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A real Van Gogh? An unsolved art world mystery opens at the Nevada Museum of Art
William Goetz seated with his art collection. Image courtesy private collection.
RENO, NEV.- In 1948, William Goetz, the famed Hollywood producer, head of Universal Pictures, and legendary art collector, purchased a painting attributed to Vincent Van Gogh for $50,000. Although it was acquired from a reputable art dealer and deemed genuine by a Van Gogh expert at the time, debate about the painting’s authenticity ignited an art world controversy that impacted U.S. foreign affairs. The painting, Study by Candlelight, will be on view April 13 through August 25, 2013, at the Nevada Museum of Art as part of the exhibition, A Real Van Gogh? An Unsolved Art World Mystery.

For decades, only a few people knew the whereabouts of the painting known as Study by Candlelight. Today, the Goetz family heirs hope to learn more about the provenance of the painting by drawing upon recent scientific developments in the study of artist materials and working methods. Highly-regarded art conservation scientist, John Twilley, was hired by the Goetz family to undertake scientific analysis using x-ray and infrared technology, along with pigment analysis. His scientific study is still underway, but it will be added to the exhibition when it is completed later this summer.

In presenting this exhibition, the Nevada Museum of Art makes no attempt to determine the authenticity of the legendary painting. Rather, the exhibition re-visits its extraordinary story through archival documents, correspondence, photographs, and press materials that have never before been brought together in one place. The exhibition will look closely at the Goetz family’s Hollywood lifestyle and legendary art collection, assess what is known about the provenance of Study by Candlelight, consider the painting within the stylistic and historical context of Van Gogh’s body of work, report on the art world controversies and international politics that have surrounded the painting, and present information related to ongoing methodologies in the field of art conservation science and what research is currently being undertaken on the painting Study by Candlelight. This unique presentation invites viewers and scholars to draw their own conclusions and weigh in on this great Van Gogh debate.

“This exhibition features a single painting whose authenticity has been debated for decades,” explains Ann Wolfe, Senior Curator at the Nevada Museum of Art. “We may never know for sure who painted Study by Candlelight, but whether one has an interest in Van Gogh, art history, Hollywood’s Golden Era, international politics, or issues of science and conservation, the story surrounding this cultural object is fascinating on many levels.”

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