During the year of 1970, re-emerges as part of the estate of the recently deceased Norwegian industrialist Christian Nicolai Mustad.
However, Mustad was advised by the French ambassador to Sweden that it was not a Van Gogh. As a consequence, "Sunset at Montmajour" was stashed away in the attic, where it stayed until the current owners purchased it from him.
In 1991, the unsigned painting was taken to the Van Gogh Museum, but at the time the museum experts didn't conclude as authentic.
About twenty years later, its owners brought back to the museum to seek authentication, and its researchers have been examining it ever since.
Under the supervision of Louis van Tilborgh, the Van Gogh Museum’s senior researcher, it was recently concluded that the work was a genuine van Gogh painting because the pigments correspond with those of van Gogh’s palette from Arles. “This time, we have topographical information plus a number of other factors that have helped us to establish authenticity,” said the museum director, Mr. Axel Rüger. “Research is so much more advanced now, so we could come to a very different conclusion.”
Mr. van Tilborgh states that "Sunset at Monmajour" was was painted on the same type of canvas and with the same type of underpainting van Gogh used for at least one other painting of the same area, “The Rocks.” The work was also listed as part of Theo van Gogh’s collection in 1890. It has “180” painted on the back, which corresponds to the number in the collection inventory. “That was the clincher,” he said
The date of completion of the painting has been identified as July 4, 1888. This conclusion was based upon a letter that Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother on the next day, where he discribes the scene:
“Yesterday, at sunset, I was on a stony heath, where very small, twisted oaks grow, in the background a ruin on the hill, and wheat fields in the valley. It was romantic, it couldn’t be more so, à la Monticelli, the sun was pouring its very yellow rays over the bushes and the ground, absolutely a shower of gold. And all the lines were beautiful; the whole scene had charming nobility.”
The painter moved to Arles in February 1888, where he spent time exploring the landscapes in Provence and doing plein air painting. Van Gogh was particularly fascinated by the flat landscape around the hill of Montmajour, with its rocky outcroppings and hay-colored fields.
In a letter dated July 1888, he said that he had been to Montmajour at least 50 times “to see the view over the plain.”
Art historian Mr. Leeman, said that “in hindsight, many pointers in his letters and entries in catalogs of the 1900s have been linked to other paintings or misidentified,” adding, “Here, we see a painting that fits those descriptions exactly.”
Depicting dusk in the hilly, forested landscape of Montmajour, in Provence, with wheat fields and the ruins of a Benedictine abbey in the distance, the 73.3 cm × 93.3 cm (28.9 in × 36.7 in) oil painting was completed during the most important period of van Gogh's life, when he created his significant masterpieces, such as 'Sunflowers,' 'The Bedroom' and 'The Yellow House.'
"Sunset at Montmajour" will be on display at the van Gogh Museum during one year, starting on September 24, as part of the current exhibition, "Van Gogh at Work," which focuses on other new discoveries about the painter’s artistic development.
According to Mr. Rüger, the current owners have not indicated what they intend to do with it after that.
This is the first full-size painting by Van Gogh to be discovered since 1928.