In Brief

Newly Discovered Photo Offers a Glimpse of van Gogh, Gauguin, and Other Drunk Artists

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  (via l'Oeil de la Photographie)
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, the photograph expert at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is not convinced that it is of the painter.

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