In brief

Van Gogh Discovered by Spanish Tax Authorities

Cypress, Sky and Country (1889), a painting alleged to be the work of Dutch master Vincent van Gogh Photo: El Mundo

Cypress, Sky and Country (1889), a painting alleged to be the work of Dutch master Vincent van Gogh
Photo: El Mundo

Nearly 40 years since it was last exhibited at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, a painting believed to be Vincent van Gogh's Cypress, Sky and Country (1889) has been discovered in Madrid, according to a report in Spanish newspaper,  El Mundo. The painting was found by Spanish tax authorities during a raid, which began last October on some 542 safe deposit boxes belonging to 551 individuals who allegedly owe a combined €319 million in back taxes.

According to the paper, the individual under whose name the safe deposit box was registered told authorities in December that the painting belonged to a millionaire living outside of Spain and that he was merely holding on to it for safe keeping on the unnamed individual's behalf. The box, which presumably contained the painting at the time, was brought to Spain in 2010.

The painting is approximately 35×32 cm ((13.7×12.5 in) in dimension and depicts a single cypress tree in its left third backed by a purple hillside and crescent moon. According to experts, the painting was likely created while Van Gogh was in Saint-Remy-de-Provence, the same period during which he painted Starry Night (1889). The artist committed suicide the following year.

Three stamps on the reverse of the canvas have buoyed two experts' confidence in the paintings veracity. The stamps note an exhibition at the Rijksmuseum in 1944, an undated show at Berlin's Museum der Schöne Künste, and an exhibition Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum in 1974. The canvas is also signed on its rear.

El Mundo says that 106 safe deposit boxes named in the ongoing raid have yet to be opened due to their owners' refusals or pending court approvals. While finds of this magnitude are not routine, the paper cites three Picassos and Miros that were confiscated in a similar raid in 2012.

Not counting the Van Gogh, which must still be authenticated and valued by the Spanish Ministry of Culture, authorities have seized goods worth an estimated two million euros during the raid thus far.