Breaking Van Gogh by James Grundvig

Breaking Van Gogh by James GrundvigBreaking van Gogh: Saint-Rémy, Forgery, and the $95 Million Fake at the Met by James Ottar Grundvig
Published by Skyhorse Publishing on October 4th 2016
Pages: 280
Format: Ebook

In Breaking van Gogh, James Grundvig investigates the history and authenticity of van Gogh’s iconic Wheat Field with Cypresses, currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Relying on a vast array of techniques from the study of the painter’s biography and personal correspondence to the examination of the painting’s style and technical characteristics, Grundvig proves that “the most expensive purchase” housed in the Met is a fake.

The Wheat Field with Cypresses is traditionally considered to date to the time of van Gogh’s stay in the Saint-Rémy mental asylum, where the artist produced many of his masterpieces. After his suicide, these paintings languished for a decade, until his sister-in-law took them to a family friend for restoration. The restorer had other ideas.

In the course of his investigation, Grundvig traces the incredible story of this piece from the artist’s brushstrokes in sunlit southern France to a forger’s den in Paris, the art collections of a prominent Jewish banking family and a Nazi-sympathizing Swiss arms dealer, and finally the walls of the Met. The riveting narrative weaves its way through the turbulent history of twentieth-century Europe, as the painting’s fate is intimately bound with some of its major players.

Everyone loves a good scandal, especially when it comes from the rather pretentious world of high, and expensive art. Breaking Van Gogh seeks to uncover one of the examples of a scandal in plain sight, which is a fake Van Gogh which may or may not be hanging in a prestigious museum.

I must confess that I had not heard this particular story before, and while he takes a somewhat long-winded approach to it, the author does a good job of weaving an interesting tale. It certainly paints a sordid picture of how the art world functioned in the late 19th and early 20th Century.

The author lays out his case very well, and manages to keep it interesting enough for someone who does not have a great deal of knowledge about the subject. As I mentioned before, there are times when it felt like he was belabouring the point, and going over the same material, but one doesn’t need to read everything. While this was something of an expose, I suppose, Grundvig puts the information out there but it lacks a certain punch.

Breaking Van Gogh is a generally-enjoyable narrative non-fiction book that I found informative, and intriguing, and covered a subject I was not previously aware of in a way that was easy to understand.

Rating Report
Overall: three-stars

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