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Styles and periods

THE GACHET COLLECTION AT THE GRAND PALAIS
The exhibition of the collection of Dr Gachet, who was a close friend of Van Gogh, opened at the Paris Grand Palais on January 30th 1999.

The exhibition might at least serve to silence those so-called specialists who have questioned the authenticity of about 100 Van Gogh paintings and claimed that the nice doctor was one of the main forgers regarding these works.

According to these detractors, the version of the «Arlesian woman» in the Metropolitan Museum of New York, the «Sunflowers» sold for US $ 60 million to a Japanese insurance company, the «Garden in Auvers» and even the «Portrait of Dr Gachet» in the Orsay museum are all doubtful. In all some 100 paintings were supposedly produced by forgers.


(Sotheby's)

It is not the first time that the work of an artist has been questioned. A few years ago the Rembrandt Research Project announced that only 400 works out of 1000 previously listed could be considered as by Rembrandt's hand.
Forgers have been quite active for over 2000 years and dozens of painters have been much copied since the year 1500, the most famous being Corot, who had so many imitators that an estimated 10,000 works allegedly painted by the French artist have been listed throughout the world. In fact there will be no stop to the lucrative business of forgeries in the years to come.

The main problem does not rest with forgeries but with experts whose judgements have not always been reliable. In fact the debate about authenticating works will never end. Regarding Van Gogh, the experts of the Amsterdam Museum made several blunders with their statements in addition to showing an exaggerated self-assurance which has been irritating many people in recent years.

French museum officials have been much eager to silence detractors in showing the Gachet collection which includes paintings by Van Gogh, Monet, Sisley, Renoir, Pissarro or Cézanne.
Some of Van Gogh's paintings exhibited in French museums have been described as doubtful by those so-called specialists who are trying to amend the catalogue raisonné of works by the Dutch master.

Such criticisms have prompted museum officials to have certain paintings by Cézanne, Van Gogh, Dr Gachet and his son fully analysed in a special laboratory.
Laboratory results will thus be used to lift doubts about the authenticity of those paintings and to eliminate Dr Gachet and his son from the list of possible forgers.
Still, it was true that Dr Gachet copied works by Van Gogh, Cézanne and others. But in comparing originals with his copies one can immediately detect that he was in no way a forger but rather an amateur painter and a poor imitator.

The copies of Van Gogh's works by Blanche Derousse, a pupil of Dr Gachet, produced after the death of the painter in Auvers were simple water-colours which are also being shown at the Grand Palais. These only serve as documents and there again it is out of question to prove whatsoever that she had done forgeries.

Recent chemical analyses of the colours used by Van Gogh have proven more interesting as red and rose colours have been found to have faded away with time.

It has thus been discovered that Van Gogh used a lacquer containing eosins, a component destined to brighten up reds but known to fade away when exposed to light.

Therefore eosins, the traces of which can be found in Van Gogh's works, would serve as an important element to authenticate paintings. Dr Gachet, who had more than once the privilege to see Van Gogh at work, never used the lacquer containing eosins in his copies whereas his son, who also copied Van Gogh, used different canvasses. As a result, it would be stupid to claim that both were forgers.

Benoit Landais, the man who has been one of the most virulent campaigners to have denounced certain paintings by Van Gogh as forgeries, has been studying hundreds of documents regarding the painter but his apparent obsession only relies on elements which seem quite simplistic.
Landais would like to prove that Van Gogh always painted in the same way and does not accept the possibility that the painter was not every day at his best.

His attempts to demonstrate that the «Sunflowers» painting is a fake are somewhat akward while his rejection of the «Garden in Auvers» is based on misleading arguments.

Landais has been trying to prove that one of Van Gogh's main forgers was the French painter Claude-Emile Schuffenecker and here again his claims are far from being convincing.

Landais and a group of critics have been campaigning for over three years trying to prove that Schuffenecker was the main culprit but their assertion is as much stupid as those attempts aimed at making Dr Gachet a forger. As a result Schuffenecker's reputation has suffered a lot and is now considered as a mediocre artist whereas such judgement is utterly untrue.

Adrian Darmon

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