Van Gogh's Missing Print

Posted on: 25 March 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

The Japanese print that once belonged to Vincent van Gogh, which he used in the background of his legendary Self-Portrait with a Bandaged Ear, was stolen from the Courtauld Institute Gallery in 1981.

Appeal to find Van Gogh's lost Japanese print.

The Japanese print that once belonged to Vincent van Gogh, which he used in the background of his legendary Self-Portrait with a Bandaged Ear, was stolen from the Courtauld Institute Gallery in 1981. The Courtauld in London is now launching an appeal to find the coloured woodblock print Geishas in a Landscape, circa 1870-80, bearing the name of the publisher Sato Torakiyo.

Van Gogh loved Japanese art and Geishas in a Landscape, one of his favourite prints, was pinned up with others on the walls of his studio in the Yellow House in Arles. It was here that he painted the self-portrait, one of the jewels in the Courtauld gallery’s celebrated collection, in January 1889, three weeks after he sliced off part of his right ear. A modified detail of the print can be seen on the wall behind the artist’s head.

After Van Gogh died, it is thought that his copies of Geishas in a Landscape and another Japanese print, Scene from a Genji Parody by Taiensai Yoshimaru, were given by Vincent’s brother Theo to Dr Gachet who had treated him at the end of his life in Arles. They passed to his son Paul Gachet who sold them to a Paris dealer in 1957 and they were then acquired by the art historian Douglas Cooper who donated them to the Courtauld.

Although Geishas in a Landscape has little intrinsic value, the fact that it belonged to Van Gogh gives it great art historical importance. The Courtauld’s photograph of the print clearly shows that the corners are damaged from the frequent use of drawing pins, making it easily identifiable.

The Courtauld will be displaying a photograph of the missing Geishas in a Landscape beside Self-Portrait with a Bandaged Ear, together with the surviving print Scene from a Genji Parody, until 31st March 2005 in the hope that it may be rediscovered and returned. To help in the search, the Courtauld is also producing a postcard of the print with an appeal on the back for help in its recovery.

The exhibition closes Thursday 31st March 2005. The Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery has one of the most important and best-loved collections of European paintings and drawings in Britain, ranging from the Renaissance to the 20th century and including an outstanding collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings.

The Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery, Somerset House, Strand, London, WC2R 1LA has entrances on Victoria Embankment and Strand. British Rail mainline trains to Charing Cross, Waterloo or Blackfriars; underground stations Temple (District and Circle lines) (closed Sunday), Covent Garden (Piccadilly line) and Charing Cross (Northern, Bakerloo and Jubilee lines); buses 6, 9, 11, 13, 15, 23, 77a, 91 and 176 to Strand.

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