Fiercening controversy halts plan to send Yasuda "Sunflowers" to London for examination

Delicate discussions have been taking place on proposals to examine the Yasuda "Sunflowers" and to determine its authenticity. Inquiries by The Art Newspaper have revealed that the original idea was to bring the Tokyo picture to London to be studies at the National Gallery. This plan was recently dropped and instead it is likely that the Yasuda painting will be examined by the Van Gogh Museum, but not until 2002.

London would have been the most suitable place for an examination of the Yasuda painting. The National Gallery's version of "Sunflowers" was painted in August 1888 and the Tokyo picture has been assumed to be a copy done by Van Gogh five months later. Studying the two works together, it was hoped, would resolve the recent controversy over the authenticity of the Yasuda version. Among the key elements which would have to be examined would be the canvases, paint and brushwork.

The Van Gogh Museum backed the proposed London examination, and last autumn it offered the assistance of its specialists and agreed to lend its own version of "Sunflowers" to the National Gallery. The Amsterdam version is another copy by Van Gogh, also dating from January 1889, and it would therefore also provide a valuable comparison with the Yasuda picture. Like the London "Sunflowers", the Amsterdam painting can be traced back to the Van Gogh family and its authenticity is unquestioned. Not only does the National Gallery have excellent facilities for scientific work, but it would also be regarded as more "neutral" ground by outside critics who claim that the Yasuda picture is a fake. The Van Gogh Museum is now constructing an extension to its building with a DFI 37 million donation (about 11 million) from Yasuda, an arrangement which was finalised before the authenticity of its "Sunflowers" was questioned. Although the integrity of staff at the Van Gogh Museum is above reproach, an examination at the National Gallery would have made it more difficult for critics to claim bias in the results.

Initially Yasuda accepted the London proposal. It was hoped that this would have been followed by an exhibition, centred around the three pictures.

During the past few months, however, the international debate over the authenticity of the Tokyo picture has intensified. As a result Yasuda became increasingly concerned that the London examination would focus too much attention on the controversy and appear to put their painting "on trial". Yasuda recently made it clear that it would not agree for its picture to be sent to the National Gallery.

The alternative idea was then suggested that the Yasuda "Sunflowers' might instead be shown in a planned exhibition on Van Gogh and Gauguin, where the picture could be examined and then presented in a wider context. This show opens at the Art Institute of Chicago (September 2001-January 2002) and then goes to the Van Gogh museum (February-June 2002).

Plans for the exhibition and news of the "Sunflowers" examination were announced at a symposium on Van Gogh held at the National Gallery in London on 15 May.

The National Gallery's "Sunflowers" is not in sufficiently good condition to travel to Chicago, and the comparison with the Yasuda picture is therefore likely to take place at the Van Gogh Museum in 2002 (London has now decided to lend its picture to Amsterdam). Although Mr Leighton said that Yasuda had agreed in principle to the loan, he admitted that whether the Tokyo picture eventually comes to Amsterdam will depend on conservation factors.

The Yasuda Kasai Museum of Art has said little the Western media about the "Sunflowers" controversy, but last month it respected to questions from The Art Newspaper. Assistant Curator Shoko Kobayashi stated that her museum has "never had any doubt that its 'Sunflowers' is a genuine work." Recent press speculation that the company might be planning to sue Christie's for selling it a fake therefore seems to be wide of the mark.

Ms Kobayashi added that the Yasuda Kasai Museum "has no plans to undertake a further detailed examination to confirm its authenticity." Her comment appears to call into question the proposal to examine the painting in Amsterdam in 2002, although it could be argued that technically such an examination would be undertaken by the Van Gogh Museum, rather than by the Yasuda Kasai Museum.

In the meantime, curators from the Amsterdam museum have looked at the "Sunflowers" in the Yasuda Kasai Museum. Louis van Tilborgh and Sjaar Heugten travelled to Tokyo to inspect the painting, but a comparison with the London and Amsterdam versions still remains essential. "We see no reason to doubt the authenticity of the Yasuda picture. But we do believe that further examination is necessary to establish that definitively, and we have not yet done the necessary work to publish a reasoned argument," explained Mr. Leighton. Until the results of the Van Gogh museum's detailed examination is published, the controversy is set to continue.


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