhile it’s a good excuse to show some of his beautiful drawings, two landscapes with trees


Location unknown (to me), source Jesse Richards


Landscape with Trees, (c) Museum Boymans van Beuningen.

Vincent’s drawing is a very under-appreciated aspect of his talent. This selection of his drawings on the David Owen Art Studio is a revelation, quoting Van Gogh’s dictum: ‘Drawing is at the root of everything.’ Olive Trees at Montmajour 1888 approaches the wild spirit of his painting


but La Crau seen from Montmajour 1888 looks back to the seventeenth century Dutch tradition of landscape drawing.


This is the same tradition that Hogarth quotes in his only published etching, the very beautiful view from his window at Chiswick, View of Dr Ranby’s House across a cornfield at harvest. It’s a private work, only published by Jane Hogarth in 1781 seventeen years after her husband’s death. I love this picture, with a man and his dog resting in the shade in the foreground, and in the distance a carriage going along the road to Chiswick Villa. I’ve got a print of it hanging above my desk here, and it’s like a slice of real life from the 1750s, one of those pictures you can imagine walking into. You know what it would feel and sound like.


(c) Michael Finney Antique Prints.

I look forward to expert judgment on the Van Gogh painting in Spain. A great coup for the Excise if it’s right.

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