Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
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Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)

Orphan Man with a Top Hat Drinking a Cup of Coffee

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
Orphan Man with a Top Hat Drinking a Cup of Coffee
black chalk, watercolour and wash on paper
19½ x 11¾ in. (49.6 x 30 cm.)
Executed in The Hague in November 1882
H. Tannenbaum Art Gallery.
Knoedler Art Gallery, New York.
Galerie M. Schulthess, Basel.
Private collection, Switzerland, by whom acquired from the above in 1946, and thence by descent to the present owner.
V.W. van Gogh (ed.), The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh, vol. III, London, 1958, letter no. 246, pp. 489-491.
V.W. van Gogh, Museumjournaal, 1968, part I, pp. 42-45.
J. Hulsker, The Complete Van Gogh: Paintings, Drawings, Sketches, Amsterdam, 1977, no. 264 (illustrated p. 65).
J.-B. de la Faille, Vincent van Gogh: The Complete Works on Paper Catalogue Raisonné, vol. I, San Francisco, 1992, no. 996a, p. 257 (illustrated vol. II, pl. CCXVIII).
L. Heenk, Vincent van Gogh's drawings: An Analysis of their Production and Uses, London 1995, p. 272.
S. van Heugten, Vincent van Gogh Drawings: The Early Years, 1880-1883, vol. I, Amsterdam, 1996, p. 133.
Basel, Kunsthalle, Vincent van Gogh, October - November 1947, no. 124.
Frankfurt am Main, Frankfurter Kunstverein, Vincent van Gogh Zeichnungen und Aquarelle, April - June 1970.
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Lot Essay

In December 1881, Van Gogh moved to The Hague, where he remained until September 1883. He had fled to the Dutch coastal city exasperated by a serious row with his parents which exploded around Christmas 1881. He immediately adapted to the new surroundings and the twenty months he spent there gave him 'moments of domestic bliss that were not to fall to his lot again' (J. Hulsker, op. cit., p. 92). Although he had first looked for a place in the picturesque fishing village of Scheveningen, his financial situation did not allow him to rent a room in what was becoming a home for bohemian artists and a fancy resort - he was thus compelled to settle in Schenkstraaat, on the edge of the town. He found a small studio, with enough light for him to work, and embarked upon a deeply exciting experimental journey, marked by the enthusiastic discovery of new painting techniques. Watercolour, pencil drawing and his first essays with lithography were at the centre of his passionate quest.

Executed in November 1882, Orphan Man with Top Hat, Drinking Coffee is one of Van Gogh's most powerful portraits of Adrianus Zuyderland, one of the residents of the Reformed Old People's Home in The Hague, whom he first saw in September of the same year and who became one of his favourite subjects alongside Sien and her family. In early September 1882, Vincent wrote to Van Rappard: 'I also recently got a man from the Old Men's Home to serve as a model' (Letter R13). Zuyderland caught the artist's attention thanks both to his striking appearance ('He has a nice bald head... and white whiskers' (Letter 235)) and his versatility as a model, lending himself to the most diverse compositions. His attire was quite impressive: he is very often depicted with a long overcoat, sometimes decorated with military insignia (a paradoxical reminder of past glory), wearing a rather emphatic top hat, holding a cane or a more prosaic umbrella.
Van Gogh caught Zuyderland in the most menial moments of his humble day, eating his soup (H245), warming himself by the stove (H246), holding his beer (H244), or, in a series of works (H263-266) among which is numbered the present drawing, drinking his coffee. Van Gogh studied this composition very carefully, since he used it as basis for one of his first attempts at lithography (H266), of which he wrote enthusiatically to his brother (op. cit.): 'Along with this letter you will receive the first proofs of... a lithograph of a 'Man Drinking Coffee... The drawings were better. I had worked hard on them...'.
The fascination Zuyderland held for the artist is evident in the present work. In some sheets the old man sported an austere, almost defiant look, standing proud in his overcoat (H244), as if he was daring the essential poverty of his surroundings. But in the most poignant drawings, Van Gogh has captured him off guard, defeated by his miserable state, as in the present drawing, or in the famous Old Man with his Head in his Hands (H267-269), a manifesto of despair, where Zuyderland became almost the alter ego of Sien in Sorrow.

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