‘Laughing stock of the art world’ is finally vindicated

AN eccentric art collector mocked for insisting one of his paintings was an unknown Van Gogh has been vindicated 25 years after his death.

The painting, Le Blute-Fin Mill, is the first to be authenticated since 1995.

It was bought in 1975 by Dutchman Dirk Hannema who was known as a brilliant art curator but a bit of a fool.

Louis van Tilborgh, curator of research at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, said the painting was unusual for the 19th century impressionist, depicting large human figures in a landscape.

It shows Parisians climbing wooden stairs to a windmill in the Montmartre district.

But the work was typical of Van Gogh’s at that time in other ways, with its bright colours lathered roughly on the canvas.

Van Tilborgh said it was painted in 1886 when the artist was living in Paris. The canvas bore the stamp of an art shop he was known to use, and used pigments that were common in other works.

The painting “adds to his oeuvre. You can link it to certain works of Van Gogh in that period, but not that many of them”, he said.

Van Gogh painted about 900 works. Afflicted by mental illness, he died in 1890 aged 37.

Hannema bought the painting from an art dealer in Paris who did not believe it was of much value.

But the Dutch collector did. He paid £2,000 for it and another unknown work, but immediately insured the painting for 16 times what he paid.

Hannema touted the painting with “absolute certainty” as a Van Gogh, but no one was listening. He had been discredited since he bought a Vermeer in 1937 that later was shown to be a forgery.

Hannema became director of the Boijmans Museum in Rotterdam in 1921 aged 26. Born to a wealthy art-collecting family, he was talented, successful and supremely confident in his judgment of art.

During the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands he had responsibility for all the museums in the country. After the war he stood trial for collaboration, was never convicted and released from internment two years later.

He continued to add to his own collection, seeking out high quality work by lesser known artists and always looking for unattributed works of masters. He was mistaken nearly all the time. “He was the laughing stock of the art world,” van Tilborgh said. “His tragedy was that he was always thinking in terms of the big names.”


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