AMSTERDAM – A photograph of a young boy believed to have been of a 13-year-old Vincent van Gogh, one of only two photographic images of the renowned artist that were understood to exist, was revealed on Thursday by the museum in the Netherlands dedicated to the painter to instead be that of his brother Theo.
According to the results of a forensic examination presented by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the portrait photo is of a 15-year-old Theo, taken in Brussels.
“Now we only have one photograph that we can attribute to Vincent van Gogh,” Teio Meedendorp, the principal investigator of the museum, told EFE. “It’s a pity, we’ve all believed for many years in a mistake, and the image that has been used in hundreds of history and art books, something that will not be able to change, is actually that of his brother,” Meedendorp added.
The photograph first appeared at an exhibition in 1957 that was organized by the Belgian Van Gogh expert Mark Edo Tralbaut (1902-1976).
He attributed the image to the painter and presented it as a great discovery.
It was printed in the catalog that accompanied the exhibition with the caption, “Portrait of Vincent van Gogh (circa 1866).”
Since then, it has been used in innumerable biographies.
It was known that the Dutch artist did not like to be photographed and now, the only remaining photograph, which is also owned by the museum, is that of a 19-year-old Vincent.
Art experts had long suspected there was something not quite right with the photo of the youth but it was not until three years ago that the museum joined forces with other researchers to conduct a thorough analysis of it.
“I realized, by chance, that the photographer Balduin Schwarz, who took the picture, had moved to his studio in Brussels in 1870,” said Commissioner General Yves Vasseur. “At that time, Van Gogh was more than 13 years old and I began to doubt the photo. I shared my doubts with the museum and together we decided to resolve this identity crisis once and for all,” he added.
It was known, by studying correspondence between the artist and his brother, that Theo had been photographed in February 1873, when he was 15 years old and in Brussels.
“Given the striking similarities, the child in the portrait could be a close member of the family, which led to Vincent’s younger brother because, for example, in 1873, Theo lived in Brussels, where Schwarz also lived,” Vasseur added.
The physical characteristics were also investigated thoroughly and compared with the existing material relating to the brothers.
“Both had reddish-blond hair, but Theo was a little thinner, had the more delicate features, a tall straight forehead and blue eyes,” Meenderdorp said.
The museum requested a forensic examination, led by Zeno Geradts, professor of forensic data science at the University of Amsterdam, to confirm “with total security” who appears in the photograph.
The result underscored that the child in the photograph was Theo and not the famous painter.
“We have returned to 1957, with a single photographic portrait of young Vincent, when he was 19 years old,” said the museum director, Axel Rüger.
“I was surprised to hear that this photograph is of my great grandfather Theo and not Vincent, but I am pleased to know that the mystery has now been solved, it is essential that the legacy is now transmitted and preserved correctly, and this research makes a significant contribution,” said Willem van Gogh, Theo’s great-grandson and an advisor to the museum.