Museum threatened with lawsuit over Van Gogh sketchbook

Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum is facing legal action after it dismissed a sketchbook allegedly belonging to the Dutch artist as a fake.

The discovery of the album of 65 drawings purported to be by Van Gogh was made in 2013 by art historian Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov who believes it was used by the artist on his travels in the south of France. When the drawings were unveiled at a press conference in Paris in November this year the Van Gogh Museum quickly released a statement entitled “Found Sketchbook With Drawings Is Not By Van Gogh, According to Van Gogh Museum”. Now Le Seuil, the publishing house behind Welsh-Ovcharov’s new book on the drawings “Vincent Van Gogh, the Fog of Arles: the Rediscovered Sketchbook”, has hit back at the museum by threatening to initiate a lawsuit.

In a statement on its website released on Tuesday (19 December), Le Seuil said it “intends to obtain compensation for the damage they have suffered as a result of an insidious and unfounded campaign” by the Van Gogh Museum. The publisher has not yet specified the nature of the legal action it may initiate.  Le Seuil had sought to resolve the authenticity dispute by proposing a public debate between Welsh-Ovcharov and the Van Gogh Museum.  The museum refused, saying a public debate was pointless and calling on Le Seuil to respond directly to the comments and questions it has raised over the sketchbook.

The sketchbook’s owner who brought it to Welsh-Ovcharov’s attention in 2013 but remains unidentified is also threatening legal action. Franck Baille, the expert in charge of authenticating the drawings, told Agence France Presse (AFP) on Monday (18 December) that the owner “reserved the right to undertake any appropriate action to repair the damage caused by these claims that describe her as a forgerer”.

Some experts have suggested that the Van Gogh Museum’s assessment of the disputed album may be premature. University of Melbourne researcher, Felicity Strong, told AFP that “the Van Gogh Museum has been wrong in the past”. Strong cited the discovery of a long-lost painting ‘Sunset at Montmajour’, which was twice assessed and rejected by the Museum’s curators before they eventually accepted it as an authentic work in 2012.

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