Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) ranks among my top five artists of all time (I suppose the others would be Rembrandt, Leonardo, Picasso, and then a tie between Johannes Vermeer and Caravaggio), so it’s a big thrill to see that a previously unknown painting of his has come to light. Below is “Sunset at Montmajour,” painted at Arles in 1888.
Isn’t it beautiful?
The New York Times describes its provenance and how it was authenticated (the “museum” is the wonderful van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam)
“For the first time in the history of the museum, that is in the past 40 years, a substantial capital new work of van Gogh has been discovered that was completely unknown in the literature,” said the museum’s director, Axel Rüger, in an interview. “He is one of the most famous artists in the world and we always think we’ve seen everything and we know everything, and now we’re able to add a significant new work to his oeuvre.” He added, “It 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 painting depicts dusk in the rocky landscape around Montmajour, a vineyard hill town in Provence, with the ruins of a Benedictine Abbey in the background, a subject that van Gogh explored many times during his time in Arles.
The painting has been in the private collection of a family for several years, but the museum would not release any more information about the owners because of privacy concerns, Mr. Rüger said. Two years ago, they brought it to the Van Gogh Museum to seek authentication, and researchers from the museum have been examining it ever since, said Mr. Rüger. The museum recently concluded that the work was a van Gogh because the painting’s pigments correspond with those of van Gogh’s palette from Arles.
It was also painted on the same type of canvas, with the same type of underpainting he used for at least one other painting, “The Rocks” (owned by the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston) of the same area at the same time. The work was also listed as part of Theo van Gogh’s collection in 1890, and was sold in 1901.
“Sunset at Montmajour” is comparable in size to van Gogh’s “Sunflower” painting of the same year. The owners brought it to the museum once before in 1991, said Mr. Rüger, but at the time no one recognized it as a van Gogh. “This time, we have topographical information plus a number of other factors that have helped us to establish authenticity. Research is so much more advanced now, so we could come to a very different conclusion.”
If you are Dutch, or headed to Amsterdam, you’ll be able to see it soon: it goes on exhibit at the Museum on September 24.
These things are priceless, and I think all art of this quality really belongs in museums so it can be appreciated by everyone, but you might have asked yourself, as I did, “What would this sell for at auction?” Well, Wikipedia of course has an article on the most expensive paintings ever sold privately or at auction, and a van Gogh doesn’t come in until #6, “Portrait of Dr. Gachet,” which sold in 1990 for $82.5 million ($146 million in today’s dollars). Topping the list is Paul Cezanne’s “The Card Players,” which, as you may recall, sold two years ago for anywhere between $250 and $300 million dollars to the Royal Family of Qatar (price was undisclosed). I’d take a Van Gogh over a Cezanne on my wall any day.
The Old Masters, of course, are mostly in museums and are never sold. But the Wikipedia article discusses the possible value of the world’s most famous painting: the Mona Lisa:
The museums very rarely sell them, and as such, they are quite literally priceless. Guinness World Records lists the Mona Lisa as having the highest insurance value for a painting in history. It was assessed at US$100 million on December 14, 1962, before the painting toured theUnited States for several months. However, the Louvre chose to spend the money that would have been spent on the insurance premium on security instead. Taking inflation into account, the 1962 value would be around US$759 million today.
Here’s a graph of some of the paintings, but go over to the article to see the full list. In general I have no beef with the artists, except for the three Warhols, which went for 100. 70, and 63 million dollars respectively. That’s an absolute travesty: Warhol was a new-kid-on-the-block mediocrity, though I expect he’ll find his defenders here.
Which would you rather have on your wall: van Gogh’s sunflowers or Warhol’s soup cans?
But enough of crass materialism. Who are your five favorite painters? Anybody who says Schnabel will be banned (only kidding!).