A SCHUFFENECKER FORGERY?
The detailed study written by Louis van Tilborgh and Ella Hendriks — the official opinion given by the Van Gogh Museum on the authenticity of the Tokyo Sunflowers — has the great merit of clarifying the debate, Benoit Landis reckoned.
“The question now boils down to a simple alternative : either the Tokyo Sunflowers is an authentic work by Vincent van Gogh, painted at the time of Gauguin's stay in Arles, or it is a copy made by Emile Schuffenecker in 1901. Other dates have been excluded”, he said.
“The 14 Sunflowers, that are now in Tokyo, are painted on jute, a support that Vincent only used during November and December 1888, when he and Gauguin experimented with this awkward material. It is now enough to prove that Vincent did not paint the Tokyo Sunflowers in November/December 1888 to expose the painting as a copy by another hand. If the picture is by another hand, its only possible author is Emile Schuffenecker, who owned it at the time of its first recorded appearance in February 1901”, Landais added.
“The van Tilborgh/Hendriks study, although it covers most aspects of the controversy, fails to come up with incontrovertible evidence for the authenticity of the painting”, Landais argued.
“The only argument that the authors themselves declare “conclusive” — “nullifies the forgery theory once and for all” — lies in their discovery that the Tokyo picture was modelled not only on the “14 Sunflowers on yellow background”, the London picture, but also, partly, on the “14 Sunflowers on yellow green background”, the Amsterdam picture. According to them the London picture dates from August 1888 and the Amsterdam picture from January 1889”, he added.
“In their study they write: “It would have been plainly impossible for him [Schuffenecker] — unless one believes in miracles — to introduce changes in form and colour that precisely match the details of a version he definitely would not have seen.”
“In December 1888 it would also have been plainly impossible, unless one believes in miracles, for Vincent to introduce changes that precisely match the details of a version he, according to the same authors, definitely had not painted yet”, he stressed.
“As far as their other main argument is concerned - the jute support - the authors admit that they have no incontrovertible evidence: “The fact that the Tokyo picture is painted on precisely the same kind of cloth provides compelling if not conclusive evidence of its authenticity.” The technical investigation, that could have given a better answer than "same kind of…", did not take place, due to “the owner's refusal to allow the painting to be subjected to further physical and scientific testing,” he noted.