Exciting news in the art world today: they've identified a "new" Van Gogh. You can read about the discovery and see the painting, "Sunset at Montmajour," in the NYT article here.
I found this news fascinating, and not just because Van Gogh is one of the artists of my heart. It seems amazing to me that a painting done in 1888 and hidden from view for many years could suddenly be unearthed from an attic, a little bit like finding buried treasure or something surprising and wonderful in an archaeological excavation.
It's making me muse about beauty. It's also fun to speculate on the details of the story of the painting's journey, just briefly sketched in the article.
The painting, with its incredible light-filled brush stroked sky, was beautiful from the moment Van Gogh painted it, and that beauty has never ceased to be, but it was hidden for years. It was sold from Vincent's brother Theo's collection in 1901, they think, when Theo's widow sold it to an art dealer in Paris. The dealer sold it to a collector in Norway. In 1908, someone told that collector it wasn't authentic and he stuck it in an attic where it was apparently rediscovered several years ago by the people who now own the house. The Van Gogh museum recently authenticated it, saying that techniques for authenticating paintings have improved greatly in the past century.
It makes me wonder...well...so many things! Story brain in high gear this morning. Why was the painting considered inauthentic in 1908, just twenty years after it was painted? Had Van Gogh's work recently come into vogue? Was there a rush of Van Gogh look-alike fakes? Did the person who claimed it wasn't authentic really believe it to be the work of someone else (probably) or did he or she have an agenda (fanciful fiction brain...)
And if you had a painting this gorgeous, would you stick it in the attic even if you believed it to be a fake? That's the part that really pulls me up short. If I had this painting in my possession, I can easily see being disappointed if I was told it wasn't an authentic Van Gogh. While it would change my perspective on the painting's ultimate collectible value, why would it necessarily change my view of the painting's enduring aesthetic value? I would never have stashed a painting like this in a dark attic, even in a fit of pique or melancholy (or so I hope).
Once in the attic, it sounds like it was forgotten (sort of like Old Bear) and sold off when the house was. Can you imagine the current owners' astonishment when they found it? I picture a rainy day, the kind good for exploring attics, and a canvas wrapped up in an quilt and tied with twine. (Yes, story brain in overdrive today, folks...hang with me...)
All of which again begs the question of how we think of beauty and value. Sometimes we recognize and celebrate such things, but sometimes we hide them or ignore them or can't see their true worth because of what we've been told is important or what we choose to believe about their worth. Sometimes beauty stays in plain sight and we still overlook it. If this is true of crafted artifacts, how true is it of the natural beauty in creation or the beauty of our fellow human beings?
Story starter ideas:
Create a character who has come into possession of what he thinks is a rare and valuable painting, only to discover it's not by the famous artist he hoped painted it. What does he do next? (And how many possibilities could you spin from that?)
Create a dialogue between two people arguing over the authenticity of a certain painting. Make each one very vested in his or her position. Write the dialogue once where they reach an impasse. Write it again and have one of them persuade the other of his or her position.
Imagine the attic exploration that leads to the discovery of a rare and famous painting. Who discovers it and how? How does it make them feel? How might it change their life and circumstances?