Vincent Van Gogh Betrayed His Own Artistic Sensibilities To Avoid Being Perceived as a Sports Fan

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There are many things I'm not an expert at. Sports is one of them. Fine art is really, really one of them. But it's hard not to appreciate the fact that historians, scientists, and other art detective types rencently pulled off an unexpected double play in not only identifying an anonymous painting as the work of Vincent Van Gogh, but then identifying a second Van Gogh, on the same canvas, a layer beneath the exterior work.

The exterior work, a floral still life, has been housed since the 1970s at the Kroller-Muller Museum in The Netherlands (pardon my absent umlauts). The curators there have wavered on whether the painting is a Van Gogh (his works are usually smaller and less gaudy), and since 2003, have classified the painting as Anonymous. In 1998, X-Rays indicated that there was a second painting underneath the still-life, of two males wrestling.

Here's the complicated stuff, courtesy of New Scientist: "a new examination using high-energy ultraviolet and X-ray radiation from DESY, the German electron synchrotron lab in Hamburg, shows beyond a doubt that both layers on the canvas were Van Gogh's."

New Scientist goes on to explain that at first, Van Gogh was pleased with the work. He wrote to his brother, who had sent him money for supplies: "This week I painted a large thing with two nude torsos - two wrestlers." However, not long after, he painted over the large thing with another lage thing in a Paris studio. He didn't even bother to scrape the paint off, or paint a blank layer over it first.  Art experts think the flower still life's boldness is a direct result of Van Gogh having to cover up the initial work. To the best of my knowledge, the extent of Van Gogh's sporting work is some boats and some ice skaters.

(Bonus material: David Grann on art fingerprint "expert" Peter Paul Biro, and my favorite statue in Rome, the Boxer of Quirinal.)


(Images courtesy of Kroller-Muller Museum, courtesy of New Scientist)

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To the critic, one must search for complexity and sophistication for meaning, when more often than not it is in the ultimate simplicity that significance is found.

In other words -- while the intellectual cannot so easily accept this -- Van Gogh probably painted over the wrestlers because he was bat-shit crazy.


I had not heard this song for half a decade, but the post made me think of its all-time-great chorus: "ART ART ART! ART ART ART! ART ART ART!" and so forth.

"ART ART ART! ART ART ART! ART ART ART!" was actually my first choice of titles for this post, until Roth yelled at me about copyright infringement.