A still life painting long thought to be a fake has been authenticated as a genuine work by Vincent van Gogh by experts from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Still Life with Fruit and Chestnuts has been in the collection of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco since it was donated by collectors Bruno and Sadie Adriani in 1960. It is unsigned, but an inscription on the back of the painting describes it as “Nature mort, peint par Vincent van Gogh.” Anyone can write anything on the back of a canvas, however, and it doesn’t make it so.
The main sticking point was with the date it was created, which at the time of the donation was believed to be 1884 when Van Gogh was in Nuenen. The coloring was off that period, so experts disputed its authenticity and the painting of two pears and an apple among chestnuts was not included in two of the standard catalogues of the artist’s work and again in a third published in 2013. The Fine Arts Museum mostly chose not to display it, although it has been exhibited for several years at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor Museum
For the past two years, Van Gogh Museum scholars have made a painstaking technical and stylistic investigation into the still life, as well as a thorough search through the historical record.
Specialists at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam have now accepted it as authentic. They determined that the canvas and the paints match Van Gogh’s work. Stylistically, it is regarded as fitting in with the still lifes which the artist made in Paris between October and December 1886.
The painting’s provenance can now be traced. There is reference to “pears and chestnuts” in an 1890 inventory, compiled shortly after Van Gogh’s death, with the word “Bernard” added. This is assumed to refer to his friend Emile Bernard. Bernard’s mother sold a work with that title (and the dimensions of the San Francisco picture) to the Parisian dealer Ambroise Vollard in 1899.
The first husband of Sadie acquired the picture in 1922. Sadie, an American artist, later married Bruno Adriani, a German lawyer and cultural official, and they emigrated to America in the 1930s.
Researchers also found a little surprise lurking underneath the fruits and nuts: the canvas was reused so the still life is actually not just an authentic Van Gogh, but two in one. Infrared reflectography found a portrait underneath the visible painting. It’s of a woman wearing a scarf and was likely made shortly before Van Gogh left Antwerp for Paris.
The freshly authenticated Still Life with Fruit and Chestnuts will celebrate its recognition with a trip to Frankfurt this fall. It will be loaned to the Städel Museum for the exhibition Making Van Gogh: A German Love Story which runs from October 23rd until February 16th 2020.
P.S. – I watched At Eternity’s Gate today and thought it was excellent, very evocatively filmed, especially how they shot Vincent-eye-view scenes. Willem Dafoe’s performance was understated and real. I found it so much more genuine and plausible that the than the tortured artist scenery-chewing of Kirk Douglas in Lust for Life which bears no relation, imo, to the Vincent of his correspondence.