A sketchbook of 65 drawings purported to be by Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh has been dismissed by experts from the Van Gogh Museum as fake. The drawings were unveiled at a press conference in Paris yesterday (15 November) by art historian Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov but the Museum quickly released a statement declaring them inauthentic.
A retired professor at the University of Toronto in Canada and a Van Gogh specialist, Welsh-Ovcharov believes the sketchbook was used by Van Gogh on his travels through the Provençal countryside around Arles, France in 1888. It contains ink drawings of haystacks, sunflowers and an apparent self-portrait of the artist wearing a straw hat.
Welsh-Ovcharov says the sketchbook was brought to her attention by its owner in 2013. The album was a gift from the owner’s mother who came across it following the bombing of Arles in the south of France towards the end of the second world war. Upon seeing the sketchbook, Welsh-Ovcharov was shocked by the discovery of what she believes are authentic drawings. “You know they say you have an ‘oh my God’ moment … I had an OMG”, she said.
At yesterday’s press conference, Welsh-Ovcharov presented a new book she has produced on the sketchbook entitled “Vincent Van Gogh, the fog of Arles: the rediscovered sketchbook”. The publisher, Le Seuil, said the drawings’ “authenticity is well established”. The attribution is even backed by respected Van Gogh scholar, Ronald Pickvance who hailed the emergence of the sketchbook as “the most revolutionary discovery in the entire history of Van Gogh’s oeuvre”. Nonetheless, mere moments after the press conference began the Van Gogh Museum released its statement rejecting the works as “imitations”.
After studying high-resolution photographs of the drawings the Museum’s researchers concluded they could not be attributed to Van Gogh. They believe the “clumsy” and “monotonous” style of the drawings and the brownish ink used is uncharacteristic of the artist’s work from the period 1888-1890.
Welsh-Ovcharov is sceptical of the Museum’s findings: “when… I taught courses on connoisseurship and on art history, that is the worst thing anyone can do – to tell me that they made a decision on what is a work of art by a photograph.”