A painting attributed to Vincent Van Gogh for more than 70 years was not painted by the Dutch master, but was probably created by one of his peers, art officials said Friday.
The director of Australia's National Gallery of Victoria, Gerard Vaughan, said a specialist team at the Van Gogh Museum in the Netherlands concluded the painting had strong stylistic differences from the Dutch artist's other works, and that it was most likely painted by one of his contemporaries.
The painting, "Head of a Man," was brought to Australia in 1939 as part of an art exhibit owned by Keith Murdoch, father of media mogul Rupert Murdoch.
The piece became stranded in Australia after the outbreak of World War II, and the gallery bought it in 1940 for just 4,000 Australian dollars (US$3,500; EUR 2,500).
As a Van Gogh, the painting was subsequently valued at around A$25 million (US$21 million; EUR 15 million).
"It was purchased as a Van Gogh work, and had been accepted as a Van Gogh for more than a decade before the (gallery's) purchase," Vaughan said in a statement released Friday.
He stressed the painting had simply been misattributed to Van Gogh.
"It is very important to make the point that it's not a forgery," he told reporters. "There is no evidence to suggest that someone produced this picture ... to pass it off as a work by Van Gogh."
The painting's authenticity was first called into question last August when it was on show at the Dean Gallery in Edinburgh, Scotland. Critics said the work, dated 1886, was of a different style to other Van Gogh paintings of the same period and was not mentioned in any of the Dutch master's letters.
When the exhibit closed, the National Gallery of Victoria sent the painting - a portrait of a bearded, curly haired man against a brownish background - to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam for verification.