Rebuttal and a challenge: art historian blasts back at Van Gogh museum over disputed sketchbook
Publisher proposes a public debate between art experts
The esteemed Canadian art historian who sparked a controversy this week with her new tome Vincent van Gogh: The Lost Arles Sketchbook has lashed back at the Van Gogh Museum, which disputes the authenticity of the sketchbook.
At issue is a business ledger-turned-sketchbook of 65 drawings believed to feature drawings by the post-impressionist master created at a key period in his career: when he was living in Arles, France, working on some of his most famous paintings, but also suffering from the psychological torment that led him to cut off his ear and spend months in hospital.
Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov, considered among the world's top authorities on van Gogh, issued a rebuttal on Thursday to a lengthy statement the Amsterdam museum put out as she publicly launched her new book earlier this week.
On Tuesday, the museum said its experts had been aware of the sketchbook for some time, but concluded they were merely imitations of van Gogh sketches. The statement, which outlined the museum's reasoning, called the drawings "monotonous, clumsy and spiritless."
A challenge offered
In addition to Welsh-Ovcharov's answers to the museum's criticisms point-by-point, Thursday's statement from Welsh-Ovcharov's publisher, Les Éditions du Seuil, issued a challenge.
"We are offering the Van Gogh Museum the possibility of jointly organizing — within a reasonable time frame — a public debate between experts," the French firm said.
This will also be an opportunity to shed light on the conditions under which the Van Gogh Museum is claiming the de facto right to a monopoly of attribution.- Publisher Éditions du Seuil
"This will also be an opportunity to shed light on the conditions under which the Van Gogh Museum is claiming the de facto right to a monopoly of attribution."
The statement noted that the drawings and an accompanying notebook were "certified by the careful appraisal, based on scholarly and scientific research studies, undertaken by Ms. Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov," a retired University of Toronto art professor, noted art historian and curator behind major exhibitions, including shows at the Van Gogh Museum itself as well as the Musée d'Orsay's Van Gogh in Paris exhibit in 1988.
Welsh-Ovcharov's research has also drawn the support of other specialists, notably fellow art historian Ronald Pickvance, a highly respected scholar who has studied the life and work of van Gogh for 60 years.
"We have not changed our minds and are very happy that from now on everybody can make their own opinion after seeing the drawings and reading the analysis in the book," Bernard Comment, Welsh-Ovcharov's editor, said Tuesday.