On sale: the last work by a contented Van Gogh

In the final weeks of his troubled life, Vincent Van Gogh swung between emotional extremes. Lengthy periods of tortuous depression were punctuated by bursts of joy and creativity. The result, notably different in tone from the angst-ridden material he produced immediately before his suicide, was a set of child portraits that radiate the optimism and purity of youth.

Now, for the first time in more than 90 years, one of the most acclaimed of these works is to go on sale. L'Enfant à l'Orange (The Child with an Orange), a painting inspired by Van Gogh's fascination with a child who lived near his inn in the village of Auvers-sur-Oises, will be offered at the European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht next month for £15.3m. It has been placed on the market by the Swiss couple, Arthur and Hedy Hahnloser, who bought it in 1916.

The portrait of Raoul Levert, the baby son of a local carpenter, was painted at the end of June 1890 at the Auberge Ravoux, where he had been a lodger. It marked the artist's short-lived period of contentment before depression and mental illness led him to shoot himself in the chest in July of that year.

Just before Van Gogh moved to Auvers in May 1890 after a year in a mental hospital in St Remy, near Arles, he spent several days with his brother, Theo, sister-in-law, Johanna, and their son, Vincent, named after his uncle, in Paris.

Theo and Johanna were surprised by how well he appeared and Johanna later recalled: " I had expected a sick man but here was a sturdy, broad-shouldered man, with a healthy colour, a smile on his face and a very resolute appearance."

After moving to Auvers, the village's picturesque charm and his pleasure at having seen his baby nephew proved to be the catalyst for a sudden explosion of artistic energy in the last few weeks of his life.

Van Gogh was ecstatic at being in this new environment. While there, he wrote: "Here one is far away from Paris for it to be the real country, but nevertheless how changed it is ... but not in an unpleasant way, there are many villas and various modern middle-class dwellings, very radiant and sunny and covered with flowers. And that, in an almost luxuriant region just at this time, when a new society is developing within the air, is not at all disagreeable: there is a lot of well-being in the air."

In the 70 days that Van Gogh was in the village, he frenetically painted more than 80 works. On 5 June he wrote to his sister, Wilhelmina, about his passion for the "modern portrait", saying: "What impassions me most – much, much more than all the rest of my metier – is the portrait, the modern portrait."

The portraits he worked on during these last weeks included several pictures of children inspired by his affection for the young Vincent, although he had become convinced that living in Paris was undermining the boy's health and so portrayed the country youngsters in his last portraits as happy, rosy-cheeked children who were testaments to the benefits of rural life.

James Roundell, a director at Dickinson's art dealers, which is representing the sale, said the painting was among a series of "vibrantly alive and joyful portraits" which he undertook in the last month of his life.

"The characteristically energetic brushwork and the rich colour scheme imbues the picture with a joie de vivre which does not hint at the tragedy which was to follow. Van Gogh, content and happy to be once more in the north, exulted in the landscape and the inhabitants of Auvers," he said.

Raoul Levert, the two- year-old son of Vincent Levert, is shown wearing the traditional child's smock of the time in L'Enfant à l'Orange, with a broad smile in soft and vibrant colours. The identity of the child was confirmed by the late Adeline Ravoux, the daughter of the innkeeper, who was photographed standing next to Raoul outside the Auberge Ravoux in 1890.

Van Gogh became close to the Levert family. The carpenter was believed to have made wooden stretching frames for his paintings, perhaps including this one.

The artist's interest in his nephew was an almost constant theme of his letters and his brother's visit to Auvers in June doubtless stimulated his desire to paint young children. Johanna said of the visit: "Vincent came to meet us at the train, and he bought a bird's nest as a plaything for his little nephew and namesake. He insisted on carrying the baby himself and had no rest until he had shown him all the animals in the doctor's yard... Vincent was planning to do a portrait of Gachet's daughter."

After Van Gogh's death, his body was placed in a decorated room at the Auberge Ravoux in a tribute by local people. Remembering the village commemoration shortly before her death, Mme Ravoux said: "Theo had placed all around canvases that Vincent had left there: The Church of Auvers, Irises, The Child with an Orange... At the foot of his coffin his palette and brushes were laid out. Our neighbour, M. Levert, the carpenter, lent the trestles. The child of this latter, two years old, had been painted by Van Gogh in the painting, The Child with an Orange. It was also M. Levert who made the coffin."

Inside the artist's tortured mind

Though it remains unclear precisely from what type of depressive medical condition Van Gogh suffered what is known is that his work was a window into his troubled life. As an Expressionist, his moods were frequently portrayed in his artworks, which he used to "rise again". Writing to his beloved brother Theo, the artist said: "Well, even in that deep misery I felt my energy revive, and I said to myself: in spite of everything I shall rise again, I will take up my pencil". Several paintings depict Van Gogh's frequent bouts of despair, including Starry Night Over The Rhone, above, marked by dark colours and flickers of light. Van Gogh's mood is believed to have gradually declined after moving to Paris in 1886 at the age of 33, and mingled with the artistic elites. He had an exceptionally delicate nervous system, not helped by excessive drinking of absinth, pipe-smoking and a bad diet which occasionally even included tasting his own paints.

Psychologists who have studied Van Gogh's works believe that he plunged into depression after perceived threats to the difficult but loving relationships with those to whom he was closest, several of which revolved around Theo, whose marriage the artist saw as a threat.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
This year's Big Brother champion Helen Wood
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Full company in Ustinov's Studio's Bad Jews
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Harari Guido photographed Kate Bush over the course of 11 years
Music
Arts and Entertainment
Reviews have not been good for Jonathan Liebesman’s take on the much loved eighties cartoon
Film

A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend

Arts and Entertainment
Untwitterably yours: Singer Morrissey has said he doesn't have a twitter account
Music

A statement was published on his fansite, True To You, following release of new album

Arts and Entertainment
Full throttle: Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Turturro in God's Pocket
film
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie Minogue is expected to return to Neighbours for thirtieth anniversary special
tv
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be Lonely Island's second Hollywood venture following their 2007 film Hot Rod
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

    It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
    Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

    Besiktas vs Arsenal

    Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

    The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

    Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment