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1887 melanotype showing Emile Bernard (second from the left), Vincent van Gogh (third from the left), André Antoine (standing at center), and Paul Gauguin (far right) in a group photo (via the Romantic Agony auctions)

While Vincent van Gogh’s self-portraits were a significant part of his painting career, no confirmed photographs of the artist as an adult are known to exist. However, an 1887 melanotype that recently came to light reportedly shows van Gogh smoking a pipe while having a drink with friends.

Detail of 1887 melanotype with the face of Vincent van Gogh highlighted (via l’Oeil de la Photographie) (click to enlarge)

Serge Plantureux wrote for L’Oeil de la Photographie that the photograph was identified through discovering the names of the other figures in the picture (who include artists Paul Gauguin and Emile Bernard, no small discovery in themselves), fixing it in a place and time, and analyzing the photographic process. He writes that the shot came to him through a couple who stopped by his Paris pop-up gallery:

The photograph they had brought to show me was small, dark, and rather difficult to see. Six characters were around a table. The light was pale, perhaps it was a winter afternoon.

They told me, still hesitant, that they thought they recognized the people in it, artists in whom they had long been interested. They were collectors and liked the painters of the late 19th century, in particular the neo-impressionists. They also said it was possible that one of the figures around the table was someone whose true face had never been seen.

Michael Zhang at PetaPixel points out that there are confirmed photos of van Gogh at 13 and 19. There are also other unconfirmed photographs of van Gogh, such as this portrait found in the 1990s. The 1887 photograph went to auction today at the Romantic Agony in Brussels, which is quite the appropriately named auction house for the troubled 19th-century artist whose true face — beyond his own, pensive self-portraits — remains mysterious. That said, now that he’s turning up in NYC subway trains and the odd 19th-century photograph, who knows where we’ll see van Gogh next?

UPDATE: According to DutchNews.nl, the photograph expert at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is not convinced that it is of the painter.

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Allison Meier

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print...

30 replies on “Newly Discovered Photo Offers a Glimpse of van Gogh, Gauguin, and Other Drunk Artists”

  1. gee his hair and beard are dark? I thought he was a fair to red headed? Who says this is him?

  2. Good to see this photograph. (And they do not appear to be drunk. -wondering of your headline perhaps stems from Amercan puritanism??))

  3. Fantastic stereotyping, OR. When’s the last time any artist or artistic publication could be construed as puritanical? Not in our lifetime.
    Interesting photo whether Van Gogh or not. None of the artists look altogether tortured. That’s what a good beer does for one.

  4. I know what the illegitimate great grand son of Van Gogh looked like at age 12 having met him & his parents in Europe in the late 60’s in Europe in an incredible dramatic twist of fate. I wrote it all up on Facebook some 2 years ago. It was corroborated by passports, etc. None of this was known by the Van Gogh Museum. The kid even then looked exactly like a very young Vincent. Yes his hair was red. This photo does not look like Van Gogh although it’s conceivable.

  5. Interestig, yes. Calling them “Drunks” in the article’s title reveals a bit about the author — “artist envy” perhaps?

      1. There’s the long-necked bottle, yes, clearly a wine bottle. The one directly in front of that seems to me — given its shape, that it’s lighter on the bottom and darker on the top, and centered on the table, and given the darkness of the original photograph — to be something like a hurricane lamp. The one on its side in front of the purported Vincent looks like a mid- to late-20th-century milk bottle.

        I’m not a specialist in 19th-century bottling procedures (modern bottling employs different shapes for different wines), and I do doubt that there was milk consumption going on here, but I would put money on the hurricane lamp-like one not being a wine bottle. 😉

  6. Research will follow on, the last months of Vincent Van Gogh in Paris with the 96 rue Blanche exhibition being the main subject of investigation. The paper publication Nicephore, cahier de photographie n°3 will be distributed at mid-september.

  7. Gauguin and Van Gogh were never ‘friends.’ They were introduced to each other through unusual circumstances, (a result of Vincent’s brother) but, they only mannaged to ‘tolerate’ each other for a short period of time. They argued and fought constantly, culminating in Paul Gauguin leaviing their living arrangements permenantly.

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