Rare Van Gogh photo is of Vincent's brother
AMSTERDAM - AFP
For decades the bright-eyed boy in the photograph was believed to be the legendary artist Vincent Van Gogh at the age of 13. But experts revealed Nov. 29 that the picture is most likely not the Dutch "Sunflowers" painter but his brother Theo, who was 15 at the time.
"With this discovery we are an illusion poorer and a portrait of Theo richer," said Axel Rutger, director of the Van Gogh Museum. "Of course there was a slight twinge of disappointment also because we have so few photographs of Vincent van Gogh and now we have even one less," he said.
"But on the other hand of course I am always happy if you can discover more of the truth."
The discovery leaves just one known picture of the artist, taken when he was 19 years old.
He committed suicide at the age of 37 in 1890 after an emotionally turbulent life, detailed in years of correspondence with Theo, an art dealer who supported the artist emotionally and financially.
"When I heard that this is most likely a picture of my great-grandfather Theo -- and not of Vincent -- I was surprised, but I am glad that the mystery has been solved," Willem van Gogh, Theo's great-grandson and an advisor to the board of the Van Gogh Museum, said in a statement.
Uncovering the case of mistaken identity took years of artistic detective work.
The picture was taken by taken by Brussels photographer Balduin Schwarz in the late 19th century, but did not emerge publicly until 1957, in an exhibition by Mark Edo Tralbaut, a Belgian researcher who identified it in a catalogue as "Portrait of Vincent Van Gogh (circa 1866)."
Vasseur said he discovered by chance that the photographer had only moved to his Brussels studio in 1870, four years after the photo was taken, and that Vincent Van Gogh would have been much older at the time.
Confusing the issue was the fact that the brothers looked alike, with reddish-blond hair -- but Theo had more delicate features and a "very light eye color" which looked like it could be seen in the photo.
"The light color of Theo's eyes is especially striking in the known photographs of him, and this can also be seen in the Schwarz portrait -- this was another indication that the person in the portrait is probably Theo," added Meedendorp.