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Van Gogh Painting May Be Forgery

By Matthew W. Granade

Twenty-three years ago Maurice Wertheim '06 donated a painting of six grungy leather shoes sitting on a dirty canvas backdrop to Harvard.

"Three Pairs of Shoes" now hangs in Harvard's Fogg Art Museum, and a small plaque defines its worth. It is labeled as a late-work of Vincent Van Gogh, whose name alone launches the piece into the pricy stratosphere of the art world.

But some experts now consider this painting a fake.

A front-page article in the most recent issue of The Art Newspaper by art writer Martin Bailey documents over 100 paintings and drawings that scholars now think someone other than Van Gogh must have painted.

Besides "Three Pairs of Shoes," the alleged fakes include one of the Dutch master's famous Sunflowers series--sold at auction in 1987 to a Japanese firm for $39.5 million--and two self-portraits, including one owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The Art Newspaper's report draws together three threads of scholarship to document the fakes: the latest edition of The New Complete Works of Van Gogh; the work of German art historian Roland Dorn and Zurich based dealer Walter Feilchenfeldt; and a detailed study of Van Gogh's drawings by Dutch scholar Liesbeth Heenk.

Officials at the Fogg contacted the author of the piece when they first heard of its publication and are now corresponding with Dorn and Feilchenfeldt who specifically cited the Fogg's piece as a fake.

"It's a serious scholarly question, and it will take some time to resolve," said Sarah Kianovsky, an assistant curator at the Fogg. "Issues of authorship are one of the things scholars debate, and it's obviously a matter of interpretation."

Museum officials would not comment on the value of the piece or on how much Wertheim paid at auction when he bought it at Wildenstein & Company in 1943.

Though Harvard scholars said the report warrants further research, curators at Wildenstein lambasted the scholarship on which the article is based.

"Anyone can come down the pike and call these paintings fake," said Joseph Baillio, director of research at Wildenstein. "I think it's just people having their 15 minutes of fame."

The article's claims about Van Gogh's "Sunflowers" also brought a swift response from Christie's, where the painting was sold at auction in 1987.

"We have seen the story and there is no reason to question the authenticity of the picture," the auction house said in a the statement

The Art Newspaper's report draws together three threads of scholarship to document the fakes: the latest edition of The New Complete Works of Van Gogh; the work of German art historian Roland Dorn and Zurich based dealer Walter Feilchenfeldt; and a detailed study of Van Gogh's drawings by Dutch scholar Liesbeth Heenk.

Officials at the Fogg contacted the author of the piece when they first heard of its publication and are now corresponding with Dorn and Feilchenfeldt who specifically cited the Fogg's piece as a fake.

"It's a serious scholarly question, and it will take some time to resolve," said Sarah Kianovsky, an assistant curator at the Fogg. "Issues of authorship are one of the things scholars debate, and it's obviously a matter of interpretation."

Museum officials would not comment on the value of the piece or on how much Wertheim paid at auction when he bought it at Wildenstein & Company in 1943.

Though Harvard scholars said the report warrants further research, curators at Wildenstein lambasted the scholarship on which the article is based.

"Anyone can come down the pike and call these paintings fake," said Joseph Baillio, director of research at Wildenstein. "I think it's just people having their 15 minutes of fame."

The article's claims about Van Gogh's "Sunflowers" also brought a swift response from Christie's, where the painting was sold at auction in 1987.

"We have seen the story and there is no reason to question the authenticity of the picture," the auction house said in a the statement

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