Humberside

'Portrait of Vincent Van Gogh' causes stir in Grimsby

L'Incompris (Misunderstood) by artist Jeanne Donnadieu
Image caption The Misunderstood has attracted more people to the Grimsby gallery

A painting that has claims to be the only full-length portrait of the famous Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh is causing a stir at a Grimsby gallery.

Abbey Walk Gallery has had a surge in visitors since it put the pastel painting on display three weeks ago.

The gallery's average footfall of 200 a week has climbed to about 1,000 visitors all flocking to catch a glimpse of the supposed artist.

Gillian Gibbons, co-owner of Abbey Walk Gallery, said: "The response has been quite staggering.

"It has caused tremendous excitement in Grimsby and has brought a lot of people in from all over the region to view it.

"We've had people open the door to the gallery and just say 'we've come to see Vincent'. One lady stood in front of the painting and just burst into tears.

"They can't believe they're viewing such a wonderful painting but the fact that they're actually standing in front of it in Grimsby."

The portrait belongs to a couple in Louth who bought it at auction in France 18 months ago.

When housewife Mandy, 45, and painter and decorator Michael Cruickshank, 41, paid 1,700 euros for the painting they had their suspicions about the subject.

Mrs Cruickshank said: "My husband said to me 'who do you think this is?' and I instantly said Vincent Van Gogh.

"We don't even think they [auctioneers] knew who it was. So we decided to take a chance on it.

"When we got it back here, the first thing we did was to hang it on the wall in the dining room and we just stood and looked at it.

"It was incredible and mesmerising. It was so tingly to look at it for real in front of us. We were just like ''wow'."

Facial reconstruction

For the past year, the couple have been investigating the painting contacting various experts in the art world to confirm the sitter's identity.

The people they have spoken to include the Van Gogh Museum in the Netherlands and facial reconstruction specialists at Dundee University.

Caroline Erolin, a lecturer in medical and forensic art at the university, conducted a facial analysis by comparing the painting with other known portraits of the Dutch artist and "felt it was likely to be Van Gogh".

She said: "My initial concern was how accurate are the portraits that we're going to compare and how would that impact the job that we're doing.

"But I was very excited and intrigued because it's such a famous character.

"We don't know for sure that it actually is him but we compared it with three other images: one being a self-portrait of Van Gogh, one a John Peter Russell portrait of him and another - a photograph, which is widely accepted to be a Van Gogh.

"We looked at it feature by feature, comparing the shape of the eyebrows, eyes, nose, mouth etc to see if you can see any inconsistencies.

"We couldn't find any inconsistencies. But because it's a pastel drawing it's not highly detailed as an oil painting can be. "

Mrs Erolin said it was impossible to say whether the figure was 100% Van Gogh but there were other factors that pointed to its likelihood such as the detail of the surroundings portrayed in the painting as well as the painter's background.

'Misunderstood'

On the back of the painting are the words 'L'Incompris' (translated as 'The Misunderstood') and a signature of a French female artist called Jeanne Donnadieu.

Little is known about the artist but the couple discovered she lived four doors away from Van Gogh.

While research into the painting is still continuing, public demand has forced the gallery to extend the length of the exhibition for a further two weeks until 17 September.

Mrs Gibbons said: "To actually have him [Van Gogh] sitting on our wall in the gallery is indescribable. It's beyond words really - it's wonderful."

With the Cruickshanks receiving various estimated valuations from £10,000 to £3m for the painting, they say they have no desire to sell anytime soon.

Though, if they did, Mrs Cruickshank said they would prevent it from falling into the hands of a private investor or collector and make sure the portrait would be accessible to the public.

She said: "When you've got the only top to toe portrait of Vincent Van Gogh, you know the world wants to see it, so you've got to get it out there and it just seems like the most important thing to get it into the eye of the public."

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