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I find the whole issue of the photographs taken of Vincent van Gogh himself to be quite interesting. I'd like to open this up for a discussion.

In my own mind, I break up the photographs of Vincent into three categories:

I'll now explore each of these categories . . . . .



Vincent van Gogh
Age 13


Vincent van Gogh
Age 18

2019 update: The Van Gogh Museum has determined that the photograph on the left (1) shows Theo van Gogh and not Vincent. Leaving the image to the right (2) as the only proven photograph of Vincent van Gogh.



Vincent van Gogh
c. 1877
This rare photograph was discovered in 1990,
the centenary of Vincent's death. Vincent is seen in top hat.


Vincent van Gogh
c. 1886
Vincent, seen from the back, is shown here with painter Émile Bernard in Paris.

I'm probably too harsh in calling these photographs "unimportant", but that's just my own humble opinion (and that's what these forum pages are all about--to express different opinions). The first photograph of Vincent in top hat is interesting, but there are some who question if it's really, in fact, Vincent van Gogh. Personally, the photo leaves me a bit cold. Vincent in a top hat and tails? I'm sure that there were times he may have dressed in such a manner, but my Vincent is more believable in a straw hat and paint spattered clothing.

The second photo, while definitely authentic, is the least interesting of these first four. Vincent is just a dark outline, a rough shape in this photograph. Again, in my own opinion, this photograph teaches us nothing.

Chris Engel disagrees with my assessment of photo #4: "I believe the picture of Vincent with Émile Bernard is a very important photo. It shows Vincent in his working environment with an important contemporary, no less. It also implies a certain humility and that he had a sense of humor in having his back to the camera. He could have taken the stage alongside Émile but, he didn't. This shot was supposedly staged by Bernard. This photo as you show it is cropped. The full picture shows more of the background and is a neighborhood that both Bernard and Van Gogh painted together."

Open to Debate


Vincent van Gogh
As suggested by Bernard Denvir in his book
Vincent: A Complete Portrait (p. 6).


Cornelis van Gogh
Age 18
As confirmed in one of the definitive Van Gogh biographies
Vincent Van Gogh by Marc Edo Tralbaut (p. 24).
Photograph in the collection of Pastor J.P. Scholte-van Houten, Lochem.

In his book Vincent: A Complete Portrait Bernard Denvir claims that photo #5 is the "most recently discovered portrait photograph of Vincent van Gogh, found in the collection of his cousin, Anton Mauve. Research suggests it was taken when Vincent was working in Goupil's in The Hague, so he would have been between sixteen and twenty years of age."

Mr. Denvir raises an interesting issue with this "recently discovered" photograph of Vincent. At the same time, I feel him to be completely mistaken. I base my opinion on two fronts:

It's clear that the subject shown in photographs #5 and 6 is a member of the Van Gogh family. Compare this photo to those taken of Theo and you'll note the same distinctive Van Gogh eyes and ears. But, no, the person in photo #5 is without question, Cornelis van Gogh, and not Vincent.

Update: January, 2000: I've decided to leave the commentary above regarding photographs #5 and #6 to illustrate the ongoing theories about these two photographs. In a recent book devoted to Theo van Gogh, the Van Gogh Museum has declared that photo #6 is actually of Theo and not Cor. In comparing other photographs of Cor, I have to say that I concur with their conclusions. Photo #5 is clearly the same person and is also, therefore, Theo.


Vincent van Gogh
Age 13 or 14

Even as I dismiss Bernard Denvir's "research" in the case of photograph #5 above, I now call attention to photograph #7 which Denvir also includes in his book (p. 17). Denvir describes the photo: "Vincent in a class phtograph age thirteen or fourteen, at school in Tilburg in 1867 (courtesy of the King Willem II School, Tilburg)".

In all of my studies on Vincent van Gogh, I had never seen this photograph before. And just as photo #4 above, while probably authentic, leaves me cold, there's something about the final photograph shown here that I find intriguing. The features are clearly similar to those of Vincent shown in photo #1. But there's also something about the posture of the subject that has a ring of truth to it (compare to Lucien Pissarro's drawing Vincent in Conversation with Félix Fénéon). Rob Bergmans observed that in this drawing Vincent crosses his arms not in the same way as on the photograph, contrary to the finding that in general a person crosses his arms always in the same way).  Beyond Denvir's word, I have no other confirmation one way or the other as to the authenticity of this photograph, but I feel that there's a strong likelihood that this recent discovery is, in fact, genuine. Maybe another boy on the class photograph can be identified as Vincent.

Rob Bergmans adds the following commentary to the topic of the Tilburg photo: Who is Vincent van Gogh?

Reference is made to the classroom picture (1866-67) of Vincent van Gogh at the King William II College of Tilburg, The Netherlands.

Two individuals are candidate to be Vincent: the boy on the front row, 3rd from the right and the boy on the 2nd row, 2nd from the right.

On a sketch by Lucien Pissaro of 1888 in the Ashmolean Museum of Oxford, Vincent is talking to Félix Fénéon, a parisian artcritic. Vincent has his arms crossed with the right arm on top of the left arm. In general it appears that the way people cross their arms spontaneously is always the same and lasts for the entire life, either the right arm on top or the left arm on top. The other way around feels uncommon and requires concentration to carry out.

On the classroom photograph it shows that the boy on the front row also has his arms crossed, however with the left arm on top. This cannot be due to a possible mistake of printing the photo with the negative upside down: in fact the jacquets of the teachers have the the buttons at the right side and the buttonholes on the left, corresponding with the traditional way men’s suits are tailored.

Hence, the pose of the boy on the front row does not corrrespond with the sketch by Lucien Pissarro. The conclusion therefor is that the boy on the front row cannot be Vincent van Gogh.

So the alternative, the boy on the second row, is likely to be van Gogh. Moreover, that boy keeps his arms such that they are almost crossed, the right arm on top.

Rob Bergmans
Son en Breugel
The Netherlands

Gert-Jan van den Bemd comments:

I disagree with Rob Bergmans,

Because the boy on the first row has his arms crossed differently, Bergmans states that this boy can't be Vincent. That argument makes, in a way, sense. However, he omits the same argument when the other boy is put forward. Also this boy isn't crossing his arms the way Pissarro drew Vincent. So, when Bergmans would have been consistent, he should have concluded that this boy can't be Vincent either. In addition, Bergmans draws his conclusion that Vincent is on the second row, second from the right, on a sketch. He therefore presumes that the drawing is an exact reflection of the way Vincent was sitting and how he held his hands. That is, of course, a strange assumption because a sketch is an attempt to reproduce a situation. The arms are depicted a bit clumsy, as if Pissarro was not sure how Vincent crossed his arms.

I would very much welcome anyone with an opinion to drop me an e-mail. Do you disagree with me or have some additional insights to share? I welcome any and all submissions.

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