Australian museum painting may be Jewish refugee's $5 million Van Gogh

July 31, 2013 at 2:17 PM
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MELBOURNE, July 31 (UPI) -- Investigations into an Australian museum's oil painting doubted to be by Vincent Van Gogh may re-determine the artwork was by Van Gogh, officials said.

Six years ago, the 130-year-old painting at Melbourne's National Gallery of Victoria titled, "Head of a Man," which had been believed to be the only Van Gogh in an Australian museum, was instead deemed not to have been created by the post-Impressionist Dutch artist, Thursday's edition of The (Sydney) Australian reported.

New findings link ownership of the painting to Richard Semmel, a wealthy Jewish industrialist who fled the nascent Nazi Germany in 1933, lived briefly in Holland and eventually settled in New York. The painting was sold with other works of art through an Amsterdam dealer.

The discovery has caused the gallery to admit "Head of a Man" may, after all, be a Van Gogh, as Semmel's collection had been internationally recognized and the painting was a significant part of it, The Australian reported.

But NGV director Tony Ellwood said, "I can't imagine (research) will go any further in trying to re-attribute it back to Van Gogh. There's enough conclusive evidence to say it isn't, but you never know, we could be proven wrong." The Australian said the painting would be worth $5 million -- the amount Semmel's heirs claim in Holocaust-era restitution -- if it is, in fact, a Van Gogh, so it might be in the gallery's interest for the painting to remain unattributed.

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