x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Required reading: lost and found in the world of art

An unknown print of one of Van Gogh's lost sunflower paintings has been discovered.

A Van Gogh expert has shed new light on the iconic Sunflower series of paintings. Van Gogh expert Martin Bailey has tracked down a previously unknown 1920s print of the Six Sunflowers: one of the Sunflower paintings Van Gogh painted, which was destroyed by an American WWII bombing raid on Japan. What's more, Bailey has traced the infamous fourth Sunflower painting, which has been lost to public view since it disappeared during an exhibition in Ohio in 1948.

If the fourth Sunflower picture comes to light as a result of Bailey?s work, expert estimate it will fetch well in excess of $100 million (Dh367m). That would rank Bailey?s discovery among the greatest to rock the notoriously volatile art market.

Turn to Bailey's own The Sunflowers Are Mine: The Story of Van Gogh?s Masterpiece (Frances Lincoln, Dh145) to learn how Van Gogh painted the four Sunflower paintings in Arles in August 1888, after the models he had planned to paint that day failed to show up. Today, the two extant paintings, hanging in London and Munich, are among the most recognised in the world: London's Tate Gallery sold 26,000 postcards of its version last year alone.

A discovery back in 2010, though, stands equal to the idea of finding the lost Sunflower painting. The Kober family kept a painting of Mary and Jesus - which they jokingly called 'The Mike' - behind their sofa for 27 years, before experts confirmed it was a real Michelangelo, worth up to $300 million (Dh1.1bn). Read The Lost Michelangelos (Polity, Dh66) by Michelangelo expert Antonio Forcellino to learn how the full might of modern forensic science is brought to bear on art discoveries in order to authenticate them.

Of course, the Middle East has its fair share of art losses and discoveries, too. For a firsthand account of the most significant, and tragic, of such events, read Thieves of Baghdad (Bloomsbury, Dh92) by Matthew Bogdanos. Between April 10 and 12 in 2003, looters ransacked the National Museum of Iraq, taking priceless items such as the Warka Vase, a carved stone vessel more than 5,000 years old. Bogdanos was the US soldier tasked with investigating the thefts, and recovering the items: what follows is part detective story, part Indiana Jones-style adventure, and great reading throughout.

* David Mattin