07/04/1997 19:12 EST

Journal: Van Goghs May Be Fakes

LONDON (AP) -- Scholarly studies have found that more than 100 paintings and drawings by Vincent Van Gogh -- art worth millions of dollars -- may be fakes, a leading art journal says.

The Art Newspaper said the alleged fakes include one of the Dutch master's famous Sunflowers series -- sold by auctioneers Christie's to a Japanese firm in 1987 for $39.5 million -- and two self-portraits, including one owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The Metropolitan Museum's offices were closed for the July 4th holiday Friday, and no one was available to comment on the report.

In its latest edition, out Friday, the journal said two other works, The Garden at Auvers and The Arlesienne, may also be fakes, along with a portrait of Dr. Gachet, the physician who cared for the troubled artist before his suicide in 1890. That work hangs in Paris's Musée d'Orsay.

Another study of the doctor set a world record price for a picture in 1990 when it was sold to a Japanese collector for $78 million.

The Art Newspaper said there are no contemporary sales records to help authenticate Van Gogh's works, because he sold virtually nothing during his lifetime. In the decades after his death, the popularity of his works soared.

"By the 1920's the price of his work was already high, and this was actually the period when most of the Van Gogh pictures which have been questioned now emerged and came onto the market," said art writer Martin Bailey, who researched the story.

The journal added that "greedy fakers were helped by the publication of Van Gogh's diaries, in which they could read the artist's descriptions of work-in-progress which they could then counterfeit."

Van Gogh, who was one of the leaders of Post-Impressionist movement, produced an estimated 900 paintings and 1,200 drawings.

The Art Newspaper said the latest edition of "The New Complete Van Gogh," a catalog by the scholar Jan Hulsker, lists 45 paintings as being fakes.

"He has very strong doubts about the authenticity of many more works," The Art Newspaper said.

German art historian Dr. Roland Dorn and Zurich-based dealer and scholar Walter Feilchenfeldt, who together have "undertaken the most serious work in the field of Van Gogh fakes," have also pointed out "the extent of mistaken identifications and deceptions," the report said.

Feilchenfeldt has questioned the Metropolitan's self-portrait of the artist in a straw hat because it is not listed as coming from Van Gogh's brother Theo or family friends, who received most of his self-portraits. The painting's history is traced only as far as 1927 and its use of whirling strokes and dots of color is considered uncharacteristic of Van Gogh.

The Art Newspaper said it also has had exclusive access to the work of Dutch scholar Liesbeth Heenk of London's Courtauld Institute, who has done a detailed study of Van Gogh's drawings.

"Dr. Heenk has made a technical and stylistic analysis of the works on paper and has concluded that a number are unauthentic," it said.

Claims about the Sunflowers painting brought a swift response from Christie's.

"We have seen the story and there is no reason to question the authenticity of the picture," the auction house said in a statement.

Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum, whose still-life painting of a wine bottle and cheese has been questioned by Dorn, was also skeptical.

"These works have been declared fakes on the basis of very shaky provenance. They should not be a reason to put a question mark against them," said Sjraar van Heugpen, curator of paintings and drawings.

"You have to do a lot more research, both stylistically and technically, before you can say that," he said.

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