French Publisher Threatens Legal Action Against Van Gogh Museum Over Disputed Sketches

Authenticity battle heats up.

Vincent van Gogh: The Lost Arles Sketchbook by Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov. Courtesy Abrams.

French publisher Le Seuil has come out swinging in an escalating war of words with the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam over the authenticity of a disputed sketchbook purported to be by Van Gogh.

According to a report from Agence France Press, 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. They reportedly did not expand on the exact nature of the legal action they intend to take.

Art expert Franck Baille, who was involved in the discovery of the sketchbook, said to have been discovered in Arles in the South of France, said 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 describer her as a forger.”

Vincent van Gogh Self Portrait (1889). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Vincent van Gogh Self Portrait (1889). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As artnet News reported last month, coinciding with the publication of a hefty book “Vincent Van Gogh: The Lost Arles Sketchbook,” priced at $85.00 and published in six countries (a copy we obtained is published by Abrams), the Van Gogh Museum emailed a statement that was headlined: “Found Sketchbook With Drawings Is Not By Van Gogh, According to Van Gogh Museum.”

In a subsequent phone conversation, Louis van Tilborgh, senior researcher at the Van Gogh Museum, and professor in art history at the University of Amsterdam, told artnet News the reasons for doubting the authenticity of the drawings and the sketchbook, including the lack of the artist’s characteristic style during the period in question; the atypical brown ink that was used; topographical errors in the terrain depicted in some of the drawings; and the shifting story about its provenance and discovery.

Adding to the high-profile nature of the dispute, the book itself was authored by a respected Van Gogh historian and author named Bogomila Welsh-Ocharov, with a foreword by Ronald Pickvance, another highly- regarded Van Gogh expert.

Following the sktechbook’s publication, artnet News attended a packed lecture at the Albertine Reading Room on New York’s Upper East Side, a project of the French Cultural Embassy, where Welsh-Ocharov held court, alongside author Bernard Comment, describing the discovery of the sketches and the book and explaining why they believe it is authentic.

Bogomila was trailed by a film crew as she came into the Albertine space and spoke at length during the event. Also in the audience was artist Julian Schnabel, who is reportedly working on a Van Gogh biopic.

As one art expert pointed out to us at the event, “this is not a scandal, this is a scholarly debate.”

Pine Trees in the Asylum Garden at Saint-Rémy II October 1889, Saint-Rémy

Pine Trees in the Asylum Garden at Saint-Rémy II
October 1889, Saint-Rémy

Welsh-Ocharov has accused the Van Gogh museum of basing its decision on photographs of the drawings as opposed to properly examining the ten original drawings she brought to them several years ago. Other experts who back the sketchbook find as authentic have questioned the museum’s “monopoly” on deciding what is and what is not an authentic Van Gogh.

Le Seuil also said the Van Gogh Museum has twice rejected work that it then later accepted as being by the artist.

One researcher, Australian expert Felicity Strong of the University of Melbourne, told AFP the museum had 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,” said Strong.

artnet News reached out to Van Tillborgh for comment on the latest claims, but had not received a response as of publication time.



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