'Lost' van Gogh sketchbook a hoax, experts say

Vincent Van Gogh: Self-Portrait 1887 oil on artist's board, mounted on cradled panel, collection Art Institute of Chicago.

A sketchbook with 65 unknown purported drawings by Vincent van Gogh, considered lost for almost 130 years, was published Tuesday.

However, officials with the Van Gogh Museum doubt its authenticity.

Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov, a retired professor and curator of many exhibits of van Gogh's work, first saw the sketchbook three years ago during a vacation in France.

"The first drawing that I took out and held in my hands, it was a moment of total mystical experience: 'Oh my goodness, this is impossible," Welsh-Ovcharov told CBC News. "I never expected to find something like that. It is a culmination to every art historian's life, career."

Skeptical, Welsh-Ovcharov examined the pages for authenticity.

"The patina is there, the brushwork with the reed pen, the way he executes with such vibrato, with such passion, with such force every individual object in nature — you can't duplicate that," she said.

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It looks like an old business ledger and is said to have been given to van Gogh by the owners of a cafe in Arles around 1888. Inside contain his only drawings from the time he spent in Provence, where he painted some of his master works, according to Welsh-Ovcharov.

She published the images in a book, "Vincent Van Gogh: The Lost Arles Sketchbook," which is being launched Tuesday in Paris.

However, officials with the Vincent van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, doubt the sketchbook is real. They did in 2008 and 2012, according to officials.

"The Van Gogh Museum has been aware for some time of the album of drawings that is now being presented as a lost Arles sketchbook by Vincent van Gogh," officials said in the news release. "Our researchers and curators are happy about every new work that can correctly be attributed to Van Gogh, but on the basis of high-quality photographs sent to them of 56 drawings – out of 65 in total – they were of the opinion that these could not be attributed to Vincent van Gogh."

Experts at the museum, which has more than 500 paintings and four of van Gogh's sketchbooks, doubt the sketchbook's provenance and believe the drawings to be poorly crafted imitations.

There is no historical record that van Gogh gave the cafe owners the sketchbook, experts said, adding that the family said they did not own a single drawing from the artist in 1896.

The technique, style and color of the ink are inconsistent with van Gogh's previous work. There are distinctive topographical errors and whoever made the sketchbook based it on discolored drawings created by van Gogh, according to the museum.

The drawings, which are in brownish ink van Gogh never used during that time, appear "monotonous, clumsy and spiritless" museum experts said.

"Considering that the ink and paper have not discolored, the maker of the drawings in the sketchbook must have been deliberately striving for brownish effects," according to museum officials. "In combination with the chosen iconography – scenes from Arles and Saint-Rémy – this shows that the maker was inspired by Van Gogh's drawings in their later, discolored state and apparently did not know that their original color was black."