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Van Gogh Unfinished

Vincent van Gogh unfinished means (fill in the blank). This prompt's potential is limitless. 

Rocking the art world last week, The New York Times reported Sketchbook Attributed to van Gogh Pits Scholars Against a Museum. The sketchbook's 65 drawings trace back to van Gogh's time spent in Arles, France. According to Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov, a University of Toronto professor emeritus of art history, and Ronald Pickvance, author of two book about van Gogh's life in Arles and Auvers-sur-Oise, France, the sketchbook is a remarkable discovery for several reasons. However, one reason caught my interest. Vincent van Gogh: The Lost Arles Sketchbook is based on sketches made in a commercial ledger. 

​In my recent post on Ledger Art: A Narrative of Resilience, I wrote about how Native American artists, confined to reservations, used government ledgers as a medium to record their stories and history. They used ledgers because ledgers were all they had. Welsh-Ovcharov contends van Gogh did the same thing. He used any medium available to sketch. Welsh-Ovcharov and Pickvance believe the van Gogh sketches are authentic. When short of money to purchase canvases, van Gogh had a reputation for drawing and painting on any material not nailed down. The sketchbook is a commercial ledger, most likely given to van Gogh by the proprietors of the Cafe de Garé. Van Gogh lived at this cafe and inn while in Arles from May to early September 1888. 

From my longtime friendship and association with Dominique-Charles Janssens, Founder and President of the Institut van Gogh and owner of the Auberge Ravoux, van Gogh's last home and where he died, I've heard many stories. With joie de vivre, Dominique describes Vincent swiping tea towels off the tables at the Auberge. Six of Vincent's tea towel paintings are now in private collections. So for me, Vincent sketching in a commercial ledger is not a far-fetched reality.

Alas, though, I am an enthusiast and not a scholar or art expert. ​With all the fake news swirling around us, what is the truth?

The Van Gogh Museum Statement

In Amsterdam, the Van Gogh Museum is the sole authority responsible for the authentication of van Gogh's work. ​The Museum released a statement citing several reasons why the sketchbook is not van Gogh's. 

  1. Characteristic style not in evidence.
  2. Brownish ink not typical.
  3. Topographical errors.
  4. Sketchbook's provenance raises many questions.​

According to Louis van Tilborgh, a senior researcher at the Museum, the sketchbook was reviewed in 2008 and 2012 with same conclusion: the sketchbook is not authentic. 

Given the financial value of van Gogh's work, the likelihood of forgery is high on the Museum's list of concerns whenever someone claims discovery of a "lost" van Gogh. In fact, while researching forgeries for this post, I noticed that investigative reporter James Ottar Grundvig is the author of Breaking van Gogh: Saint-Rémy, Forgery, and the $95 Million Dollar Fake at the Met published last month by Skyhorse Publishing. 

When it comes to van Gogh, everyone seems to have an angle. ​

Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Creative Truth or This Much I Know is True

The one thing I know is true is this: when you enter Gallery 825 inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you will see more people clustered around paintings by Vincent (as he signed his paintings) than any other artist. And if you take seat and observe people, as their eyes travel over the colors and textures, you realize you are in the presence of the spiritual connection between artist and viewer. It is remarkable.

Every now and then, I'll take my dog-eared copy of Dear Theo: ​The Autobiography of Vincent van Gogh edited by Irving and Jean Stone to Gallery 825. Reading one or two letters surrounded by the paintings is deeply moving. Amid his doubts and obstacles, van Gogh's vision and hope for the world remains extraordinary. 

Creative expression is what makes us human and it is through this impulse that we each have the potential to bring more beauty into the world. We are all unfinished works in progress. And that is an encouraging truth. ​

van Gogh Sunflowers

Sunflowers, Vincent van Gogh. 1887. Oil on Canvas. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gallery 825.


Note on the Post Header Image: van Gogh's unfinished canvas of the Village of Auvers-sur-Oise was one painting among many by other artists included in the MET Breuer's exhibition: Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible. I could not resist taking a photo of the people gathered around Vincent's canvas. No other canvas drew as much attention in this particular gallery. 

Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible was a fantastic exhibit and merits its own blog post. So many posts to write!

How do you manage your time for creating content for your blog? Please share your tips!​

van gogh unfinished painting

Viewers gather around van Gogh's unfinished painting of Auvers-sur-Oise at the MET Breuer, September 2, 2016.