Couple bought 'priceless' Van Gogh portrait for £1,500 at auction
Last updated at 4:19 PM on 28th August 2011
A British couple may have unearthed a long-lost portrait of Vincent Van Gogh after buying it off the internet for just £1,500.
The pastel drawing is believed to be the only full-length portrait of the genius artist in existence and could be worth millions if authenticated.
It is thought to have been painted by a female artist who lived next door to him during his time in Paris.
The picture was simply described on an auction website as 'portrait of a man', but after extensive research, Michael and Mandy Cruickshankbelieve the work - painted in the 1880s - is of the legendary Dutch impressionist.
The painting was found in Versailles where it was last seen in public in 1892.
The couple, from Louth in Lincolnshire, became suspicious by the artist's crumpled hat, similar to one he sketched, and they believed it is the artist in the prime of his artistic career.
And their view is backed up by several art experts.
A detailed examination by facial recognition experts at the University of Dundee gave the work a four out of six on the chances of it being Van Gogh.
Caroline Erolin, a lecturer in medical and forensic art, said: 'We have scale for matching up likenesses running from no support to powerful support. We rated the painting as having support which is just below strong support which is second highest.
'We compared the painting with a well known self portrait, two other portraits and a photo of Van Gogh from the period. We were hampered slightly because it was a pastel drawing which is less clear, but there is a good case for it being Van Gogh.'
There a number of clues that painting may be of Van Gogh.
On the wall in the pastel, the words 'L'Incompris', meaning the misunderstood, are scrawled. Van Gogh was famous for writing on his own walls, according to experts.
The artist, Jeanne Donnadieu, wrote her address - 17 Rue Victor Massi -on the back of the original painting, seen in an exhibition in 1892.
The Cruickshanks discovered that the road's name had been changed in 1887.
It was previously Rue Laval, where Van Gogh lived with his brother Theo, a well-known art dealer, just four doors away at number 25.
The Cruickshanks, who call themselves 'amateur collectors', believe Donnadieu would almost certainly have known the brothers and it is well documented that Van Gogh was allowing portraits at that time.
Mrs Cruickshank said: 'The artist would have known his brother Theo, the famous art dealer - every artist in the city would have known Theo.'
A bible with gilded corners in the portrait is the same as one he is known to have inherited from his father, who died shortly before the portrait was drawn.
The Cruickshanks have even been contacted by Louis Van Tilbourgh,curator of the Van Gogh Museum in Paris, to discuss whether or not the subject is him.
Mrs Cruickshank said: 'We have spent the past year of our lives researching this picture and it has been such an interesting journey.
'There is no way to prove for certain that the subject is Van Gogh, but the evidence is so strong that we are quite certain it is him.
'Mr Van Tilbourgh said he was unsure if Van Gogh would sit for a young female artist, but she was not a nobody.
'She was tutored by Feyen-Perrin, who was admired by Van Gogh which he mentioned in many of his letters.
'And there is a quill and piles of books on the desks - it is well-documented that Van Gogh was a lover of literature and wrote out quotes from these book.'
She added: 'When I look at it I get excited to think this was there in Paris at the centre of it all in such a significant period in art's history.
'We want to share it with the public as it is a little piece of history and a beautiful pastille work. People and galleries from all over the world are interested in displaying it.'
The portrait is currently being displayed in Abbey Walk Gallery, Grimsby until September 3.
Elaine Munson, co-owner of Abbey Walk Gallery, said: 'With programmes such as Fake Or Fortune, there has been a resurgence in art appreciation and the notion of being able to stumble across an original and undiscovered masterpiece.'