The long-lost Van Gogh painting, Sunset at Montmajour.
The long-lost Van Gogh painting, Sunset at Montmajour. Image courtesy of the Van Gogh museum

What treasures do you have in your attic? Are there any paintings or sculptures hidden in the back corner gathering dust and who knows what else? Are these objects real works of art?

You never know. If it’s a real painting or a real sculpture, then it might be a long lost treasure by a very famous artist. Who knows! It might even be worth a lot of money.

Lost Van Gogh Painting

Just this week, a long-lost painting by Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) that had been tucked away in a Norwegian attic for years, was authenticated by the Van Gogh Museum. The large canvas was listed in Theo Van Gogh’s collection of his brother’s work. It was sold in 1901 and all trace of the work was lost.

Finding that valuable treasure is what abcNews describes as “the packrat’s version of the American Dream.” It is the one driving force that fuels the long line-ups at the popular television series, Antiques Roadshow, as it takes its team of appraisers from city to city to help ordinary people reveal the truth behind the value of their objects. But what if the experts, the appraisers, are wrong? What if they say that the object is worthless and you then discover that it is the real thing?

Antiques: When Experts are Wrong

For the owners of Van Gogh’s Sunset at Montmajour, this is what happened in 1991. The very same experts who now claim that the work is genuine, the Van Gogh Museum, told the owners that the work was a fake. These experts banned the painting to the attic until recently when, as News World revealed, analysis of the pigments of the paint and the discolouration convinced the museum to change its view. The experts changed their minds on a work that could have remained relegated to the attic forever, or, worse, thrown out or sold at a garage sale.

Valuable paintings in the attic are not as rare as one would think. In recent years, Christie’s, the internationally famed art auction house, has sold works of art for record-breaking, astronomical prices. In 2008, an eighteenth-century Italian painting found in an attic fetched $4.2 million according to Bloomberg.

Hidden Treasures

Sometimes, these hidden treasures reveal a part of one’s previously unknown ancestry . In 2010, John Buell discovered a large canvas in his grandfather’s attic in Weston, West Virginia. When he asked his grandmother about the painting, she told him that John’s great-great-grandfather had painted it. John did the research confirmed that the painting was indeed by his ancestor, a well-known American painter, Henry Arthur McArdle (1836-1908). McArdle painted the image depicting the 1836 Battle of San Jacinto in1901. According to The Marietta Times, the work had been missing for nearly a century. It went to auction and sold for over $300,000!

Experts can be wrong. A treasure may be just that, a treasure, a family keepsake. Or, it may be something extremely valuable. Fortunately, owners of the Van Gogh treasure had not discarded after its initial condemnation as a fake.

Treasure’s True Value

But what is the value of a work, really? Is it in the selling price? Or the memories that the work invokes? Of course, one always appreciates the adrenaline rush of a valuable find, not to mention the jackpot that might come with the bit of treasure. However, once the work is sold, it is gone from one’s possession; the intrinsic, personal value is now merely in the pocketbook. A valuable work of art? A jackpot find? Or a cherished momento? Which really is worth more in the grand scheme of things?

The family who own the greatest Van Gogh find since 1928 has agreed to loan the work to the Van Gogh Museum, to share their treasure with the world. The entire art world will now marvel at what experts once identified as a fake.


Associated Press. Long-lost Vincent van Gogh painting identified: Discovery of Sunset at Montmarjour called ‘once in a lifetime experience’. (2013). CBCnews. Accessed September 10, 2013.

Reyburn, Scott. Painting Found in Attic Fetches $4.2 Million in Old-Master Test. (2008). Bloomberg. Accessed September 10, 2013.

The Marietta Times. Treasure in the Attic: Painting found in attick worth thousands. (2010). Accessed September 10, 2013.

ABC News. Valuable Treasures in Your Attic. (2001). Accessed September 10, 2013.

News World. Van Gogh believed to be fake was stored in attic. (2013). News World. Accessed September 10, 2013.

  • Van Gogh Fan

    Wow! That is so so so so so cool! I am a huge van gogh fan, and this is incredible!!