Is This a Photo of Van Gogh Drinking with Gauguin and Bernard?

A newly surfaced photo begs the question, “Is this Van Gogh as an adult artist?” The photo, which dates back to 1887, was set to be sold at the Brussels auction house Romantic Agony on June 20th. Supposedly featuring Van Gogh (along with a group of men, including Paul Gauguin), the tin type was taken in Paris by Jules Antoine. With a pre-auction sales estimate of between $136,000 and $170,000, the photograph failed to sell at all.

Van Gogh Unknown Photo

Van Gogh is alleged to be third from left. Also at the table Gauguin (right), Emile Bernard, Dutch artist Arnold Koning, politician Felix Duval, and Jules’ brother André Antoine, who founded the Théâtre-Libre in Paris.

Why would such an impressive photograph fail at sale? The would-be rarity may not actually feature the famed artist. Well-known for shirking photographs, there are no known authenticated images of the adult artist (aside from paintings). Purchased at an estate sale, the buyers brought the photograph to French photo expert Serge Plantureux. The owners thought that they recognized the post-Impressionist artists in the photo as Van Gogh, Gauguin and Emile Bernard.

After researching the photo and its origins Plantureux was convinced about the authenticity of it. That said, not everyone else in the art/photography world is as game to agree. The only authenticated photographs of Van Gogh are from his childhood or shot from behind (i.e., not revealing the artist’s face). A photography expert from the Van Gogh Museum told the Amsterdam-based newspaper the Parool that the photo does not feature the artist.

Some of the criticism surrounding the photo’s authenticity revolves around the idea that the man in the picture does not look like van Gogh, or at least is questionably different enough in appearance to raise concern. There is also no mention of the gathering in any of the artist’s letters to his brother Theo. In addition to the artists Gauguin and Bernard, the Dutch artist Arnold Koning, actor Andre Antoine and politician Felix Koning are also seated around the mysterious pipe-smoking possible Van Gogh.

Despite the lack of proof of authenticity, the photo still went to auction as an image featuring Van Gogh. While the photo did not sell due to the lack of substantiated evidence pointing in either direction, a collector was reported to be in negotiations to purchase it post-auction.

More than a decade ago another alleged Van Gogh photo surfaced. Here is a fun look back at a story about that photo on (circa 2004):

About the Author

Erica Loop has a BA in the history of art and architecture as well as film studies. She has worked for the Andy Warhol Museum and the Carnegie Museum of Art. Ms. Loop has taught studio-based art classes for children from toddlers to teens for the past decade along with writing freelance content across the web.