Category Archives: Van Gogh

Not a fake: Van Gogh self-portrait is his only work painted while suffering psychosis, experts say

Vincent van Gogh’s Self-portrait, 1889. Courtesy of Nasjonalmuseet for Kunst, Arkitektur og Design, Oslo

A Van Gogh self-portrait dismissed as a questionable fake has now been authenticated. The picture, which belongs to Norway’s National Museum, was painted in August 1889 in the mental asylum near Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Today (January 20, 2020) it will go on display at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, where it is on loan.

The Oslo self portrait is a highly disturbing image, depicting the artist just as he was emerging from a severe mental crisis. According to Louis van Tilborgh, the Amsterdam museum’s senior researcher, it is the “only work Van Gogh is known to have painted while suffering from psychosis”. As such, the newly reattributed self-portrait provides a unique insight into his mental condition.

Van Gogh depicts himself with a gaunt face and haggard expression. His face is only partly turned towards the viewer, avoiding our gaze, and his eyes have a glazed expression. The artist appears weak and vulnerable, with drooping shoulders. Van Tilborgh says that his timid, sideways glance “is often found in patients suffering from depression and psychosis”.

When Norway’s National Museum bought the painting in 1910 it was the first Van Gogh self-portrait to enter a public collection anywhere. But by the 1970s the attribution was being questioned because of its weak execution and disturbed facial expression. In 2003 the Norwegian conservator Johannes Rød suggested that it was a forgery. Mai Britt, the current Oslo curator, says that before the painting was sent to Amsterdam for study it was labelled as only “attributed” to Van Gogh.

The Oslo picture is quite unlike Van Gogh’s other 35 self-portraits, in depicting him as a disturbed soul. Not surprisingly, the attribution was seriously questioned: the painting’s early provenance remained unknown until recently, its style and colouring seemed atypical and art historians argued over whether it fitted in with the artist’s work in Arles, Saint-Rémy or Auvers-sur-Oise.

With growing doubts, in 2014 the Oslo museum sent the painting to the Van Gogh Museum for study. After more than five years of research, a summary of their findings is being released this morning and a detailed report by Van Tilborgh and his colleagues Teio Meedendorp and Kathrin Pilz will be published in the February issue of the Burlington Magazine.

On the key issue of provenance, a proposal made in 2006 by a previous Oslo curator, Marit Lange, has now been accepted. The self-portrait originally belonged to Joseph and Marie Ginoux, who ran the Café de la Gare in Arles, where Van Gogh lodged in 1888. In 1896 they sold the painting through Henry Laget, a local middle man, to Ambroise Vollard, the avant-garde Parisian dealer.

Van Tilborgh believes that the self-portrait was painted in late August 1889, in the asylum just outside Saint-Rémy: “The somewhat unusual type of canvas, the pigments, the sombre palette and the brushwork are all in keeping with his output in the late summer and autumn of that year.”

The painting is now linked to a letter in which Van Gogh wrote that he had made a self-portrait which was “an attempt from when I was ill”. The artist had suffered a severe mental attack at the asylum in mid July 1889, when he tried to swallow paints, but by 22 August he had recovered sufficiently to write to his brother Theo, asking that he be allowed access to his painting materials. Van Tilborgh argues that the artist made the self-portrait a few days later, before he suffered a minor setback and was ill for a short period at the beginning of September.

The result is an unsettling picture. Van Gogh could have resumed work after the crisis by painting a still life of flowers, but instead he turned to his own features. Van Tilborgh sees the self-portrait as “an expressive picture about suffering”. Taking up work proved therapeutic for the artist, “aiding his recovery”.

What is striking, at least for us today, is the depiction of the ear. The upper part is only loosely sketched in and the lower part seems to be almost missing. 

Eight months earlier Van Gogh had severely mutilated his left ear, which at first glance appears to be the one in the painting. But while working on the self-portrait he would actually looking at his features in a mirror, in reverse, thereby seeing his intact right ear. 

However, Van Gogh must surely have realised that those outside the art world would assume that he was depicting his left ear, which had been mutilated. He could have tried to avoid the problem by disguising some of the ear with hair, but he has deliberately and unflinchingly allowed the upper part to remain highly visible, with lighter-coloured paint.

