Controversy in France over Vincent van Gogh book

Controversy in France over Vincent van Gogh book

The row over the authenticity of 65 sketches alleged to be the work of Vincent van Gogh has escalated between French publisher Editions du Seuil, which holds the world rights to the book of the drawings, and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

The museum is maintaining its claim that the previously unknown drawings and accompanying notebook are fake, and has rejected a proposal from Seuil to engage in an unconditional public debate among experts the over the issue until the publisher and author clarify a number of questions. These include the ink, discolouration, the use of reed pens, style, the order of the drawings and their source, the museum said in a statement last week.

Questioning its "real" motivations, Le Seuil responded to the refusal the next day "with stupefaction" and accused the museum of "systematic denigration". Truth in the matter is "not its main preoccupation", the publisher added.

Van Gogh : The Lost Arles Sketchbook was published simultaneously on 17th November by Le Seuil in France (priced at €69), and by other La Martinière subsidiaries Abrams in the United Kingdom and United States and Knesebeck in Germany. It was also published by Terra and Lannoo in the Belgian region of Flanders and the Netherlands, and will follow with Kawade Shobo in Japan next year.

Le Seuil is also in discussion with publishers in Italy and Spain, according to Bernard Comment, the book’s editor. "The controversy is putting a slight damper on negotiations, but publishers will look at the book and make up their own minds," he told The Bookseller.

The text for the book was written by Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov and the foreword by Ronald Pickvance, both of them art historians and internationally recognised authorities on Van Gogh.

Sales of the book in France, the UK, the US and Germany are going "rather well," but they are doing less so in the Netherlands where "intimidation from the museum is strong," Comment said. "In France, we distributed 5,000 copies for the launch, and have  another 5,500 since then."

However, the title is not faring well at the Cahiers de Colette, a bookstore in central Paris. "It should be selling like hot cakes, but we have sold only seven copies," said the shop’s owner Colettee Kerber. "The controversy is putting people off, and I see from the Datalib network for independents that members’ sales are weak overall."