IS THE landscape painting that singer Haruthai “Au” Muangbunsri bought at a Bangkok antique shop really a long-lost Van Gogh?
She’s spent the past three years trying to prove it is, and now, with the backing of the Synchrotron Light Research Institute and Thailand Institute of Nuclear Technology, she’s ready to ship it to the Van Gogh Museum in the Netherlands for the final judgement.
The Bangkok store was, after all, selling antiques imported from Europe, so you never know.
If the landscape, which she’s titled “Tree in Winter”, proves to be a genuine painting by Vincent Van Gogh, it’ll be worth considerably more than the Bt2,000 Haruthai paid for it. It could fetch many millions of dollars at auction.
Haruthai, a fine-arts graduate of the College Of Fine Arts in Bangkok, has done her own artistic and scientific research in France and the Netherlands. She compared the brushstrokes of her painting to those of the artist as presented online by the Art Project for Van Gogh. She even scrutinised the artist’s letters, archived at the museum in Amsterdam, for mention of the work.
More recently Haruthai recruited Synchrotron to examine the painting’s pigments and determine its age. Microscopic study set the age somewhere between the 1700s and 1900s. Van Gogh lived from 1853-1890.
Dr Sasiphan Khaweerat of Thailand Institute of Nuclear Technology, who worked in tandem with Dr Kilian Anheuser of Switzerland’s Fine Arts Expert Institute, said they could establish other aspects as well.
“We found that the red paint was made with red earth and madder root [Rubia tinctorum], which is found only in Arles in France, where Van Gogh painted late in life,” Sasiphan said.
Haruthai also consulted with Associate Professor Pitiwat Somthai of Burapha University.
The scientists were unable to give Haruthai anything approaching a definitive answer as to the author of the painting, but her research has convinced her the painting is real and that it originated in 1888, at the peak of Van Gogh’s powers.
“We discovered that the original had many colours, but it’s faded to monochrome over the past century. And the pigments were those that Van Gogh used – all made with organic ingredients like red earth, madder root, grape wine and olive oil,” she said.
In Arles, in France’s Provence region where Haruthai believes Van Gogh painted this piece, she brought locally made paints to test scientifically and found them to match the pigments on her canvas.
Haruthai hopes that, regardless of whether she has a real Van Gogh or not, the research will provide a useful model in future, both for Thais and overseas scholars.
“We’ll present our research to the Van Gogh Museum for approval and maybe they’ll exhibit the work. If it’s a genuine Van Gogh, of course, it won’t belong to me anymore, but to the world.”