A Rare Photograph of Vincent van Gogh Taken in 1886

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Vincent van Gogh famously recorded himself in numerous self-portraits, but he hated photography and supposedly he never sat for a photo as an adult, as he wrote in a letter to his sister Willemien on September 19, 1889. “I myself still find photographs frightful and don’t like to have any, especially not of people whom I know and love.”

“These portraits, first, are faded more quickly than we ourselves, while the painted portrait remains for many generations. Besides, a painted portrait is a thing of feeling made with love or respect for the being represented. What remains to us of the old Dutchmen? The portraits.”

Photograph of Vincent van Gogh by Victor Morin, ca. 1886.

This photograph was discovered in the early 1990s by a man named Tom Stanford flipping through an album of photographs, mostly of clergymen, dating back to the late 19th century at an antique dealer’s in Massachusetts. The man who found the picture saw the resemblance to Vincent Van Gogh and took the photograph to a photo historian who had previously worked on identifying images of Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses Grant. The expert was convinced it was Vincent, contesting the veracity of earlier known photos of Vincent, believing them to be his brother instead.

Tests were performed on the photograph by a forensic institute also in New Haven. Investigators matched the size of the forehead, the shape of the eyes and even individual hairs. They too believed this to be Van Gogh stating, “Even the most minute detail matched up, even the smallest hairs on the beards matched up.”

Here are isolated details for comparison. The red lines help to locate landmarks. The portrait on the right is an oil painting by van Gogh, completed in December, 1886. The photograph (at left) was also taken in 1886. (via Kevin Frank’s Flickr)

There is a problem of the photograph – the address below the photo is located at 42 Rue St. Francois, Place du Marche, St. Hyacinthe. This is not in Belgium. It’s not even in Europe. It’s in Canada. And van Gogh obviously never lived outside of Europe. So, is that Vincent van Gogh in the Victor Morin photograph? The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has contested that the picture is the artist. This photo was never officially confirmed to be van Gogh’s. “Officially” means that the Van Gogh Museum did not authenticate it.

There is another famous photo of van Gogh taken when he was 19. Some say that it may be Vincent’s brother, Theo. But it’s really hard to explain that with the 100% certainty.

Portrait of Vincent van Gogh at the age of 19. The photograph was taken at the time when he was working at the branch of Goupil & Cie’s gallery in The Hague. (Photo by Jacobus Marinus Wilhelmus de Louw)

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