Monday, December 5, 2011


Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) was lucky to have a sibling to look after him, since the Dutch painter suffered from depression most of his life and had alienated much of his family. Theo van Gogh (1857-1891) supported his older brother financially and otherwise. Until this summer, it was believed that Vincent had only sketched Theo, although he completed dozens of self-portraits throughout his life. "People have often thought it was funny that there were no portraits of Theo, given that they were so close," said Linda Snoek of Amsterdam's Vincent van Gogh Museum. As it turns out, Vincent did paint his brother - and the museum had the work in storage. Similar to a self-portrait by Vincent in a suit and hat against a blue background (bottom left), the painting of Theo (bottom right) was made in 1887 when the pair lived together in Paris. The misattribution is due in part to the fact that much of what is known about Vincent's life is through the letters he sent to Theo when they were apart. Putting the oil paintings side by side (framed and uncropped images here) suggested that they - like the van Gogh brothers themselves - were a pair. "'They are two small, detailed portraits that when you see them you think: they belong together," observes van Tilborgh. The brothers had a remarkable resemblance (1st image, Vincent and Theo as young men), but the curator bolstered his opinion by comparing the subtle physical differences:
  • Theo's ears were rounder than Vincent's long, angular ears, as portrayed by other artists*
  • Their eye color differed
  • Theo's goatee is more ochre than Vincent's dark red beard
  • Theo had shaven cheeks, consistent with photographs of him from the same period, contrasting with Vincent's mutton-chop sideburns
The portraits of the brothers, who are buried together, now hang as a matched pair.

*The paintings precede Vincent's self-mutilation of his ear in December 1888.

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