Amsterdam, 7 February 2002

Research confirms authenticity of Yasuda Sunflowers

To coincide with the Van Gogh & Gauguin exhibition and its accompanying catalogue the Van Gogh Museum has published its research into the authenticity of the Sunflowers painting belonging to the Yasuda Fire and Marine Insurance Company, Ltd. in Tokyo. This still life is included in the show, as are two other versions of the same motif, from the National Gallery, London, and the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

The authenticity of the Yasuda Sunflowers has been the subject of much debate in recent years, and Louis van Tilborgh (Curator of Paintings) and Ella Hendriks (Head of Conservation) have examined the arguments for and against the attribution to Van Gogh. They present the results of their own research in the Van Gogh Museum Journal 2001. Building upon the pioneering technical research that was carried out in a joint campaign by the The Art Institute of Chicago and the Van Gogh Museum prior to the exhibition, they have concluded that there is ample evidence to sustain the old attribution of the work to Van Gogh.

Those who reject the attribution to Van Gogh have maintained that the Yasuda Sunflowers is neither mentioned in the artist's letters nor in early inventories of the Van Gogh family collection. They have also pointed to stylistic and technical inconsistencies, as well as “mistakes” in the rendering of the sunflowers, all of which suggested the hand of a copyist. The first documented owner of the painting was said to be Claude-Emile Schuffenecker, and they proposed that this minor French artist and collector had made the still life himself. In their eyes he had both the motive and the opportunity to make a forgery, having access to one other version of the Sunflowers, the undisputed work now in the National Gallery.

However, the authors have reached different conclusions, and their arguments can be summarized as follows:

· The surviving documentation provides sufficient evidence to prove that the painting first belonged to the collection of Vincent's brother Theo. It must be identical with a still life with sunflowers, that Schuffenecker bought in 1893 from Theo's widow.

· While it seems that Schuffenecker restored and made minor additions to the Tokyo Sunflowers (and also to other pictures by Van Gogh in his collection), there is no evidence for the theory that he was a forger.

· Examination of the picture and comparison with other works by Van Gogh from the period 1888-89 show that in technique and style it is entirely consistent with other, undisputed works by Van Gogh. The so-called “mistakes” in interpretation can also be found in other works by the artist. The anomalies in brushwork and surface texture can largely be explained by the difficulties posed by the coarse jute support.

· Examination of the canvas has shown that it is painted on exactly the same kind of jute that Van Gogh and Gauguin used for other works when they were together in Arles. The two artists are known to have purchased a 20 m roll of jute in Arles. The fact that the Tokyo still life is painted on precisely this same kind of cloth provides compelling evidence of its authenticity.

· Comparison between the three versions has shown that while the Tokyo Sunflowers exhibit morphological resemblance to the London version and must therefore have been based on this example, in terms of its main colours and schematisation the still life displays more similarities to the Amsterdam work. As Schuffenecker had only access to one of those versions, this observation undermines the forgery theory.

· Previously dated to January 1889, the Tokyo still life has been re-dated to the end of November/beginning of December 1888 and was therefore painted during the period when Van Gogh and Gauguin worked together at Arles. It therefore marks an important stage in their artistic dialogue. Van Gogh probably made the work in response to a now lost still life in yellow by Gauguin, and it inspired his friend to paint his famous Portrait of Van Gogh painting sunflowers, now in the Van Gogh Museum.

· Rather than being a mere repetition of an earlier work it is argued that the still life represents an crucial stage in Van Gogh's Sunflowers series. It was the result of an extreme excercise in painting “light against light”, which the artist had earlier formulated as one of his main aims.

The article ‘The Tokyo Sunflowers: a genuine repetition by Van Gogh or a Schuffenecker forgery?' is published in the Van Gogh Museum Journal, 6 (2001), pp. 17–43 and is also available on

See also Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Studio of the South, Douglas W. Druick and Peter Kort Zegers, The Art Institute of Chicago (paperback, 0-86559-194-6) / Thames & Hudson (hardcover, 0-500-51054-7).

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