Van Gogh's 'lost portrait of twin' is rediscovered

Click to follow

A "lost" Vincent van Gogh portrait of a Scottish artist who bore such a resemblance to the Dutch artist that the pair could pass for twins is to be displayed in Scotland for the first time.

The work was thought to have disappeared after a Glasgow art dealer let it go for just £5 in the late-1800s.

However after years of investigation Martin Bailey, a Van Gogh specialist, has proved that the "missing" portrait has been hanging in a private collection in Oklahoma. It will now form the centrepiece of an exhibition at the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh from July to September.

The mystery began in 1886 when Alexander Reid, a young Glasgow art dealer, shared an apartment in Montmartre for six months with Van Gogh. The two men, who were reportedly so alike they could pass for twins, became firm friends.

Van Gogh painted two portraits of his friend, one of which he gave him as a present along with a still-life of apples in a basket.

In 1889 Reid returned to Glasgow, his friendship with the painter having ended after Van Gogh tried to persuade him to enter into a suicide pact.

Reid's father, James, also an art dealer, thought the Van Gogh paintings were "atrocities" and sold them at the first opportunity, in the early 1890s, for £10 to an unnamed French dealer.

In 1928, after Van Gogh's reputation was established, Alexander Reid's son, AJ McNeill Reid, saw a catalogue of the artist's work in which two paintings were attributed as self-portraits. He recognised them as being of his father and bought one for £100 from the Van Gogh family. The picture, which was painted in Van Gogh's neo-impressionist style using his trademark red and green, was eventually bought by the National Galleries of Scotland in 1974 for £166,250 following the death of Mr McNeill Reid, and has since become the most famous painting in the Glasgow collection.

"Because of a mistake in the early cataloguing of Van Gogh's work it was thought that three paintings of Alexander Reid existed - the two featured in the catalogue and the one which James Reid had sold for £5 which has since vanished," said Frances Fowle, curator of French art at the National Galleries of Scotland. "Martin Bailey has managed to establish that there were only two and the other painting, which was traced to Oklahoma, was in fact the one Reid sold in the 1890s."

Now for the first time the two portraits are to appear alongside one another as the centrepiece of an exhibition, which runs from 7 July to 24 September.

"Although these paintings were completed within a few months of each other you can see how Van Gogh was influenced by the impressionist and neo-impressionism scene," said Ms Fowle. "When he first went to Paris he was still paining with relatively dark colours which was typical of Dutch painters at the time, which you can see in the Oklahoma painting.

"By the time the second portrait was completed he had started to experiment with dabs and slashes of colour and lightened his pallet to create a very vivid effect, which is evident in the Glasgow painting."

Mr Bailey said: "It is interesting to compare two works which show the same subject, to see how quickly he developed his style after he went to the centre of the art world."