Van Tilborgh argues that the artist began by depicting his fully intact right ear, but then took a palette knife to the picture, scraping away some of the paint. He believes that Van Gogh scraped the picture to give his face a more lifeless expression and to strengthen the impression of mental anguish.

Van Gogh normally sent his paintings to his brother Theo in Paris, so how did the Oslo self-portrait end up at the Café de la Gare? Presumably Vincent did not wish to give such a depressing image of himself to Theo, since he wanted to appear a strong character who was dedicated to his art. He therefore decided it should be a present for Madame Ginoux, one of his closest friends in Arles.

Marie Ginoux was then going through a period of ill health, causing Van Gogh concern. Van Tilborgh explains: “Vincent was unhappy in life, and thought she was too. In giving her the self-portrait, he was saying: ‘My situation is worse than yours, but we are soulmates.’ It is a heart-broken self-portrait, crying out for sympathy.”

Van Tilborgh believes that Vincent probably took the self-portrait to the Café de la Gare on a short visit to Arles in January 1890. The Ginoux couple may have had little enthusiasm for this gift, since it was hardly a pleasant reminder of their friend. Five years later they were probably relieved to be able to sell it, even for a modest sum (they received 110 francs for three of his paintings, equivalent to around £4 at the time).

The Oslo self-portrait is going on temporary display at the Van Gogh Museum today and will then be shown in its exhibition In the Picture (21 February-24 May), on artists’ portraits. After that the self-portrait will return to Norway, where it is likely to remain in store until the National Museum reopens in a new building in spring 2021.

By Martin Bailey for The Art Newspaper

“Newly Discovered van Gogh Drawing Is a ‘Stylistic Missing Link’ ” By Nina Siegal

“The Hill of Montmartre with Stone Quarry,” dated 1886, has been authenticated by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, which says it has documents that confirm the drawing is by Van Gogh. © Van Vlissingen Art Foundation

“Newly Discovered van Gogh Drawing Is a ‘Stylistic Missing Link’ “


AMSTERDAM — The Van Gogh Museum here on Tuesday announced the discovery of a previously unknown drawing by Vincent van Gogh, which the museum said was completed about a month after the Dutch post-Impressionist artist arrived in Paris in 1886. The museum’s researchers studied the style and history of “The Hill of Montmartre with Stone Quarry,” dated March 1886, and found documents they said confirm that it is a lost van Gogh.

“It’s a big day today,” said Teio Meedendorp, a senior researcher at the Van Gogh Museum who studied the subject, style, technique, materials and provenance of the drawing, and found the relevant documentary evidence to support the attribution.

The museum owns the largest collection of van Gogh’s works anywhere in the world, including more than half of the artist’s drawn oeuvre — approximately 500 drawings as well as his sketchbooks.

“It’s a nice robust drawing by Vincent and he captured the hill of Montmartre very well,” Mr. Meedendorp said.

Mr. Meedendorp said that the drawing is particularly interesting because it is more in keeping with van Gogh’s earlier style than his later work when he lived in Paris. He added that the drawing shows that van Gogh’s work evolved during his crucial years in the French capital from a formal style that he learned at the art academy in Antwerp just before arriving in Paris, and became increasingly experimental.

“It’s a kind of stylistic missing link between his Belgium and Paris time,” said Fred Leeman, an independent van Gogh expert and curator of exhibitions by the artist, who is a consultant to the Van Vlissingen Foundation, which currently owns the drawing.

The last time a new van Gogh drawing was discovered was in 2012. A year later, a new van Gogh painting, “Sunset at Montmajour” (1888), was also found. But these findings are relatively rare. Since the publication of the complete catalog of van Gogh’s works in 1970, another nine drawings and seven paintings have been added, Mr. Meedendorp said.

When it came to the Van Gogh Museum for research in 2012, the drawing was owned by an American private collector whose Dutch relatives had purchased the work from a gallery in the Netherlands in 1917, Mr. Meedendorp explained. But the museum did not publicize the finding at the time, at the request of the previous owner.

Aside from Mr. Leeman, no other experts outside the museum have yet seen the drawing.

