HOUSTON, TX – For the last century this painting called ‘Sunset at Montmajour’ was considered to be a Vincent Van Gogh fake. Then in September 2012, Don Johnson, professor emeritus of electrical and computer engineering at Rice University was asked by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam to analyze the piece.
“What I do is take the x-ray images of a master painting and I analyze the canvas underneath,” says Johnson.
What he did was combined science and art to make — well — history.
The professor explains, “My program finds the thread density how many threads per centimeter for the vertical threads and how many threads per centimeter for the horizontal across the entire painting.”
When he inspected the fake Van Gogh, the results surprised him.
“This painting has very similar canvas characteristics to the Van Gogh that’s hanging in the Museum of Fine Arts here in Houston.”
‘The Rocks’ is the piece he’s referring to, and it’s just down the street from Johnson’s Rice University office.
“There’s a lot more to the authentication then just analyzing the canvas. They studied the paint composition and the provenance (origin) of the painting.”
But when all the results were in, Johnson’s findings were confirmed an authentic Vincent Van Gogh. Professor Johnson’s reaction? ‘Yeah, something like a woohoo! I’m a pretty mild mannered guy.”
The art world is secretive and even though Johnson has worked with the Van Gogh museum for 5 years and analyzed hundreds of paintings for them he wasn’t told about the final decision until the last second.
“The morning it was announced I got email from the museum and then my phone started ringing. The inside story is: there were rumors flying around Europe that there was a new painting that was about to be discovered and they actually had to move the announcement up earlier than they wanted to.”
No doubt there are many more masterpieces in Johnson’s future.