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Signed Vincent Van Gogh, 1880

Pyroengraving on wood panel

Private collection

Dancing Girl and detail
Signed Vincent, 1881 (could be 1880)

Pyroengraving on wood panel

Private collection

Vincent Van Gogh Panels
and the Quest to Verify Their Authenticity

Curator's Notes:

In March 1999, these images were sent to me with the hope of assistance in establishing their authenticity. Needless to say, I was delighted to see them and both pleased and grateful when permission was granted to display them in the E-Museum.

Following are images of the reverse sides of the panels and notes on the signatures. In addition, following the images are the clues and rationale that have been gathered so far in the investigation on these panels. If you have any suggestions, comments, or information that would aid in this research, please e-mail the Curator directly.

Reverse side of Actress panel
Showing signature of Vincent Van Gogh, 1880

Pencil rubbing of etching on wood panel

Color enhanced digitally to bring out as much of the signature as possible

Private collection

Reverse side of Dancing Girl panel
Showing signature of Vincent, 1881 (or could be 1880)

Etching on wood panel covered with old stain of unknown source

Image color enhanced digitally to bring out as much of the signature as possible

Private collection

Clues and Rationale, Van Gogh Research:

These two pieces came from a gallery/antique shop in Cincinnati more than 50 years ago. The owner died and the heirs sold everything at an estate auction in the 1940s. The previous owner bought these two pieces and two oil paintings at the same time.

There is a letter, written in 1969, from the M. H. De Young Memorial Museum, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA 94118 commenting on the panels. Apparently the previous owner had asked about them and two more items which are unknown. We only have the reply letter from the museum, so we don't know what information the original owner gave the musem, but we do know he was trying to find out something about them 30 years ago. The museum stated only that they appeared to be of the "art nouveau school or the Russian."

It is known that Van Gogh excelled in English, so the titles in English are not unusual.

The dates indicate that the works were done in the early period of his career as an artist when he was experimenting and learning art techniques.

The lettering on "Dancing Girl" appears to have been done with a wider instrument than that on "Actress."

The art is similar in execution to a Japanese woodcut that van Gogh admired and copied.

The surrounding area is cut into a texture of small strokes that resembles van Gogh's painting style.

It appears certain that the writing on the back was done many decades ago, and appears to have been done when the art was made.

If they are not van Gogh's work, why would anyone sign these pieces as van Gogh, knowing that pyrography was not the artist's usual medium? Especially as these appear to have been signed decades ago. Wouldn't a potential forger pick a medium that is more likely to be accepted as a van Gogh?

If the pieces were intended as forgeries, wouldn't the forger have written the signatures more indelibly and more legibly so that they would more likely be seen?

Since it seems certain these were signed at least nearly as long ago as the pieces were done, any forger would have required the foresight to know van Gogh would become so well known and waited for that to happen. It is not certain that, at the end of last century/turn of this century, van Gogh had received much attention.

A forger would have needed to be at least as talented as some of the more able pyrographic artists, and would have had to put more decorative work into the pieces than most, even varying the strokes to add a subtle shading to the circles on the dress of "Dancing Girl." It seems more reasonable that van Gogh experimented with pyrographic work as it does that this was some elaborate hoax thought up a hundred years ago.

It is puzzling that the artist's name wasn't burned on, but rather appears van Gogh had used a carving tool(s) to incise the name. It may even be that one of the benzene-type chemicals caused the stain on the reverse of "Dancing Girl." The nature of the stain is (as yet) unknown as are the reasons why van Gogh would not have signed in burning.

There exists a photo of van Gogh's studio in which a cabinet is shown in the background. It is possible that the cabinet has some pyrogravure on the panels. The picture is so dark that it is not certain if what is visible is poker art or just some coloration anomalies in the panels.

Research turned up the following definition of Art Nouveau and Van Gogh's association with it:

Art Nouveau. A type of expression characterizing the work of many European artists during the 1890's and early 1900's. In its most typical form it makes use of flowing curvilinear lines and free, loose ornament based on such organic or growing things as flowers, branches and trees. ... Art Nouveau (literally, new art) ....found its greatest expression in Central Europe and Britain as part of the mystical spiritual revolt against the overwhelming materialism of the time. ...Its origins can clearly be seen in the decorative, linear patterns of Hodler, Gauguin, Van Gogh and other painters of the period.

from the Encyclopedia of Painting, 1970, Bernard S. Myers, Editor, Crown Publishers, Inc., New York.

Update as of May 5, 2009: According to the article linked here, art historians are now claiming that Van Gogh's ear was cut off by Gauguin!

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© 1999, 2007, 2009 Kathleen M. Garvey Menéndez, all rights reserved.
Last updated 7 November 2009.