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  • Courtauld Appeals to Find Van Gogh's Lost Print
    February 02, 2005 LONDON, UK.

    The Japanese print Geishas in a landscape once owned by Vincent van Gogh, was stolen from the Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery in 1981. The print, which was published by Sato Torakiyo in the 1870s, appears in Van Gogh’s legendary Self- portrait with bandaged ear, one of the jewels of the Courtauld’s collection.

    Van Gogh was an avid collector of Japanese woodblock prints, which were bought at small price from dealers such as Siegfried Bing in Paris. He covered the walls of his studio with them, and from the late 1880s began to incorporate Japanese motifs into his oil paintings. Geishas in a landscape appears to have been a favourite example. He first used the print in the painting Japonaiserie: Oiran (now in the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam), completed in Paris in the summer of 1887. He returned to it more than a year later whilst living in the Yellow House in Arles, inserting the central motif of two women and Mount Fuji into the background of his Self- portrait with bandaged ear. The work is a poignant expression of personal and artistic anguish painted at a very low ebb in the artist’s life, less than a month after having sliced off his ear following a violent quarrel with his friend the artist Paul Gauguin.

    It is thought that after Van Gogh’s death his brother Theo gave the print (together with Scene from a Genji Parody by Taiensai Yoshimaru, also in the Courtauld’s collection) to Dr Paul Gachet in recognition of the latter’s treatment of the artist at the end of his life. Gachet’s son Paul Jnr inherited the prints and sold them to a Paris dealer where they were acquired by the art historian Douglas Cooper. Cooper donated the two prints to the Courtauld in 1957.

    Although Geishas in a Landscape does not have great intrinsic value, the fact that it belonged to Van Gogh gives it art historical importance. The Courtauld’s photograph of the print clearly shows that the corners are damaged from the frequent use of drawing-pins Van Gogh used to fix it to the wall, making it easily identifiable.

    The Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery will be displaying the photograph of Geishas in a Landscape beside Self-Portrait with a Bandaged Ear, together with the surviving print Scene from a Genji Parody, from 7 February to 31 March 2005 in the hope that the lost print may be rediscovered and returned. To help in the search, the Courtauld is also producing a postcard of the print with an appeal for help in its recovery printed onto the verso. For further details or to pass on information please email: galleryinfo@courtauld.ac.uk or call 020 7848 2526.