Published: September 19, 2000
Is It or Isn’t It?
A Van Gogh Is up for Grabs on the Internet
By Kelly S. Mittleman
PLEASANT RIDGE, MICH. – Is it or isn’t it? That’s the question authenticators have attempted to answer for “Yellow Roses,” a painting believed to be by the Post-impressionist Vincent van Gogh. The work is currently up for sale online at Michigan-based OldAndSold Antiques Auction (oldandsold.com), and is one the master himself may have painted in the spring of 1888.
The authentication of a possible Van Gogh is crucial to such a work’s success at auction. Experts use technical analysis to determine not only whether the painting is of the period its owner asserts, but also, more importantly, whether it is the work of the artist himself.
“Yellow Roses” was first acquired by Helen Henderson Chain, a Denver, Colo. art enthusiast and gallery owner who claimed she purchased the work on one of her many trips to France for her business, Chain and Hardy’s. She and her husband met tragic deaths on a passenger ship during a typhoon in the South China Sea in 1892. A label from the gallery is still present on the back of the original frame of the painting.
The plot thickens: After Chain’s heirs divided up the estate in 1892, Molly Brown (of The Unsinkable Molly Brown/Titanic fame), at some point, had possession of the work. It is unclear whether the painting was purchased by Brown or whether it was intended as a gift to her. In either case, “Property of Molly Brown” is printed on the back of the painting’s frame.
“Yellow Roses” remained in the Brown family’s possession until 1920, when heirs to that estate sold most of the paintings in the collection.
Now, according to the current owner and consignor, a dedication, signed “Souvenir de Mauve Vincent and Theo 1888,” appears under x-ray and provides links to the artist’s letters. The seller also provides pigment analysis reports from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
The consignor approached Scott Haskins, the owner of California-based FACL, Inc., a conservator of fine art, who tested “Yellow Roses” using a variety of technical methods, such as x-ray, infrared reflectometry, magnification and solubility. Such tests are mandated by auction houses to help determine the authenticity of questionable works and can confirm whether certain materials were indeed available at the time a painting was created.
Haskins says that FACL’s results offer “interesting and confirming details” that “Yellow Roses” is truly the work of Van Gogh, painted in 1888.
Vincent Van Gogh produced some of his most vibrant paintings in Arles, France, expressing his passion for color. In the past 15 years, Van Gogh’s works have commanded astounding prices: $67 million for “Portrait de l’Artiste sans barbe,” $53 million for “Irises,” $26 million for “Sous Bois” and $15.4 million for “The Bridge of Trinquetaille.” Which leads to another nagging question: If this latest find is indeed by Van Gogh, why has it not been consigned to one of the larger, international auction houses – e.g. Christie’s or Sotheby’s – that handled the aforementioned blockbuster offerings?
The opening bid for Yellow Roses was $2 million dollars and the auction will close September 29, 2000.
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