Tuesday, May 3, 2011

I found a Van Gogh in Grandma's attic . . . . . .

My Van Gogh website has been online for fifteen years now. Over the course of these years BY FAR the question I’m asked most frequently is “I believe I have a previously known Van Gogh. How do I get it authenticated?” Although this is answered in Question #1 on my Frequently Asked Questions page, the same topic comes up over and over again.

I’ve received more than a hundred of these enquiries and in all these years not one has ever been authenticated. AND the vast majority of the time the images that are sent to me show works about as likely to be by Van Gogh as dogs playing poker.

I always refer people on to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. They’re the only ones who can officially authenticate a Van Gogh work and, frankly, they’re also paid as museum staff for dealing with this sort of thing (and I’m not). For the most part these enquiries have been fine—brief and pleasant enough. But now and then I’m put in the unenviable position of dealing with a real lunatic.

Case in point: a number of years ago someone in Australia wrote to me to say that he not only had one unknown Van Gogh drawing, he had a whole pile of them! Against my better judgment I had a look at the images and, as expected, they were all absolutely rubbish. Over the course of more than a dozen e-mails I answered multiple Van Gogh related research questions. Eventually I referred him on to the VGM and that’s when the trouble began. Not surprisingly the Van Gogh Museum quickly determined that it was impossible that Van Gogh drew these works. And that’s when the flood gates opened. This man started writing me over and over again. Begging, pleading. His messages became more and more delusional. He was going to blow the art world sky high with the revelation of his “treasures.” He would destroy the Van Gogh Museum. He would receive world-wide attention and directors the likes of Steven Spielberg would want to make a movie about him (he actually believed that).

I quickly tired of the nonsense and that’s when accusations of a grand conspiracy started. He claimed that I was part of some Van Gogh “cabal” that was determined not to recognize his beautiful Van Gogh drawings. He said that I was the keeper of a vast array of secrets and that it was time to “spill the beans.” On and on his delusional accusations continued. All in all, I’d spent a number of hours of my time answering this fellow’s questions, giving him advice, etc. and my only reward was to be accused of lying and deceit. Foolishly this man sent all of his e-mails using his work (a hospital) e-mail address. Fed up, I reported the whole incident to his hospital’s human resources department and, after a few more feeble messages, he stopped writing.

This is an extreme example, of course, but it was still part of an endless stream of people who are convinced that they own a Van Gogh. In the end, the best advice I could give is to just put the “treasure” back in Grandma’s attic where it belongs.