Research by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the world’s leading expertise center on the artist, found that “The Hill of Montmartre with Stone Quarry” came into the hands of van Gogh’s sister-in-law, Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, a meticulous keeper of van Gogh’s materials, who numbered it “123” in her inventory.

Mr. Meedendorf said that when he took the drawing out of its frame, he found the telltale number, “123,” written on the back.

A similar drawing, “The Hill of Montmartre,” which was thought to be by van Gogh but then discredited, has now been reattributed to the artist. © Vincent Van Gogh Foundation, via Associated Press

The discovery of “The Hill of Montmartre with Stone Quarry” led the Van Gogh Museum to reconsider another drawing that it had in its collection, which had been part of the original donation from the van Gogh family heirs. That drawing, titled “The Hill of Montmartre,” also completed in 1886, is drawn from a very similar perspective of the Parisian hilltop.

This drawing was originally thought to be by van Gogh, but in 2001, it was questioned because it was so dissimilar to work from his Paris period, and then discredited.

“Now that you have a set of two, it’s clear that it was a style he maintained during the first part of his time in Paris,” said Mr. Leeman.

By comparing these two drawings side-by-side, researchers realized that the works were incredibly similar, and both were attributed to van Gogh.

“It’s the same materials, the same paper, it’s quite clear that these were both done by the same hand at almost the same time,” said Mr. Meedendorp.

“One thing led to another,” he added. “If this was a van Gogh drawing then the other one had to be one as well.”

A version of this article appears in print on January 17, 2018, on Page C3 of the New York edition with the headline: Museum Announces A New van Gogh.

By Nina Siegal, Reprint from The New York Times, ART & DESIGN, 16 January 2018, © 2018 The New York Times Company









“How to See Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ in 5 Museums at Once? Facebook,” By John Hurdle

Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” (1888), from the Neue Pinakothek museum in Munich. The painting is one of five that will be seen together “virtually” on Monday. Neue Pinakothek, Munich

“How to See Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ in 5 Museums at Once? Facebook”


PHILADELPHIA — Five versions of van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” painting will be showcased simultaneously on Facebook Live on Monday in a collaboration among art museums on three continents.

The paintings will be interpreted by curators from museums in London, Amsterdam, Munich, Philadelphia and Tokyo, who will deliver a sequence of live 15-minute commentaries while standing with the works in the museums.

Ahead of the curatorial events, the museums will also use their own Facebook pages, starting on Thursday, to simulate the experience of viewing all five paintings in a gallery, allowing the audience to compare and examine them as if they were in a three-dimensional environment.

Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” (1888), at the National Gallery in London. National Gallery, London

The virtual gallery will include narration by van Gogh’s great-grand-nephew, Willem van Gogh, who will share memories of the paintings, which were created in 1888-9 for a visit by the artist Paul Gauguin to van Gogh’s house in Arles, France.

The Facebook Live event is being led by the National Gallery in London, which in 2014 brought together its own version of “Sunflowers,” and that of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, for the first time in 65 years.

Jennifer Thompson, curator of the Facebook Live event at the Philadelphia Museum of Art — which houses the only version of “Sunflowers” in the United States — said she believed it was the first time that art museums in different countries had used social media to highlight works that are unlikely to be seen together in one physical space.

Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” (1888), at the Seiji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Museum of Art, Tokyo. Seiji Togo Memorial, Sompo Japan Museum of Art, Tokyo

“It’s a fun and engaging way to think about these five paintings that are scattered about the globe, that are unlikely to ever come together in one venue or one exhibition,” Ms. Thompson said. “This is a way for us to take advantage of technology to virtually bring the paintings together, and to have a conversation among curators.”

She said that the “Sunflower” paintings were among the public favorites at all the participating museums, and that the event was an opportunity to highlight van Gogh’s choice of color and texture and his love of nature.

Each curator will talk about a different aspect of the paintings, Ms. Thompson said. For example, she will focus on van Gogh’s repetition of subject, while her colleague from the Neue Pinakothek in Munich will talk about his use of color.

“Sunflowers” (1889), from the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Ms. Thompson said she would distinguish the Philadelphia and Munich versions of the paintings — which both have turquoise backgrounds — from later versions in the other three museums, which have yellow backgrounds.

