Take a look at that dark, but still vibrant, painting of Paris’ famous Le Blute-Fin windmill on the left there. It may resemble something you once spied in your dentist’s office, but, according to new findings, it may very well be an original Vincent Van Gogh. But where, you say, are the flourishes of sunlight, the telegraphed geometric shapes and swirls, the sunflowers? All good points. But this is a very different Van Gogh we see here.
For decades now, the provenance of “Le Blute-Fin Mill” has been up for grabs. Bought 35 years ago by noted art historian Dirk Hannema, who even the usually reserved Associated Press called, “fool when buying for his own collection”, the work was lumped in with a spurious portfolio of supposed Vermeers, Rembrants, and other, more questionable Van Goghs. None of them turned out to be authentic. Still, curators at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam applied due diligence when examining the work, deciding that the early-modern master did indeed paint this scene of Parisians enjoying a stroll along the steps of the famously dilapidated Moulin de la Galette (see the contemporary photo, above right), a popular hangout for France’s then new and growing leisure class.
The Moulin de la Galette was almost as well-known as a favorite subject of Paris’ burgeoning Impressionist school—even the laziest art students should remember Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s “Bal du Moulin de la Galette”. Newly arrived to Paris himself, Van Gogh took after these artists, offering up variations on their styles before his move to Arles, where he was to forge his own, unique identity as a painter.
Here, in the almost oversized figures walking the steps, one can see that Van Gogh—if this truly is his work—was playing with form and Symbolist conventions. He has yet to break free of the various Parisian spheres of influence and his mastery of light has not yet been established. For an artist defined by color and sunlight, this is a dour, wet work. Nonetheless, as an example of Van Gogh’s creative evolution, “Le Blute-Fin Mill”, now proudly on display at The Museum de Fundate in the Netherlands, is invaluable and a rare good call by a respected art historian who had a little trouble telling fakes from the real thing.
For a deeper look into the places that influenced Van Gogh and the site-specific works he created, pre-order our “Art + Travel Europe: Step into the Lives of Five Famous Painters”.
Captured many times in art, the original Le Blute-Fin Mill at the Moulin de la Galette, is gone, but restaurant and a second mill on the same site, the “Radet”, are still there and worth a visit.
Le Moulin de la Galette
83 Rue Lepic, Paris, France
Van Gogh’s “Le Blute-Fin Mill” is currently on display at
The Museum de Fundate
Paleis aan de Blijmarkt
20 Blijmarkt, Zwolle, Netherlands
“‘Le Blute-Fin Mill’ Authenticated By Van Gogh Experts” (AP)
Above (right to left): “Le Blute-Fin Mill”, Van Gogh, 1886, courtesy of The Museum de Fundate, photograph of Le Blute-Fin Mill, circa 1890s.