He may have painted dozens of self-portraits, but Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh was not a fan of being photographed. Few photographic images of the artist exist, especially as an adult. A Brussels-based auction house claims to have gotten ahold of a new one, discovered in the papers of a bookseller who was active in the Paris literary scene in the 1920s.
The photograph in question shows van Gogh (if it is, in fact, him) drinking with fellow artists Paul Gauguin, Emile Bernard, and Arnold Koning, with painter/politician Félix Jobbé-Duval. The French actor André Antoine stands in the middle.
It’s well known that van Gogh was friends with Gauguin and Bernard, both of whom he met in Paris and later exchanged letters with. He and Gauguin lived and worked together for two months at an artists’ colony in Arles, France in 1888. The two had a falling out shortly before van Gogh lost his ear—which, according to one theory posited by two German art historians, occurred during a fight with Gauguin. (The traditional story is that van Gogh cut it off himself.)
The man reported to be van Gogh. Image Credit: Shaunacy Ferro, Jules Antoine (1863-1948) attr. via The Romantic Agony
The auction house puts the estimated value of the image at €120,000 ($134,277). However, not all experts agree that the photograph is of van Gogh, and it did not sell at an auction over the weekend. The photo expert at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam maintains that it doesn’t even look like the artist. Furthermore, van Gogh flatly hated photography, and typically refused to be photographed, making it unlikely that he would have sat still for this one. Nor did he mention the gathering of artists in any of his letters.
This is not the only controversial image of a van Gogh lookalike. In 2004, a forensic scientist authenticated a photograph found by artist Tom Stanford of a man who bears a striking resemblance to van Gogh, but the Van Gogh Museum rejected the conclusion.