Still life with roses and field flowers. That’s the name of this unsigned painting. After nine years of intensive research, scientists have finally cracked its code using a new technique called Macro Scanning X-ray Fluorescence Spectometry. The author: Vincent Van Gogh.
It’s quite an unusual Van Gogh. First, the size is weird, too large for the Dutch author: 100cm x 80cm. His flowers were never as big during his Parisian period when this painted was created. Also, experts thought the painting was too exuberant for the post-impressionist master.
That’s why researchers doubted it could be a Van Gogh when it was originally acquired in 1974. In fact, the painting was declared “anonymous” in 2003. But nine years later, researchers from Delft University of Technology, the University of Antwerp, the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY) in Hamburg, the Van Gogh Museum and the Kröller-Müller Museum have been able to use MA-XRF to accurately identify it as a real Van Gogh.
The story of Still life with roses and field flowers started in November 1885. That’s when Van Gogh arrived to Antwerp, in the Netherlands. By January 1885, Van Gogh joined the Antwerp Academy, where his processor told him to use large canvases. On January 22, Van Gogh wrote one of his famous letters to his brother Theo. He explained that he was painting “a big thing with two naked torsos, two wrestlers” that he liked very much.
Van Gogh then left for Paris in late February 1886. When he arrived there to stay with his brother, he was short on money, like always. He scrapped the wrestlers and used the canvas to create what you are seeing here.
This painting re-appeared in 1974 after going around several private collections. The Kröller-Müller Museum acquired it even while his author was unknown. Later, in 1998, a simple X-ray showed the wrestlers’ ghost image under the flowers, which led some people to believe it could have been the painting Van Gogh referred to in his letter to Theo. However, the evidence was too thin ,and by 2003 it was officially declared as anonymous.
Fortunately, new technology came in: MA-XRF. The technique was used to detect conclusive evidence about its authorship. First, they were able to obtain detailed analysis of wrestlers’ brushwork and palette, which was unequivocally the same as the ones used in other Van Gogh paintings at the Antwerp Academy. The analysis of the flowers themselves led to a similar conclusion, despite their unusual size and composition.
Now, the painting will be on permanent display at the Kröller-Müller Museum, in a prominent place among other works by Vincent van Gogh in their collection. [KMM]