The Facebook Live event will begin with the London presentation, starting at 12:50 p.m. Eastern time, and conclude with that of the Tokyo curator (from the Seiji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Museum of Art), starting at 2:10 p.m. Eastern time.

“Sunflowers” (1888 or 1889), from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Philadelphia Museum of Art

A version of this article appears in print on August 11, 2017, on Page C2 of the New York edition with the headline: Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ Is Starring on Facebook. 

By John Hurdle, Reprint from The New York Times, 10 August 2017, © 2017 The New York Times Company

Vincent van Gogh’s Ear

Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853-1890): Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, 1889. Created in Arles, France. Oil on canvas, 51 x 45 cm. Private Collection.

Then again, he might not have cut off most of his left ear.

So say two German art historians, Hans Kaufmann and Rita Wildegans,* who argue that Paul Gauguin, not Vincent, sliced off most of van Gogh’s ear with a rapier, either in anger or self-defense, perhaps accidentally, in a heated disagreement. Speculation supporting the official tale of Vincent slicing off most of the ear in a fit of madness and then presenting it to a prostitute, is as debatable as the version of Gauguin doing the deed.

Following ten years of researching police reports, letters and other biographical material, the historians concluded that in order to keep Gauguin out of jail and in an attempt for Vincent to maintain the friendship, the two artists conspired to a crime cover-up and to remain quiet about the incident for the remainder of their lives — in a “pact of silence.”  They report that at the time of the incident: Vincent was not yet mad, but only experienced seizures. No one witnessed the actual event. Vincent van Gogh had a strong infatuation with Gauguin. And there were references by each of the artists suggesting a complexity beyond the official story. Commonly reported, the first letter from van Gogh to Gauguin following the incident included, “I will keep quiet about this and so will you.” Years later, in a letter from Gauguin referencing van Gogh, “A man with sealed lips, I cannot complain about him.”

Whatever the facts of the tragic event on the night of December 23, 1888, nine wondrous weeks ended of two masters producing works of art that proved pivotal in the course of the development of modern art.

— Jules Cavanaugh

* “Van Goghs Ohr: Paul Gauguin und der Pakt des Schweigens ” (Van Gogh’s Ear: Paul Gauguin and the Pact of Silence) by Hans Kaufmann and Rita Wildegans, Osburg, 2008.

Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, Post-Impressionism, 1853-1890): Self Portrait with Palette, 1889. Created in Arles, France. Oil on canvas, 57 x 43.5 cm. Private Collection

Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853-1890): Self Portrait with Palette, 1889. Created in Arles, France. Oil on canvas, 57 x 43.5 cm. Private Collection

Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, Post-Impressionism, 1853-1890): Paul Gauguin (Man in a Red Beret), 1888. Oil on canvas, 37 x 33 cm. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853-1890): Paul Gauguin (Man in a Red Beret), 1888. Oil on canvas, 37 x 33 cm. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, Post-Impressionism, 1853-1890): Self-Portrait with Straw Hat, Summer 1887. Oil on artist board, mounted to wood panel; 34.9 × 26.7 cm (13-3/4 x 10-1/2 inches). Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan, USA.

Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853-1890): Self-Portrait with Straw Hat, Summer 1887. Oil on artist board, mounted to wood panel; 34.9 × 26.7 cm (13-3/4 x 10-1/2 inches). Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan, USA.

Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, Post-Impressionism, 1853-1890): Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, 1889. Oil on canvas, 60.5 x 50 cm. The Courtauld Gallery, London, UK.

Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853-1890): Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, 1889. Oil on canvas, 60.5 x 50 cm. The Courtauld Gallery, London, UK.

Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853-1890): Portrait of Doctor Paul Gachet, 1890. Auvers-sur-oise, France. Oil on canvas, 67 x 56 cm (26.4 x 22 inches). Private Collection.

“I’ve done the portrait of M. Gachet with a melancholy expression, which might well seem like a grimace to those who see it… Sad but gentle, yet clear and intelligent, that is how many portraits ought to be done… There are modern heads that may be looked at for a long time, and that may perhaps be looked back on with longing a hundred years later.” (Vincent van Gogh, letter to Theo)

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Vincent van Gogh: Not the Usual Suspects


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