Timothy Ryback made sense of the heated debates over van Gogh forgeries.
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“The So-Called Van Goghs,” by Timothy W. Ryback (Summer 2000), explored the controversy that surrounds the work of one of the world’s best-loved painters. Suspicions about van Gogh fakes have long sparked heated debates among experts. But hardly anyone seems to agree on how many forgeries are out there—or who painted them.
Some of the world’s most popular paintings, including Portrait of Doctor Gachet in the Musée d’Orsay, had been branded as fakes. Sunflowers, which set an auction record when the Yasuda Fire and Marine Insurance Company of Tokyo purchased it for $39.9 million in 1987, was dismissed as a forgery. With millions of dollars at stake and reputations on the line, the world of van Gogh scholarship was roiled as never before. The most extreme charges came from Benoít Landais, an outsider and enfant terrible who delighted in challenging orthodoxy. His success at grabbing headlines had spawned a cottage industry of enthusiastic amateurs who argued with each other and the scholars. Experts were drawn into the fray.
This was the state of affairs that ARTnews asked prizewinning journalist Ryback to sort out. He navigated the confusing terrain, introduced the cast of characters, and answered the important questions: How did this situation arise? Is there something about van Gogh’s paintings that provokes arguments about authenticity? Why do the facts of his life sometimes increase the confusion? Who is qualified to authenticate his works? Most important, is there a way to look at these tainted masterpieces that will illuminate them more clearly and allow us to make truer judgments about them?
The controversy had given rise to a great amount of media coverage, but most of it was lacking in balance at best and sensationalistic at worst. ARTnews believed that the subject was deserving of detailed, informed, and evenhanded treatment. In addition to conducting interviews, Ryback studied written expert opinions and technical laboratory analyses of van Gogh paintings, private correspondence among van Gogh scholars, court decisions, unpublished letters by the artist’s associates, unpublished manuscript, biographies of van Gogh, and three volumes of his collected letters.
Ryback’s first major challenge in researching the piece was to win the trust and respect of the leading experts. There has been so much controversy surrounding van Gogh’s paintings, and so many journalists calling the experts and subsequently misquoting or misrepresenting their positions, that it often required repeated attempts for Ryback to secure an interview.
His second major challenge was to determine which opinions to include. Opinions are so divided on some works, and the opposing viewpoints so complex, that Ryback needed to review the relevant arguments with an open but critical mind and attempt to determine which seemed most reasonable. Generally, he did not attempt to provide a definitive answer but, rather, let the various experts present their positions. Unfortunately, in many cases the complex issues related to a work’s provenance and condition, coupled with van Gogh’s own idiosyncrasies—in terms of his artistic output, his lifestyle, and the vast number of letters he wrote—have conspired to make it virtually impossible to arrive at a definitive judgment. It is unlikely that some of the controversies will ever be resolved.
Reaction to the article was extremely positive. “Nobody had looked at the situation so seriously,” according to one major van Gogh scholar. “Since the article appeared, nobody has made any wild accusations about van Gogh’s paintings. This is what made the article so important.”
Summer 2000The So-Called van Goghs
Suspicions about van Gogh fakes have tainted works in some of the world’s top museums—and sparked heated debates among experts. But hardly anyone seems to agree on how many forgeries are out there—or who painted them
Eight years ago, when Vincent van Gogh’s Garden at Auvers went up for auction in Paris, the late-period work—painted just weeks before the artist’s suicide in July 1890—was valued at more than 200 million francs, nearly $30 million. Given the buoyant international market for van Goghs at the time, it was not an unrealistic estimate. But the French government had removed the work from international bidding by declaring it a monument historique—the first time a painting had ever received this designation—and forbade its export from the country. Hobbled by the cultural embargo, the painting’s market value collapsed. It was purchased by the French banker Jean-Marc Vernes for 55 million francs, a quarter of the anticipated price. In response, the original owner, Jacques Walter, took the French government to court and collected 145 million francs in damages, nearly double the annual acquisition budget for the entire French museum system.
