Real or fake? Unusual colors and strange marks led art specialists to wonder about a portrait in Norway. Was the sideways-glancing likeness painted by a Dutch master? On Monday, experts announced that “Self-Portrait as a Sick Person” was indeed from the hand of Vincent van Gogh.
Van Gogh used himself as a subject more than 30 times from 1886-1889. In 1910, Norway’s National Museum bought a painting. Its curators believed it was a genuine Van Gogh self-portrait.
But questions about the canvas surfaced in the 1970s. The use of a palette knife to flatten paint on the portrait’s face and hair—as well as surprisingly drab colors—made some wonder whether Van Gogh had painted it. Where were the bright yellows and blues the painter is known for?
To settle the matter, the Norway museum asked Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum to analyze the portrait in 2014.
Checking for truth is always a sound idea—for art experts, students, journalists . . . everyone. The Bible specially commends Berean Christians who “examin[ed] the scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” (Acts 17:11)
Experts in Amsterdam spent six years studying the painting. Just this week, Van Gogh Museum researcher Louis van Tilborgh announced that the painting is a real Van Gogh self-portrait. He believes the artist completed the oil on canvas in 1889.
At the time, Van Gogh was a patient at a mental asylum in France. Van Tilborgh says an unprimed canvas (a canvas with no base layer) and a muddy green color were typical of Van Gogh’s art while he stayed there.
The use of his palette knife makes this painting unusual.
“So he has painted it and during the process he suddenly decides that it has to become flat,” says Van Tilborgh. “We tend to think that it has to do with the fact that it’s made during a period of [insanity].”
Experts also connected the painting to a letter from the artist to his brother Theo on September 20, 1889. In it, Van Gogh calls the portrait, “an attempt from when I was ill.”
“When we delivered the painting in ’14, [the museum] warned us and said, ‘You might not like the results, and it might be that we will never find out,’” says Mai Britt Guleng of the Norwegian museum. “It feels really reassuring to know that it’s genuine.”
(A journalist takes a picture of the self-portrait by Dutch master Vincent van Gogh on Monday, January 20, 2020. AP Photo/Peter Dejong)