Vincent Van Gogh’s brother Theo was his patron, confidant and companion. In his many letters to him, Van Gogh reveals himself as artist and man. Even more than if he had purposely intended to tell his life story, Van Gogh’s letters lay bare his deepest feelings, as well as his everyday concerns and his views of the world of art. A painting by the 19th century master has now been attributed as a rare portrait of Vincent’s brother Theo, it was formerly thought to be a self portrait.
Senior curator and researcher, Louis van Tilborgh has concluded that the 1887 painting of a man wearing a light-colored hat and a dark blue jacket is Theo van Gogh, Vincent’s junior by five years. The museum, which houses the largest collection of Van Gogh’s paintings and letters, said that there are a number of obvious differences between the two brothers, including the neatness of the subject’s beard and his round-shaped ear. The painting has been in storage, but is now on display at the Dutch museum as part of an exhibition on new findings about the time the painter spent in Antwerp and Paris during 1885-1888.
Van Gogh spent his early adulthood working for a firm of art dealers, traveling between The Hague London and Paris, after which he taught for a time in England. One of his early aspirations was to become a pastor and from 1879 he worked as a missionary in a mining region in Belgium where he began to sketch people from the local community. In 1885, he painted his first major work The Potato Eaters His palette at the time consisted mainly of somber earth tones and showed no sign of the vivid coloration that distinguished his later work. In March 1886, he moved to Paris and discovered the French impressionists. Later he moved to the south of France and was taken by the strong sunlight he found there. His work grew brighter in color, and he developed the unique and highly recognizable style which became fully realized during his stay in Arles in 1888.
The extent to which his mental illness affected his painting has been a subject of speculation since his death. Despite a widespread tendency to romanticize his ill health, modern critics see an artist deeply frustrated by the inactivity and incoherence brought about by his bouts of illness.