Following Vernes’s death, in April 1996, his widow decided to sell the painting, but once again, complications developed. Three months before the auction, reports appeared in the French media suggesting that Garden at Auvers was a fake. Aside from its stylistic inconsistencies, it was noted that the canvas had once belonged to Claude-Emile Schuffenecker, a turn-of-the-century painter and art collector known to have forged works by Cézanne and possibly van Gogh. The provenance prepared for the auction failed to mention Schuffenecker as a previous owner. In response to these allegations, several prominent van Gogh authorities, including Louis van Tilborgh, curator of paintings and sculpture at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, publicly attested to the work’s authenticity. A laboratory of the French National Museums, which conducted a technical analysis, also declared the work authentic. Nevertheless, when the bidding opened on December 10, 1996, Garden at Auvers failed to find a buyer. The canvas was, in auction-house parlance, brí»lé—”burned.”
Subsequently, Vernes’s heirs sued the auctioneer of the 1992 sale, Jean-Claude Binoche, accusing him of concealing the painting’s suspect provenance. Last month a Paris court rejected the Vernes claim, upholding the validity of the sale. Expressing little surprise at the decision, Binoche noted that “every expert in the world,” as well as the laboratories of the French National Museums, had confirmed the work’s authenticity.
In the last decade, according to an ARTnews survey of scholars, museum curators, and art dealers in Europe and the United States, suspicions about fake van Goghs have tainted some of the most expensive paintings in the world, including the Yasuda Sunflowers, purchased in 1987 by the Yasuda Fire and Marine Insurance Company of Japan for $39.9 million, at the time the highest sum ever paid for a work of art. Jan Hulsker, who compiled the most recent catalogue raisonné of van Gogh’s works, questions the date and in some cases the authenticity of no fewer than 45 van Goghs. In his 1996 catalogue, Hulsker said it would be a “miracle” if a number of “so-called Van Goghs” had not found their way into the oeuvre in the early part of the 20th century. “It is a well-known fact that for instance in the Auvers period,” Hulsker writes, “the number of paintings attributed to Van Gogh far exceeds the amount of work he could have done in the seventy days he stayed there before his death.”
Though the number of possible fakes, based on the catalogues of Hulsker and of J.-B. de la Faille, has been estimated as high a
s 100, Johannes van der Wolk, curator of the Kríller-Míller Museum in Otterlo, home to one of the world’s most extensive van Gogh collections, places the total even higher. “I would not be surprised if the number would grow in the future to some 200,” he says, noting that the current state of research on van Gogh is uncoordinated and incomplete. “Only serious research can produce a number that is based on good arguments.” Furthermore, adds van der Wolk, if one counts alleged van Goghs not included in the major catalogues—works primarily in private collections—one would need to add several hundred more potential fakes to this list. Given that Hulsker’s catalogue lists only 2,125 works by the artist, there are an exceptional number of possible forgeries and misattributions.
The growing concern about van Gogh fakes has spawned a cottage industry of van Gogh authenticators. They engage in public debates in national newspapers, make documentary films, produce highly detailed technical analyses, and regularly confront museum curators and auction houses with their findings. Some of these individuals are world-renowned authorities. Hulsker is an expert on van Gogh’s correspondence and has written the most reliable van Gogh catalogue raisonné for dating the works. Roland Dorn is a prolific German scholar living in Zurich who advises the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam (“Whenever I have a question or doubt about something,” says curator van Tilborgh, “I simply call him on the phone”). Walter Feilchenfeldt, the son of the second owner of the legendary Cassirer Gallery in Berlin who exposed the notorious van Gogh forger Otto Wacker in the 1930s, is a Zurich-based art dealer who regularly provides expert opinion to museums and auction houses. Feilchenfeldt’s possession of the Cassirer archives, which he inherited from his father, gives him unparalleled access to primary-source information on the provenance of many van Gogh works. Ronald Pickvance is a scholar who curated two important exhibitions at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art on van Gogh’s years in Arles and in Saint-Rémy and Auvers.
Alongside this phalanx of scholars is a cadre of individuals who bring more passion than formal training to the field. Antonio de Robertis, a Milan-based van Gogh enthusiast who won a lot of money on an Italian game show—he chose the artist as his subject—has invested his windfall in van Gogh research. It is Benoit Landais, however, the son of a former director of the French National Museums, who has emerged as the enfant terrible of this group. Landais, who has no formal training in art history, has spent the last decade researching and writing on van Gogh fakes. Working from his home outside Amsterdam, and drawing extensively on the archives of the Van Gogh Museum, Landais has repeatedly unsettled museums and auction houses with his exposés of van Gogh pictures he thinks are forgeries. In his book L’Affaire Gachet, Landais asserts that the Portrait of Dr. Gachet in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris is a fake. He has also identified numerous works in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as in the Van Gogh Museum and the Kríller-Míller Museum, as potential forgeries. Some scholars consider Landais an amateur whose greatest skill is his ability to manipulate the media; others, including Hulsker, have come to regard him as a fresh and important new force in van Gogh scholarship.
