Van Gogh Museum director Axel Ruger and senior researcher Louis van Tilborgh unveil "Sunset at Montmajour" (Photo: Peter Dejong/AP Photo)
Earlier today in Amsterdam, the Van Gogh Museum announced something that hasn't happened since 1928: the identification of a major new work by Vincent van Gogh.
According to the New York Times, "Sunset at Montmajour" was painted in Arles, France in 1888. The painting then spent many of the intervening years in the attic of Christian Nicolai Mustad, a Norwegian industrialist.
Axel Rüger, the director of the Van Gogh museum, told the Times, "We always think we've seen everything and we know everything, and now we're able to add a significant new work to his oeuvre."
The painting depicts the countryside near Arles, with the ruins of a Benedictine Abbey in the background. Significantly, it was painted in the same period as some of van Gogh's masterpieces, like "The Sunflowers," and "The Bedroom."
"Sunset at Montmajour" (Photo: Peter Dejong/AP Photo)
Confirming the authenticity of a painting is never an exact science — indeed, the museum had previously rejected the work in 1991. But researchers told the Times that they're certain this time around.
Some of the evidence: "Sunset at Montmajour" was painted on the same type of canvas that van Gogh used at the time; it displays his characteristic style of underpainting; and it also matches the description of a painting from his brother Theo van Gogh's collection, even bearing the same inventory number.
Another piece of evidence in its favour: van Gogh referred to the painting in a letter to his brother from 1888. Here's how he described 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 Monticello, 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.
"Sunset at Montmajour" is now in the private collection of a family who purchased it from Mustad some years ago. They have not disclosed how much they paid for it, but given that it's now valued in the tens of millions of dollars, it looks like they made a good bet.