France - Art

Van Gogh 'lost' sketches publisher threatens legal action

A man leafs through the pages of a book of drawings apparently by Vincent Van Gogh
A man leafs through the pages of a book of drawings apparently by Vincent Van Gogh AFP/File / by Alain Jean-Robert

The French publishers of a book of "lost" Vincent Van Gogh sketches on Monday threatened legal action against a Dutch museum that has questioned the authenticity of the works.


The threat follows the publication in six countries last month of "Vincent Van Gogh, the fog of Arles: the rediscovered sketchbook" in which sketches apparently from the artist's legendary stay in the southern French city are reproduced.

The Vincent Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, however, has dismissed the sketches as fakes triggering a war of words with publishing house Le Seuil.

Le Seuil "intends to obtain compensation for the damage they have suffered as a result of an insidious and unfounded campaign" on the part of the Van Gogh Museum, the publisher said in a statement, without elaborating on the exact legal action they intended to take.

The owner of the sketches, who is said to have had them in her possession for 60 years, is also threatening legal action.

In a statement, the art expert Franck Baille, who was involved in the discovery, added that the owner, who has not been publicly identified, "reserved the right to undertake any appropriate action to repair the damage caused by these claims that describe her as a forgerer".

Debate ruled out

Canadian art historian Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov, who authored the book and is the main expert behind the find, has accused the Amsterdam museum of basing its verdict on photographs of the drawings rather than properly examining 10 originals which she brought to them.

And in a point-by-point rebuttal of the museum's damning assessment of the sketchbook, the experts backing the find have also questioned its "monopoly" on deciding what is and is not by Van Gogh.

Le Seuil has also accused the Van Gogh Museum of twice rejecting work it later accepted as the artist's.

Australian researcher Felicity Strong of the University of Melbourne told AFP last month "the Van Gogh Museum has been wrong in the past.

"Their unveiling of a long-lost painting 'Sunset at Montmajour' was examined by curators at the museum at least twice before they reassessed it in 2012 and changed their minds," she said.

The museum has ruled out a public debate on the authenticity of the sketches, saying it has sought answers directly from the publisher and that an open debate would not be useful.

"We will need to have all the hard facts first," it said on November 29.

"We therefore call on the publisher and the author to provide a clear and open response to all our comments, to all the issues in need of clarification and to the questions raised," it said.

"Until they have, we see no point in a scholarly debate and our contribution to the discussion ends here: we will no longer respond to further questions."


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