Sunday, July 09, 2006

Scot sold van Gogh paintings for a pittance |

Scot sold van Gogh paintings for a pittance
Sun Jul 9, 2006 10:07 AM ET

By Ian MacKenzie

EDINBURGH (Reuters) - When Scottish art dealer Alexander Reid returned from Paris with two paintings by Vincent van Gogh, his father berated him for bringing such "atrocities" home and sold them to a French dealer for five pounds ($9) each.

It did not matter that the paintings, a portrait of Reid and a still life of a basket of apples, were in fact gifts to the young Scot, who had lived for several months in Paris with Vincent and his brother, Theo, in Montmartre in 1886-87.

The two paintings and another van Gogh portrait of Reid are included in an exhibition of the Dutch painter's works that opened recently at Edinburgh's Dean Gallery, part of the National Galleries of Scotland. It runs to September 24.

The exhibition is based on British "pioneer collectors" who were among the first to appreciate Impressionist painters.

Frances Fowle, curator of the exhibition, said the anecdote about the sale of the two paintings by James Reid came in a book by Scottish student Alexander Hartrick, who met van Gogh in Paris in 1887.

Fowle said that in later life Alexander Reid, who became a major art dealer, bemoaned the sale of his two paintings and that "he hadn't realized what a great artist van Gogh would turn out to be and how marketable he would be."

Hartrick himself almost bought another still life with apples for two francs, but decided not to because he would have to carry it back to his hotel.

A century later, a van Gogh still life of 15 sunflowers was sold to Japanese insurance magnate Yasuo Goto for some 40 million dollars at auction in London in March 1987.


Van Gogh's two portraits of Alexander Reid in the exhibition, brought together for the first time, provide an insight into the evolution of his painting style.

The earlier portrait, with Alexander seated in an armchair, was painted shortly after he moved into the apartment.

"He still has that Realist style that he inherited from his time in the Netherlands ... so he had a much darker tone of pallet," said Fowle.

"But then you can see as soon as he got to Paris, his pallet lightened and I think the interest in neo-Impressionism is very clear in the second portrait."

Fowle also noted that Reid and van Gogh were remarkably similar physically.

"They were taken as twins and these portraits were originally catalogued as self-portraits (of van Gogh)."

The first portrait is now at the Art Museum of the University of Oklahoma in the United States, while the second is in Glasgow's Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.

Fowle said Reid apparently acquired the still life of a basket of apples after setting out on a painting expedition with van Gogh.

"Van Gogh saw the apples in a market stall and decided he had to paint them. He didn't have any money on him, so Reid lent him the money or gave him the money, and he marched off back home with his apples.

"At the end of the day he was presented with this picture -- that's the story, anyway."

1 comment:

jules said...

Geneva (AP) - To discover a Van Gogh painting at a flea market is every amateur’s dream.

Nathalie Ogi

To discover a Van Gogh painting at a flea market is every amateur’s dream. Three years ago, Jules Petroz, a Swiss antiques dealer, purchased a painting from a colleague. It was a picture of a man who bore an uncanny resemblance to the Dutch master. Could it be a self-portrait? The experts are sceptical, but this enthusiast will not easily be discouraged. These days, the process of verifying a painting’s authenticity resembles more often than not an assault course.

Seeing this portrait for the first time in 2003, Jules Petroz felt compelled by this man’s countenance under his hat, his eyebrows raised.

“I thought of Bonnard at first” M Petroz declared. He did some research and discovered that the painting, which was clearly from another era, might correspond to the time of Van Gogh’s sojourn in Paris. Between 1886 and 1888 Van Gogh completed about twenty self-portraits, all of which were not signed. While in Paris he lived with his brother Théo and subsequently shared a room with a friend. He became ill, underwent an operation, all of which resulted in a considerable loss of weight. This would explain, according to Jules Petroz, his thin appearance in the painting. However, the antiques dealer does have another hypothesis: it could be the work of one of Vincent’s contemporaries.

For now, the difficulty lies in establishing the painting’s authenticity or, at least, in determining the origin of the work. In November 2004, M Petroz sent a photo of the painting to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, who replied in the negative: the work could not be attributed to Vincent Van Gogh. Nevertheless, one is free to dream. The Dutch institution does not easily accept the existence of a new work. The complexity of the process of authenticity is confirmed by the French art historian, Pascal Bonafoux, for whom the work appears excludes the master’s brush.

“The Van Gogh Museum apportioned itself the sole right to authenticate the master’s works, which has proven problematic,” noted M Bonafoux. He too was confronted with a similar case – a landscape painting which many experts attributed the Dutch Master. All the technical requirements converged. The professor, who teaches in the Sorbonne adds,

“The museum in Amsterdam did not even want to see it, and, to this day, the work remains unverified. The art market, being what it is, the stakes surrounding Van Gogh’s works being so high, nobody dares to take a stance.”

The other museums refuse to give an opinion. As for the auction houses, they operate strictly by the rules and will not deviate from this position. Sotheby’s of Geneva would automatically send the painting Amsterdam for approval.

Nonetheless, Jules Petroz, on the strength of a certain experience will not give up just yet. In 1997, he made discovered another painting hidden beneath a pastel bought in the same flea market. It was a portrait of Mery Laurent which he attributed to Edward Manet. The work has yet to be formally identified but it has attained a certain amount recognition owing to a publication in the catalogue of the National Museums of France. Will this self-portrait meet the same fate? After all, to dream is an integral component in the world of art.

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