The owner, who is remaining anonymous, asked the museum to determine if the unsigned drawing is by Van Gogh.
From the style, to the materials used — a thick carpenter's pencil and coarse watercolor paper — it conforms to Van Gogh's Hague drawings, Senior Researcher Teio Meedendorp said Thursday.
There are even traces of damage on the back linking it to the way Van Gogh used wads of starch to attach sheets of paper to drawing boards.
“It's quite rare for a new work to be attributed to Van Gogh,” the museum's director Emilie Gordenker said in a statement. “We're proud to be able to share this early drawing and its story with our visitors.”
It comes from a time in the artist's career when he was working to improve his skills as a painter of people and portraits by drawing them. Over and over again.
The museum already owns the almost identical drawing, “Worn Out.”
“It was quite clear that they are related,” Meedendorp said.
The study has been loaned to the museum and goes on show from Friday through Jan. 2.
It shows an elderly, balding man sitting, hunched forwards, on a wooden chair, his balding head in his hands. Even the model’s pants appear to conform to the English title — a patch is clearly visible on the right leg.
It is a far cry from the vibrant oil paintings of vases of sunflowers and French landscapes that eventually turned the tormented Van Gogh — after his death in 1890 — into one of the world's most famous artists, whose works have garnered astronomical prices at auction.
Instead, it illustrates how as a young artist in practicing his craft in The Hague in 1882, Van Gogh had to confront an uncomfortable truth.
“He discovered that he lacked the ability to paint people. So he was already drawing them but he liked to paint," Meedendorp said. "So in order to be able to paint people as well he went back to the drawing board.”
Van Gogh, who was famously reliant on his brother Theo's generosity throughout his life, gave the drawings an English title in a bid to build a bit of name recognition and possibly even land a job at an illustrated magazine.
“In his mind, he had an idea that he would reach out farther than Holland in the end as an artist," Meedendorp said.
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