Van Tilborgh considers this intense scrutiny of van Gogh’s oeuvre by experts and amateurs alike a “healthy” exercise. “By researching the paintings in such detail,” he says, “we are gaining a much deeper understanding of van Gogh’s work as a whole.”
Collectively, the community of experts and amateur art sleuths has brought scores of van Goghs into question. In some cases, no one seems to agree on which are the originals and which the fakes. An example is the controversy surrounding L’Arlésienne, painted in 1888, while van Gogh was living in Arles. It is known that he made one original, which is thought to be in the Musée d’Orsay, and it has traditionally been assumed that he made a copy, which he gave to Madame Ginoux, the woman who sat for the portrait. This copy is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Noting that van Gogh mentioned only one version of the painting in his letters, Landais charges that the one in the Metropolitan is a forgery. The late Mark Roskill, a van Gogh scholar formerly at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, also claimed that one of the versions was a fake, but he thought it was the Musée d’Orsay’s. Hulsker originally argued that both versions were authentic, but after considering the evidence presented by Landais, he changed his mind and became convinced that the Metropolitan’s painting is a fake.
Both museums—and most scholars—insist that both versions are authentic. Metropolitan curator Susan Alyson Stein, who cocurated the exhibition “Cézanne to van Gogh: The Collection of Doctor Gachet,” says that Landais may have been misled by a mistake in de la Faille’s 1928 catalogue raisonné. De la Faille traces the Met’s version back to Schuffenecker, but, Stein says, it is the Musée d’Orsay’s picture that belonged to Schuffenecker. Roland Dorn believes that the earlier version of the picture is in the Musée d’Orsay and van Gogh’s copy in the Metropolitan. “One has to make the distinction between a first version, which is the one done in three quarters of an hour, and a second version, which is certainly a more elaborated, a more complete painting,” he says.
Observing that some of the fiercer debates surrounding works by van Gogh can assume the tenor of “religious wars,” Douglas Druick, Searle Curator of European Paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago, says, “Van Gogh is almost a religion, and there are a lot of high priests.”
In response to these burgeoning doubts, many museums have either withdrawn suspect van Goghs from public view or have indicated their questionable authenticity. The Van Gogh Museum has removed four works from exhibition and has subjected its entire paintings collection to radiography tests. After intensive analysis, the Austrian Gallery Belvedere in Vienna has declared a van Gogh portrait acquired in 1964 a fake. The Detroit Institute of Arts has sent a suspected forgery to Amsterdam for stylistic analysis. “There is more public interest in van Gogh fakes than there is in the works he really painted,” observes Hulsker.
The interest in van Gogh forgeries is hardly new. In 1930, just two years after J.-B. de la Faille published the first catalogue raisonné of the artist’s works—it included more than 2,000 paintings, drawings, and sketches—he felt compelled to issue a second work, Les Faux van Gogh. This sequel was provoked by the trial of Otto Wacker, a Berlin art dealer who was fined and sentenced to 19 months in prison for forging van Gogh canvases, 33 of which de la Faille had listed as original in his 1928 catalogue. In the 173-page sequel, he not only corrected errors that had appeared in his first catalogue, but also added a list of 143 known fakes. De la Faille died in 1959, but a committee established by the Dutch state updated his catalogue in 1970, adding an additional 49 suspects to the list of forged paintings and drawings. “Der tote Vincent malt und malt,” the German satirist Alfred Kerr wrote at the height of the Wacker scandal. “The dead Vincent keeps painting and painting.”
Van Gogh (1853–90) is partly responsible for creating the current confusion surrounding his oeuvre. Though he painted for less than a decade, from the age of 29 until his suicide at age 37, he experimented with a diverse range of styles, dabbling in traditional Flemish painting, Impressionism, and pointillism; copying works by other artists, rangi
ng from paintings by Rembrandt and Jean-Franí§ois Millet to Japanese prints; and eventually pioneering his own distinctive, emotion-laden portraits an
landscapes. Van Gogh would do one version of a painting and, if he didn’t like it, make another version. Occasionally, he would make a copy of a portrait as a gift for the model. He sometimes paid for services with paintings or gave them away to friends.
The approximately 200 works ascribed to van Gogh during his two years in Paris, from February 1886 to February 1888, have been especially susceptible to charges of misattribution or forgery. According to Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov, professor of fine arts at the University of Toronto, who has established herself as an expert on van Gogh’s Paris years and has done extensive research on early van Gogh collectors, not only did the artist experiment with styles, but he also began making copies of his own works during this period. Further, since he was living with his brother, Theo, an art dealer, there is little personal correspondence or other documentary evidence to confirm a work’s authenticity. Though Welsh-Ovcharov believes that amateurs have exaggerated the number of fakes, she does agree that works from the Paris period, especially still lifes, can be problematic. While she insists that some works were introduced into van Gogh’s oeuvre through the “well-meaning ignorance” rather than the “criminal intent” of early collectors and dealers, she does concede that the complexity of van Gogh’s Paris years—his experimentation combined with the dearth of documentation—has presented “a temptation for a dealer to push a few more in.”
It is much easier to document van Gogh’s work during his Dutch years, before 1886, and after the spring of 1888, when he moved to southern France. In exchange for a regular stipend and a consistent supply of canvases and paints, Vincent assigned to Theo complete rights to his works. They made this agreement in 1881, and the artist regularly wrote to his brother, telling him of his progress and often providing detailed descriptions of individual paintings. “In my picture The Night Café I have tried to express the idea that the café is a place where one can ruin oneself, go mad or commit a crime,” he wrote in September 1888. “So I have tried to express, as it were, the powers of darkness in a low public place, by soft Louis XV green and malachite, contrasting with yellow-green and harsh blue-greens, and all this in an atmosphere like a devil’s furnace, of pale sulphur.”
In other letters, he provided exact inventories of sketches, drawings, and paintings he was sending to Theo. But even these inventories can be confounding for scholars; sometimes he fails to mention works that scholars know are authentic. For example, there is no reference in his letters to his famous Wheatfield with Crows, a work of undisputed authenticity. At other times, van Gogh refers to works that have not been found, and sometimes he provides vague or contradictory information that is subject to various interpretations. In terms of authentification, Welsh-Ovcharov calls the van Gogh letters a “double-edged sword.”
Adding to van Gogh’s stylistic inconsistencies are variations in the quality of his works. While he produced masterpieces, he also painted quick studies and replicas of middling quality. This situation, together with the inconsistencies in his correspondence, created openings for forgers to copy some of his masterpieces. At the same time, doubt was cast on some of his lesser efforts. Given the artist’s high public profile and the high market value of his work, you have the makings of a curatorial nightmare. “It is easy to say something is a fake; it is hard to prove it is not,” says Anne Distel, chief curator at the Musée d’Orsay. “When the subject is van Gogh, it is even more complicated.”
It is neither fair nor accurate to identify every “faux van Gogh” as a fake. Some works are indeed forgeries, works created with the intent to deceive. Some, however, are merely imitations, produced by van Gogh followers who were inspired by him and adopted his style or even copied his works, with the intent of paying homage to or learning from him. And then there are the misattributions, works mistakenly thought to have been created by van Gogh and unintentionally absorbed into the body of his work.
Particularly problematic are several paintings found in Theo’s Paris apartment and assumed to be original van Goghs. Theo died less than a year after Vincent, leaving his young widow, Johanna van Gogh–Bonger, to deal with the nearly 400 oil paintings, 1,300 drawings, and hundreds of letters he had meticulously tied in bundles. Until recently, it was assumed that all the paintings in the apartment were by van Gogh, but five of those works, now in the Van Gogh Museum, have been identified as misattributions. “The work that is currently being done for the collection catalogue of van Gogh’s paintings will shed more light on these—and possibly other—works that might have been painted by other artists,” says Sjraar van Heugten, head of collections at the Van Gogh Museum.
What makes it especially difficult to detect many “faux van Goghs” is that some of these works were painted during the artist’s lifetime, or immediately following his death, and thus entered the market simultaneously with many originals. The general assumption that van Gogh’s genius wasn’t recognized until at least 15 years after his death isn’t true. In fact, after Vincent’s suicide, in 1890, Theo was deluged with letters of condolence from the likes of Monet, Seurat, Pissarro, Gauguin, Armand Guillaumin, Paul Signac, and Toulouse-Lautrec. “Un grand artiste est mort,” the Belgian artist Eugí¨ne Boch wrote. “A great artist is dead.” Within a decade, collectors and the general public began to appreciate van Gogh. In 1901 Johanna van Gogh–Bonger lent several of Vincent’s paintings for an exhibition in Paris, the first major showing of his works. Word spread quickly.
According to an early biographer, Benno Stokvis, by the early 1900s “a veritable van Gogh rage” had broken out in the Dutch province of Brabant, where van Gogh first devoted himself to painting. “People everywhere thought they had discovered new works by the painter,” Stokvis wrote. In Breda, where the artist had rented a studio in the house of the Catholic sexton between 1884 and 1885, he left a voluminous collection of early work. After his death, the collection of oils, watercolors, and sketches was packed into wooden crates and entrusted to a local carpenter named Schauder. He eventually sold them to two brothers named Couvreur, who ran a secondhand shop. They reportedly paid the equivalent of a dollar for the whole lot. Immediately, 100 drawings were torn up and thrown away; some larger canvases were sold to a rag shop or sent to a processing plant at Tilburg to be destroyed. The wife of one of the Couvreur brothers, a prudish woman, had all the drawings of nudes destroyed as well. After this purge, the remaining works—60 paintings on stretchers, 150 loose canvases, two portfolios with approximately 90 pen drawings, and between 100 and 200 crayon drawings—were piled onto a pushcart and taken to a local flea market, where they were sold according to size and “prettiness” for a penny or two each.
When van Gogh began receiving attention in the Dutch press, the Couvreur brothers went from house to house trying to buy back his works. They found that one woman had nailed 13 canvases to the walls of her summer home to block the holes. They bought these weather-damaged works for 100 guilders and passed them on to a dealer for 300 guilders. A few weeks later, the dealer resold a single canvas at auction for 4,000 guilders.
The brisk commerce in early van Goghs quickly brought a flood of “faux van Goghs” onto the Dutch market. “I may state that in this connection I heard the name of a rather well
known painter whose work strongly resembled Vincent’s paintings in this period,” Stokvis recalled, following a visit to Brabant in the early 1920s, “that some dealers snapped up everything he produced, obliterated his signature without his knowledge, or altered it, and presented the pictures to the world in this way.” For their part, the Couvreur brothers reportedly possessed a distinctive form of connoisseurship: they could always detect a fake van Gogh by its odor, insisting that the “majority of Vincent’s works were characterized by a peculiar smell.”
Even today, alleged van Gogh works still surface in Brabant. In 1994 a painting that had turned up at a flea market in Breda was bought at a local auction by a Dutch art dealer, Bouwe Jans, for 9,000 guilders (about $4,000). “Too much for a not van Gogh perhaps, but a pittance for a genuine one,” says Jans. “But I liked the painting and considered it to be worth the price, whoever was the author.” Since then, Jans has attempted to authenticate the work, Two Diggers in the Afternoon Sun, submitting it for technical and chemical analysis and presenting the findings to van Gogh experts. Hulsker and Landais have declared the work authentic, but curators at the Van Gogh Museum and the Krí¶ller-Mí¼ller, as well as Roland Dorn, have refused to recognize it as a van Gogh.
Unlike the early paintings, which were crammed into attics or scattered across the Dutch countryside, most of van Gogh’s works from Arles and Saint-Rémy, his most productive and valuable period, were in Theo’s hands when Vincent left the South of France.
On May 20, 1890, he arrived in Auvers-sur-Oise and immediately called on Paul Gachet, a widowed physician who had been a friend of such Impressionist artists as Renoir, Monet, Guillaumin, and Cézanne. On Pissarro’s recommendation, van Gogh moved to Gachet’s house in Auvers after his release from the asylum in Saint-Rémy.
In Gachet, van Gogh discovered a man even more psychologically unstable than himself. “I have seen Dr. Gachet, who gives me the impression of being rather eccentric,” Vincent wrote Theo, “but his experience as a doctor must keep him balanced enough to combat the nervous trouble from which he certainly seems to me to be suffering at least as seriously as I am.”
Van Gogh and Gachet became fast friends. The artist painted in the Gachet garden, took meals with the family, and spent time with the doctor’s 16-year-old son, Paul, and his 21-year-old daughter, Marguerite. Gachet had a large collection of paintings and many sketches by artist friends, including Cézanne’s A Modern Olympia. As a gesture of appreciation to Gachet, who had attended to van Gogh in his final hours and even sketched the dead artist, Theo let Gachet have a number of works by his brother: at least 10 and possibly as many as 23, depending on the source. All of these were eventually inherited by his son, Paul, who, between 1949 and 1954, donated much of the family collection to French museums.
The eccentric behavior of the reclusive Gachet fils, coupled with the fact that, like his father, he was an aspiring painter, raised questions about the authenticity of a number of the works. The Musée d’Orsay’s recent exhibition “Cézanne to van Gogh: The Collection of Doctor Gachet” was intended, in part, to rehabilitate the Gachet image, which has been tarnished, according to Anne Distel, by unkind and biased critics. She points out that the senior Gachet assembled a remarkable collection of Impressionist art and that the son preserved the collection and ultimately donated much of it to the French state.
Some scholars, however, concur that the Gachets forged some of the works in the collection, but they do not agree on which ones or on the motivation. Walter Feilchenfeldt claims that while some of the Cézannes are clearly forgeries, the van Goghs are all original, though he does note that there are two still lifes from the Paris period “where it would be helpful to know how and from whom Dr. Gachet acquired them.” In his book on the Gachets, Landais claims that both father and son, driven by “the dragons of vanity and jealousy,” forged a number of van Goghs, not least among them the Portrait of Dr. Gachet in the Musée d’Orsay. The French scholar Robert Denise claims that Gachet imitated the works out of admiration.
Without doubt, the most controversial van Gogh is the painting known as the Yasuda Sunflowers, one of three more-or-less identical studies of 14 sunflowers in a vase. One version is in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam; a second is in the National Gallery in London. The third version, which had been on loan to the National Gallery, was put up for auction at Christie’s London in 1987 and purchased by the Yasuda Fire and Marine Insurance Company for $39.9 million. The painting is displayed behind glass in the entrance to the company’s Tokyo headquarters.
All of the sunflower paintings are from a series van Gogh painted in 1888 and 1889 to decorate the Yellow House in Arles, where he hoped to establish a studio with Paul Gauguin. In a letter to Theo, he described the planned series as “a symphony in blue and yellow.” Others from the group are in the Neue Pinakothek in Munich and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
As with the Musée d’Orsay’s Portrait of Dr. Gachet, the Yasuda Sunflowers has raised suspicions not only because the painting is not mentioned in van Gogh’s letters or in an inventory of his paintings that was drawn up shortly after his death, but also because its provenance can be traced back to Schuffenecker. Known to his friends as “le bon Schuff,” Schuffenecker was a painter who met Gauguin when they were both working in the stock market in Paris; Gauguin is reported to have had an affair with Schuffenecker’s wife. Like Gauguin, Schuffenecker abandoned the money trade and devoted himself to art. He completed between 800 and 900 drawings, pastels, and oils, as well as a few lithographs, and also became an early collector of van Gogh and other painters. Following a divorce settlement, Schuffenecker’s collection was transferred to his brother Amédée, a wine and cider merchant who became involved in the art and antiques market. In 1906 both brothers paid a visit to Johanna van Gogh–Bonger to purchase more van Goghs. Emile is known to have made copies or studies of van Gogh works. The Van Gogh Museum has a Schuffenecker copy, in pastel, of Vincent’s legendary Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear. Schuffenecker also made a sketch of L’Arlésienne, which was recently discovered in the Frick Art Reference Library in New York. When Amédée died, in 1936, a neighbor observed that his collection included several “newly made van Goghs.”
In the spring of 1900, Theo’s widow, Johanna, loaned eight van Gogh paintings, including a canvas with 14 sunflowers, to the art dealer and critic Julien Leclercq, who wanted to display them in his Paris apartment during the Exposition Universelle. Because the picture needed restoration, Leclercq decided to have it touched up. A neighbor and friend of Leclercq, the painter Judith Gerard, notes in her memoirs that he “called in Schuffenecker, who taught drawing in one of the city’s schools and came each day, in return for a small payment, armed with a large box of colours to cover up the holes and glue back flakes of paint.” Gerard observes that Schuffenecker became so enthusiastic about his work that he decided to “improve” on several other van Goghs that he felt were unfinished.
In 1901 Schuffenecker helped Leclercq organize a van Gogh exhibition, assembling 71 works for the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery in Paris. It was here that van Gogh first came to broad public attention, establishing a reputation that has only grown in subsequent decades. After the Bernheim-Jeune exhiition, the sunflower pa
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