Breaking Van Gogh

As a lifelong Vincent van Gogh fan, one question--"Are there any fake van Goghs out there?"--led to a 2,600 word article published in the Huffington Post in July 2013, Hacking Van Gogh: Is the Master's 'Fingerprint' Missing From a Met Painting?  

One suspect painting, Wheat Field with Cypresses, which hangs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, where this author lives, was purportedly painted during the artist's mental breakdown and "attacks" at the Saint-Remy asylum in South of France. That would by June 1889. But the Met's version is just the first of three identical paintings, all modeled off a sketch and then a drawing at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. 

Beyond the landscape being the first model Vincent painted beyond the hospital's property line, the paintings in his oeuvre can be broken down into two categories: Those he painted in Southern France and the other two-thirds of his collection he painted up north, from Holland and London, to Paris and The Hague. His paintings in the South were treated differently. Even though Vincent enjoyed using 3 rooms at the asylum--one to sleep, the second to paint, and a third for his paintings to dry--his thick impasto brushstrokes made drying his artwork a long process. In the heat and humidity of Saint-Remy in summer 1889, his paintings often weren't fully dry a month after they were painted.

With no permanent place to store his art at the hospital, Vincent would roll 4-5 paintings stacked on top of each other, some still damp, tie the roll with string tights in the middle and the ends, put the rolls in a crate and send his latest renderings to his brother Theo, an art dealer, in Paris. But for his newly pregnant wife-to-be in Johanna "Jo" Bonger with a little one on the way, there was not a lot of room to store the paintings from Arles and Saint-Remy.

Over the next decade, those paintings suffered accelerated aging, cracking like cheap makeup, or what the van Gogh experts call "impacted" impasto. The stresses show up in the Saint-Remy paintings today, more than 125 years after Vincent's death, while his other canvasses show no such imperfections.

Thus, the Wheat Field with Cypresses painting that hangs at the Met looks too new to come from the same era, let alone summer when Vincent painted Irises and the vertical Cypresses, which, by the way, also hang at the Met. Just not in the same room. They hang next door. Why would the Met do that, as anyone's guess.

Breaking Van Gogh is my book and ode to Vincent to explore the reasons why, examine the holes in that painting's provenance, and point out the fact that the Met curators appeared to have cited their version of the masterpiece with the wrong attributions in the Van Gogh Letters, which today has been setup as an online database. 

What would the master artist think about that if he were alive today?