But then Van Gogh confessed that the painting was "well below what I'd wished to do." Later he sent it to Theo to keep.
Van Gogh struggled with bouts of mental distress throughout his life and died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1890. He sold only one painting during his lifetime.
According to a reconstruction published in The Burlington Magazine by three researchers, the painting was recorded as number 180 in Theo's collection and given the title "Sun Setting at Arles." It was sold to French art dealer Maurice Fabre in 1901.
Fabre never recorded selling the work, and the painting disappeared from history until it reappeared in 1970 in the estate of Norwegian industrialist Christian Nicolai Mustad.
The Mustad family said Mustad purchased it in 1908 as a young man in one of his first forays into art collecting, but was soon told by the French ambassador to Sweden that it was a fake. Embarrassed, Mustad banished it to the attic.
After Mustad's death in 1970, the distinguished art dealer Daniel Wildenstein said he thought the painting was a fake Van Gogh or possibly the work of a lesser-known German painter, and it was sold to a collector. The museum would not say who bought it or whether it had been resold since then.
In 1991, the museum declined to authenticate the painting when whoever owned it at the time brought it to them.
"That may be a painful admission, given that the same museum is now attributing it to Van Gogh, but it is understandable," since experts had no information about what the painting depicted, the Burlington Magazine article said.