CMA engulfed in Van Gogh scandal

Maria Fazal, Staff Reporter

The Cleveland Museum of Art’s upcoming exhibition, “Van Gogh: Repetitions,” came together as the result of the ingenious combination of paintings from the Cleveland Museum of Art and The Phillips Collection. However, the show has recently come under fire with the accusation that eight of its pieces are fakes. Authors Benoit Landais and Hanspeter Born assert that a much less famous artist and acquaintance of van Gogh’s, Claude Schuffenecker, created these eight pieces.

In fact, the two recently published a book entitled “Schuffenecker’s Sunflowers: And Other Van Gogh Forgeries.” It appears these are not new allegations, however. William Robinson, CMA’s curator of modern European art and co-organizer of the exhibition, recently told The Plain Dealer, “The authors have been circulating these ideas for over a decade.”

Furthermore, Robinson states that the claims by Landais and Born are “speculative” and widely unaccepted by van Gogh specialists. Local expert and Case Western Reserve University art history professor Henry Adams holds a similar view to Robinson’s.

In fact, Adams asserts he is “convinced that the paintings in this show are all by van Gogh. In the past, scholars were nervous about directly addressing the fact that van Gogh frequently copied his own work since copies were viewed as ‘not creative,’ so they tended to avoid the subject.”

Nevertheless, things appear to be progressing as of late. In fact, this exhibition is quite groundbreaking: It shows off van Gogh’s repetition of his own pieces, something Adams says has never been done before.

On the other end, Landais and Born’s claims that some of the van Gogh paintings are forgeries are based on their own analysis of van Gogh’s work and study of documentation such as that of his correspondence.

Interestingly, this is the same sort of information Adams says establishes these pieces are van Gogh originals. In fact, he explains that the museum catalog “does a very conscientious job of gathering all the evidence that’s available about every work in the exhibition. In the end, I think it boils down to the matter of evaluating the vitality and intelligence of the brushstrokes in every painting.”

It seems that Landais’ accusations have not been received warmly in the past either. In fact, Landais has been called an “outsider” and an “enfant terrible who [delights] in challenging orthodoxy” by ARTnews magazine and has been known particularly for his ability to cause controversy with provocative headlines.

According to the sources, including CWRU’s very own Adams, it appears that it’s safe to say the pieces featured in this exhibition are 100 percent van Gogh’s. Regardless, Adams says, “There are Schuffenecker forgeries…that need to be identified…but not works in this exhibition.”

Regardless of the scandal surrounding the exhibition opening, it is essential to understand how the theme of this show relates to van Gogh’s outstanding caliber as an artist. He was especially meticulous with his craft, which is a tragedy when one considers the little acclaim he received in his lifetime.

This exhibition honoring this once overlooked artist was inspired by the similarities between the CMA’s “Lane Plane Trees” and The Phillips Collection’s “The Road Menders” and how they express not only van Gogh’s evolution, but also his state of mind when painting the pieces.

Adams explains, “The Cleveland painting was clearly painted outdoors, and if you examine x-rays, it shows that van Gogh made a great many changes as he struggled to capture the scene with all the difficulties of changing light and other distractions.

“The Phillips Collection painting has brushstrokes that are slower and more deliberate and in many places. Van Gogh made little changes—added a figure, moving a streetlight, and so forth, to make the design read more clearly.”

It appears part of the reason van Gogh worked so fastidiously on recreating paintings was to grow as an artist by reexamining his style in similar contexts. This perseverance truly validates his devotion to his art form and solidifies his status as one of the greatest painters of the 19th century.

“Van Gogh: Repetitions” was shown at The Phillips Collection in Washington D.C. from October 2013—January 2014 and will open at CMA March 2, 2014. The show will remain there until May 26, 2014.