A portrait stashed in a bank vault in Athens could be the last painting Vincent van Gogh produced, say some art experts and collectors who are attempting to determine the authenticity of the picture found among the possessions of a Greek World War II resistance fighter.
The discovery of the work, along with a notebook of sketches also purportedly drawn by van Gogh, has raised the prospect of the post-impressionist artist having painted a third portrait of his physician, Dr. Gachet, perhaps only days before a bout of insanity induced him to commit suicide.
“A lot of interest has been expressed in the work from very big museums and auction houses,” its owner, Doretta Peppa, said. “A well-known institution will soon make an announcement about its historical background that will leave no doubt it is an original work by van Gogh.”
Peppa said the portrait’s colorful history began in France when the Nazis stole it from a Jewish family during World War II. After Nazi forces marched into Greece in April 1941 it was brought to Athens, an exhibition center for looted treasures.
The Athenian writer claims it was “liberated” by her father, Meletis, a prominent figure in the partisan movement, during a raid on a German train in the waning days of the occupation in 1944.
Peppa put the painting in a bank vault after approaching the head of conservation at the Greek National Gallery who, after studying its brushwork and signature, told her she not only had an original van Gogh in her possession, but one of his rarer works.
Tests by other art experts supported the assessment. “It has gone through so many laboratory analyses that I am 100 percent convinced it is a Vincent van Gogh,” said Athanasios Celia, a Paris-based painter and art historian. “We have examined and dated the materials used and there is no doubt in my mind that it is unique.”
“As the other portraits of Dr. Gachet were painted towards the end of van Gogh’s life, it also raises the possibility that this less detailed version is the last [work] he ever produced,” he said.
But in a market where van Gogh fakes abound, questions have been raised about the painting. In 1990, the reputable Art Newspaper claimed that the portrait of Dr. Gachet hanging in the Musee d’Orsay was a counterfeit.
The plot thickened after scholars suggested the physician may have been the source of some of the forgeries. Although the authenticity of the notebook found with the portrait has also been questioned — the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has discredited it — Peppa says the Nazi stamp and code on the back of the painting added proof of its authenticity.