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Van Gogh’s ‘Self-Portrait’ Could Actually Be Of Brother Theo, Receives New Name
By Mikelle Leow, 05 Jul 2019
‘Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait, 1887’ (left) and ‘Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait or Portrait of Theo van Gogh, 1887’ (right). Images via Van Gogh Museum
Siblings get mixed up all the time, and Vincent and Theo van Gogh were no different. For years, two paintings were believed to be self-portraits of the famous Post-Impressionist artist. One shows the subject in a felt hat, while the other depicts the sitter in a straw hat. Art experts later changed their minds, believing that one of the paintings was of his younger brother.
Now, another theory points to the identities of both portraits being confused for the other.
Sjraar van Heugten—guest curator of the upcoming Van Gogh’s Inner Circle: Friends, Family, Models exhibition at Noordbrabants Museum in s’Hertogenbosch, Netherlands—is convinced that the man in the straw hat is Vincent van Gogh, while the person in the felt hat is his brother Theo. Van Heugten got the revelation by looking at the eyes of the subjects.
His theory challenges one that dates back to 2011. Eight years ago, Louis van Tilborgh—senior researcher of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and expert of Van Gogh’s time in Paris—argued that the painter was dressed in the felt hat, while his brother was styled in the informal-looking straw hat. This concept surprised art lovers, as the struggling artist was known as a laid-back dresser. Theo, on the other hand, was a distinguished art dealer, and would have been expected to put on the comparatively formal felt hat.
Van Tilborgh believed the brothers swapped hats possibly “as a joke,” reasoning that Theo’s beard was ochre and neatly trimmed, which was apparent on the subject in the straw hat painting. Vincent’s facial hair, on the other hand, was more orange-red and likely to be scruffier, as shown in the felt hat portrait. When looking at photos of Theo, he found that Theo’s rounder ears matched those in the straw hat portrait, whereas several of Vincent’s self-portraits depicted the artist with fleshier ears.
However, Van Heugten now begs to differ. He tells The Art Newspaper that it would be unseemly of Vincent van Gogh to depict his brother in “nonchalant summer attire” while portraying himself as a “respectable gentleman.” Further, Theo had light gray-blue eyes, evident in the classier portrait, while Vincent often painted himself with green, bluish or dark eyes—but never grayish-blue like the ones of the man in the felt hat portrait.
While the Van Gogh Museum named the straw hat portrait as, “Portrait of Theo van Gogh, 1887,” back in 2011, it now accepts the new theory as plausible. It has thus made the rare decision of giving the artwork a double title, renaming it as, “Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait or Portrait of Theo van Gogh, 1887.”
“In light of the fact that we are dealing with painted portraits and not photographs, it remains difficult to effectively weigh up arguments regarding physical similarities,” the museum stresses. “After all, there are any number of reasons why the artist may have deviated from reality.”
“After carefully considering all of the arguments, the resulting conclusion was that there is not conclusive proof for either identification—that of Vincent or Theo,” the institution concludes. “The painting has therefore now been given a double title: Self-Portrait or Portrait of Theo van Gogh.”
‘Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait, 1887’. Image via Van Gogh Museum
‘Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait or Portrait of Theo van Gogh, 1887’. Image via Van Gogh Museum
[via The Art Newspaper, images via Van Gogh Museum]
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