Famous Vincent Van Gogh photo actually of his brother, Theo | News | DW | 29.11.2018
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Famous Vincent Van Gogh photo actually of his brother, Theo

While pictures by Van Gogh are instantly recognizable, pictures of him are apparently less clear-cut. A famous photo thought to show the shy impressionist artist known for "The Starry Night" actually isn't of him.

A widely published photo of a boy long believed to be famous impressionist artist Vincent Van Gogh is, in fact, most likely an image of his brother, Theo, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam announced on Thursday.

The news means that the total number of known photographs of the Dutch painter has been halved — from two to one.

The now sole known photograph of Vincent Van Gogh, taken when he was 19, is in the museum's collection.

"This discovery means that we have rid ourselves of an illusion while gaining a portrait of Theo," the Van Gogh Museum Director Axel Rueger said in a statement. "We have essentially returned to the situation as it always was up to the mistaken identification in 1957, with a single photographic portrait of the young, 19-year-old Vincent van Gogh."

A famous photo

The photo of the young teenage boy now thought to be Theo was initally believed to have been taken in around 1866. It was first brought to public attention in 1957 by research Mark Edo Tralbaut and over the years has appeared in dozens of books with the subject identified as Vincent.

In 2014, a Dutch TV program questioned the identity of the blue-eyed boy in the portrait, prompting further investigation by the Van Gogh Museum.

A Van Gogh expert from Belgium, Yves Vasseur, also had doubts about the photograph's sitter and started his own investigation. He discovered that the photographer, Belgian Balduin Schwarz, had only moved to his Brussels studio in 1870, four years after the photo was supposedly taken, and that Vincent would have been much older by then.

However, Theo did live in Brussels in 1873, and commissioned a portrait photograph of himself when he was 15.

 "I decided to share my doubts about the identification with the Van Gogh Museum, and we subsequently decided to collaborate to solve this 'identity crisis' once and for all," Vasseur said.

The Van Gogh Museum said that forensic testing at Amsterdam University had "confirmed the high likelihood of the boy in the photograph being the 15-year-old Theo van Gogh, and not Vincent."

Watch video 04:37

The award-winning movie 'Loving Vincent'

Vincent Van Gogh is famous for colorful, swirling oil works such as "Sunflowers" and "The Starry Night." He is known to have been camera shy, and he committed suicide in 1890 at age 37 after an emotionally troubled life.

Vincent shared a striking resemblance with his brother, Theo, an art dealer who supported him financially and emotionally. Both had reddish-blond hair, but Theo had more delicate features and a very light eye colour.

"When I heard that this is most likely a picture of my great-grandfather Theo — and not of Vincent — I was surprised, but I am glad that the mystery has been solved," Willem van Gogh, Theo's great-grandson and an advisor to the board of the Van Gogh Museum, said in a statement.

cmb/rc (AFP, AP)

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