New Van Gogh Painting Found In Amsterdam: How Did Historians Determine Authenticity Of ‘Sunset at Montmajour?’

By Philip Ross on September 9, 2013 3:31 PM EDT

van gogh painting
A visitor at the Detroit Institute of Arts museum uses his cell phone to take a picture of the 'Self Portrait' painting by painter Vincent van Gogh in Detroit, Michigan. A long-lost Van Gogh painting was recently recovered from a Norwegian attic. (Photo: Reuters)

A long-lost Van Gogh painting has been identified, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam announced Monday. The painting, titled "Sunset at Montmajour," is the first full-sized canvas by Van Gogh to be discovered since 1928.

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"A discovery of this magnitude has never before occurred in the history of the Van Gogh Museum," the museum's director, Axel Ruger, said in a statement, according to CNN.

The famed Dutch painter, whose artwork is among the most valuable in the world, committed suicide in 1890 at the age of 37. His paintings became some of the best known and beloved paintings ever made, and in the late 1980s and early 1990s, during the art market boom, three of Van Gogh's works became the three most expensive paintings ever sold -- the third and priciest one, "Portrait of Dr. Gachet," sold for $82.5 million.

Finding a previously unknown painting by the artist is what one museum director described as a "once-in-a-life-time experience."

The painting portrays dusk at the hilly landscape of Montmajour near Arles, France, where the artist was living at the time. In the background is the fortified Benedictine monastery at Montmajour, built between the 10th and 13th centuries.

The painting depicts trees, sky and bushes, painted with the familiar brush strokes Van Gogh was known for. The new Van Gogh painting measures 36.7 by 28.9 inches, a relatively large canvas for the painter.

The new Van Gogh painting spent years in a Norwegian attic because it was thought to be made by another painter. According to the Los Angeles Times, the guy who owned the painting was told it was not authentic, so he stuck it in storage.

So how did historians determine the authenticity of the new Van Gogh painting?

According to NBC News, Van Gogh described his "Sunset at Montmajour" painting in a letter to his brother, Theo. In the letter, the painter said he had painted "Sunset at Montmajour" the previous day, on July 4, 1988. Piecing together the letters with the painting's style and other physical materials used, historians were able to plot the history of the painting to its origin.

More details of the new Van Gogh painting will be discussed in October's issue of The Burlington Magazine.

This isn't the first breakthrough in Van Gogh painting history. In 2012, art historians pieced together a never before seen Van Gogh painting that had been covered with another painting. Researchers x-rayed a still-life painting of flowers and discovered a portrait of two wrestlers underneath that Van Gogh had painted over, The Daily Mail reported.

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