Today, the Kröller-Müller Museum offically revealed to the public the conclusion of several tests that confirmed Vincent Van Gogh as the author of a painting now entitled "Still life with meadow flowers and roses."
The story begins in late November 1885, when Van Gogh arrived in the city of Antwerp, later enrolling at the art academy in January 1886.
One of the exercises included in the art course was to paint a pair of wrestlers.
Van Gogh was urged by his teacher to purchase a large canvas, new brushes and paint, as stated in a letter that Van Gogh wrote on 22 January.
He didn't have enough money, but with the help of his brother Theo, he as able to buy the materials.
A week later he wrote ‘This week I painted a large thing with two nude torsos – two wrestlers’ and that he was delighted with the result. The large 100cm x 80cm canvas was a standard format for figure paintings at the academy in Antwerp.
Van Gogh took the canvas with him when he went to live with his brother in Paris in late February 1886. Several months later, while still in Paris, he painted directly over the 'wrestlers' without scraping or adding an intermediate layer, or any other sort of preparation.
The artist painted a flower still life where an opulently filled foreground was an uncharacteristic exuberance for him. This fact added to the unusual format and size for the subject, prompt experts to dismissal the painting as being Van Gogh's. Moreover his Parisian flower still lifes were generally smaller.
Later however the size proved to be determined by the underlying academic piece, and the exuberant foregroung revealed necessary to cover an entire wrestler on that spot.
In 1920, the Kröllers purchased 26 (!) of the 48 Van Gogh paintings at auction and although this work made part of the lot, they didn't acquire it.
The painting ended up in various private collections and was not included in the Kröller-Müller collection until 1974, when it was purchased with support from the Rembrandt Association and the Prince Bernhard Fund, in order to ‘save it for the nation’. At that time, the senior curator of the museum, Ellen Joosten, described the work as both ‘exceptional’ and ‘remarkable’. She found the large size, the abundance of flowers in their lush display of colour and the smooth, ‘rather academic approach’ highly unusual.
An X-ray image made in 1998, revealed that the flower piece was painted over the other the scene with the torsos of two wrestlers grasping each other by the arms. This X-ray continued to fascinate researchers.
Nonetheless, in the 2003 file catalogue – The paintings of Vincent van Gogh in the collection of the Kröller-Müller Museum – new arguments were raised, adding to the existing doubts. The work was dismissed but remained in the collection, listed as ‘artist: anonymous’ ever since.
Recently, a team of researchers from the TU Delft, the University of Antwerp, Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY) Hamburg, the Van Gogh Museum and the Kröller-Müller Museum has succeeded in confirming its authenticity. The new research technique MA-XRF (Macro Scanning X-ray Fluorescence Spectrometry) made it possible to analyze both paintings in greater detail. This revealed not only a defining characteristic of the academy in Antwerp, namely that the male models posed half naked in contrast to academies elsewhere, but that the pigments used correspond entirely with Van Gogh’s palette at that time. Furthermore, it made possible to recognize Van Gogh’s typical brushstrokes in the now far more perceptible depiction.
In the publication Rehabilitation of a flower still life in the Kröller-Müller Museum and a lost Antwerp painting by Van Gogh, available as a prepublication in the museum shop (English language), the authors Luuk Struick van der Loeff, Matthias Alfeld, Teio Meedendorp, Joris Dik, Ella Hendriks, Geert van der Snickt, Koen Janssens and Meta Chavannes, explain in detail how the wrestlers and the flower still life were painted by Van Gogh.
A new publication Van Gogh: New Findings (Van Gogh Studies deel 4) will be available from June 2012, published by WBooks under the auspices of the Van Gogh Museum.
"Still life with meadow flowers and roses" is on display since 20 March in the Kröller-Müller Museum in Netherlands, together with Van Gogh’s "Roses and peonies" and "Flowers in a blue vase."