This will be about my views on what it takes to put a three dimensional world onto a two dimensional surface. With a lot of digressing.
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Oct 7, 2009


HEAD OF A MAN 13 x 16 Formerly Attributed to Van Gogh

After some comments, and a lot of interest in the discovered photo of Van Gogh (last months blog), and my ongoing interest in fakes and forgeries in the art world, I got interested in a story that made the rounds last year, mostly in Australia and the UK, but a story that I've just come across..In 1940 the "oil sketch" above was bought by the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia for the equivalent of a few thousand dollars, destined to be their only Van Gogh. And valued at 20 million or so. Pounds? or dollars? No matter now. The painting spent a lot of time on loan to other museums, and after questions regarding its authenticity, the folks in charge belatedly decided to send it to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in 2006. The experts there spent a year testing it (really?) and decided it was old, but No Van Gogh.

Further reading led me to an article in The Guardian, written by Germaine Greer (that caught my eye) this past April. She rightfully claims that "any fool with an eye, let alone two", could tell it's not Van Gogh. She proposes that the painting could be one of the many oil sketches done by Rubens. I'll pass on that.
My personal opinion when I saw the painting? And why not. It doesn't claim to be cropped, but it obviously is. The anatomy is off-eyes too far apart, the back of his head is missing, etc. And the cross-hatching of brush strokes in the background is not something an accomplished artist does. Aside from the fact that the marks look like they were done with a square brush, and Van Gogh not only used round brushes, but his brushstrokes followed the contours of his subject. Beyond that, when I read that they traced the painting back to Berlin, 1928 -I immediately thought of Han van Meergan, the famous forger of Vermeer, who happily sold one to Herman Goering. (6/9/09 Blog "Good NewsBad News"). Could he have branched out.? Wow. Further searching turned up dozens of forgers, but one caught my eye because of the resemblance. Self portrait?This is Eric Hebborn, forger etraordinaire, even the Getty Museum has him in its collection. He has written "The Art Forgers Handbook", born 1934, murdered in 1996.
And so it goes......


  1. Very fun post. I read one of those biographies about a famous forger, though I forget which one it was, at the moment. I'm pretty sure it was the one who sold to the Nazi. It seems to me also that Van Gogh always used a lot of color in his oils...

    By the way, thanks for indirectly (through R Garriott) giving me good info about sagging stretched linen and wrinkled corners (my bugbear). Cheers!

  2. Thanks Jala.Its hard to really know about the color in early Van Gogh paintings, he experimented with a lot of funky pigments.

  3. This was a very interesting read, Margery. Upon first glance, to me,it did not look like any Van Gogh I had ever seen almost immediately. One clue to me was the the rendering of the the eyes. They seem so out of sync with the rest of the work and his style, period. And uh, yeah...the back of the head!!Hmmm It is amazing it took so long for the experts to determine authenticity.
    On the note of forgery and the Nazi party, did you ever read a small book called Provenance?

  4. No, but I'll keep an eye out for it.Thanks.
    An interesting sidelight was the purchasing power of the Getty, and the "old master" drawings shopped around to museums and collectors, sucessfully, by the above mentioned Hebborn.
    I also wonder what it cost The Nat'l gallery of Victoria to maintain and insure that piece of.... That thing.