Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Van Gogh Mystery

Police in Santa Fe are asking for the public's help with a burglary from an artist's home of about $750,000 worth of artworks, jewelry, and artifacts, including an alleged charcoal drawing by Vincent van Gogh. The Santa Fe New Mexican posted an article today about the heist but unfortunately provides no photographs of the drawing. The homeowner describes the drawing as a 14-by-17 inch charcoal preliminary sketch of the "Night Café" painting in the Yale University collection (the same painting that currently is entwined in its own legal battle) and says it is identical to the painting except that it lacks VIncent's signature.

This story intrigues me, and not because of the theft. This drawing -- if it is indeed by van Gogh -- is unknown in the canon, as far as I've been able to find out. It is not in the de la Faille catalogue raisonné, and it is not mentioned in the scholarship surrounding the Night Café painting. The homeowner says that his great-grandfather bought the drawing and it has been in his family ever since: how can van Gogh experts not know about it? And another point ... when Vincent was living in Arles in September 1888, at the time he did the Night Café painting (and the watercolor version of the painting today in a Swiss private collection), his drawing materials of preference were pencil and/or ink/reed pen. Not charcoal.

I would really like to see a photograph of this drawing. According to the article, experts at Yale have been brought into the case. I would also really be curious to know what they have to say.

UPDATE (20 Sept 2009): On 9/11 the Santa Fe New Mexican reported that the alleged van Gogh drawing was discovered, along with the other artworks allegedly stolen from the home, at a consignment shop in Raton, on sale for $250. The whole thing smells odd to me: to quote John Turturro in "Oh Brother Where Art Thou" -- "That don't make no sense." Among the comments on the article about the recovery (which are otherwise pretty silly), David Brooks from the online Van Gogh Gallery (, the best non-museum Van Gogh site there is) rightly points out that "There is no such known van Gogh drawing. Saying it's a van Gogh doesn't make it a van Gogh." He's got that right.


The Clever Pup said...

Sheramy - Interesting isn't it. The article in the New Mexican was hard to figure out.

But I have to say that we have multiple photos of our humble possessions here at our place for insurance reasons - hard to imagine that the victim in this case has nothing to provide.

vanrijngo said...

I'd personally guess they have plenty of good photos of this drawing. I feel they are just trying to keep other copyist's from making their own copies, claiming they have found it, or one just like it. This MFA world of ours is filled with liars, cheaters, and deceivers along with these brazen thieves who had pulled this job off. I personally believe the owner is in a losing battle, of ever finding it, unless the cop just gets lucky or someone turned the thieves in by squealing.

These thieves themselves will never in their own life ever get it authenticated, due to what they themselves would be faced with,.... MFA expertise. The MFA Experts at The Vincent van Gogh Foundation would have to say if it was real, and if by chance they ever did take the time to look at it, their determination would be, it's "not by this artist". Just as a Vincent van Gogh expert had previously stated to me, the automatic "NO" is in place at the foundation while the MFA experts are in total control of the computers.

Therefore, what the thieves have here is just something that would only interest its previous owner. With out authenticity accompanying this drawing, it would literally reduce its value to only what the owner would be willing to pay for it ransom. Other perspective buyers wouldn't even be interested while willing to pay way less, if not nearly clear down to zilch.

Sheramy said...

vanrijngo: I have to disagree with your assessment of the Van Gogh Foundation/Van Gogh Museum curators. Like any scholars, they have a vested interest in finding the 'real deal' -- but I would imagine most of what comes to them for authentication is junk from the attic. (I can only imagine the number of emails they get from people claiming to have a van Gogh drawing!) They surely say 'no' more often than they say 'yes.' Finding a never-known drawing or letter now is practically impossible, while there are a ridiculous number of recent and older (early 20th c) van Gogh fakes out there -- and those who have the latter want to cash in. It's a good point about why the police wouldn't put a photograph online though. I still wish I could see one!

Hi Clever Pup. Always nice to see you. :-) Thanks for commenting.

vanrijngo said...

Thanks Sheramy - I do appreciate your reply and your point of view of the Van Gogh Foundation/Van Gogh Museum curators. I see you did not put the word Scholar in the same sentence which I believe was a good thing, although it's my own personal belief.

I do enjoy reading what you have to say and thanks again for your reply.