Has Van Gogh Museum Mistaken Portraits of Vincent Van Gogh and Theo?

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A couple of portraits at the Van Gogh Museum that depict Vincent Van Gogh and his sibling Theo have been the subject of an identity debate for a while now. Painted at a time when Vince Van Gogh and his brother were living in Paris’s Montmartre hill, both portraits were long thought to be self-portraits, featuring the former wearing different hats. In the year 2011, the museum in Amsterdam determined the person with the straw hat was Vincent’s brother and the other man with the felt hat was Van Gogh himself.

As per the “The Art Newspaper”, this theory is going to be challenged in a public exhibition opening at the 18-century Noordbrabants Museum. The exhibition, “Van Gogh’s Inner Circle: Friends, Family, Models” at the Netherlands museum will run from September 21, 2019, to January 12, 2020. The guest curator of the exhibition, Sjraar van Heugten understands these pictures well, being a former chief of collections at Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum. Sjraar van Heugten, who now works as an independent scholar, believes that his co-worker has it in the wrong order. He believes that Theo Van Gogh is the person in the felt hat, and Vincent is the one in the other hat.

When the identities of the people who sit for portraits were challenged eight years ago, it came as a big surprise. Vincent Van Gogh, a casual dresser, may have been expected to wear a hat woven out of straw, which would especially be comfortable for painting outdoors. Theo Van Gogh, a highly regarded art dealer, would certainly have worn a relatively more formal hat (made of felt). Indeed, when he was in Paris city, Vincent van Gogh apparently did not have a felt halt, as per the brother-in-law of Theo.

The explanation of the Van Gogh Museum in 2011 was that Vincent and Theo swapped hats, perhaps as a “joke”. The senior researcher of the museum, Louis van Tilborgh suggested Vincent Van Gogh was playing upon the fact that one of the world’s greatest painters frequently depicted himself in a straw hat in self-portraits. Exchanging hats with his brother was hence a family jest. Louis van Tilborgh concluded, “It very much looks as if the brothers are wearing each other’s hats.”

The museum named after Vincent van Gogh concedes that Sjraar van Heugten may be right about the person in the straw hat. The new title of the portrait assigned by the museum, “Self-portrait or Portrait of Theo van Gogh”, acknowledges this. However, there is still disagreement about the picture with the other hat. The Noordbrabants Museum in the Netherlands disagrees about Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum portrait featuring the felt hat.

Take a private Van Gogh Museum tour if you are a fan of self-portraits by the “Christ of the Coal Mines”.