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

Sorrow

Details
Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
Sorrow
signed 'Vincent' (lower left); inscribed 'Sorrow' (lower right)
pencil and wash on paper
18 3/8 x 11 7/8 in. (46.7 x 30.2 cm.)
Executed in April 1882
Provenance
Anton van Rappard, Utrecht, a gift from the artist (probably) in May 1882.
Philipus de Kanter, Delft.
Henricus Petrus Bremmer, The Hague, by 1950.
Floris Bremmer, The Hague, by descent from the above in 1956.
Anonymous sale, Christie's, London, 7 February 2005, lot 26.
Acquired at the above sale by the mother of the present owner, and thence by descent.
Literature
H.P. Bremmer, Modern Kunstwerken, Amsterdam, 1905, no. 90.
J.B. de la Faille, L'Oeuvre de Vincent Van Gogh, Catalogue raisonné, Dessins, Aquarelles, Lithographies, Amsterdam, 1928, no. 929, p. 25 (illustrated pl. XXVI).
W. Vanbeselaere, De hollandsche periode in het work van Vincent van Gogh, Antwerp, 1937, pp. 81, 135-6, 138, 394 & 408.
J.B. de la Faille, The Works of Vincent van Gogh, His Paintings and Drawings, Amsterdam, 1970, no. F929, p. 346 (illustrated).
A. Wofsy, ed., & J.B. de la Faille, Vincent Van Gogh, The Complete Works on Paper, Catalogue raisonné, vol. I, San Francisco, 1992, no. 929, p. 237 (illustrated vol. II, pl. XXVI).
J. Hulsker, The New Complete Van Gogh, Paintings, Drawings, Sketches, Amsterdam, 1996, no. 129, p. 38 (illustrated).
L. Jansen, H. Luijten & N. Bakker, eds., Vincent van Gogh, The Letters, The Complete Illustrated and Annotated Edition, vol. 2, The Hague 1881-1883, New York, 2009, pp. 51, 52, 79 & 198 (illustrated p. 53).
Exhibited
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Vincent van Gogh, July - August 1905, no. 262.
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Vincent van Gogh, December 1914 - January 1915.
Amsterdam, Kunsthandel Huinck en Scherjon, Schilderijen door Vincent van Gogh, J.B. Jongkind, Floris Verster, May - June 1932, no. 6.
The Hague, Gemeentemuseum, Verzameling H.P. Bremmer, March - April 1950, no. 40.
Milan, Palazzo Reale, Vincent van Gogh Dipinti e disegni, February - April 1952, no. 24.
Munich, Haus der Kunst, Vincent van Gogh, October - December 1956, no. 23.
Paris, Musée Jacquemart-André, Vincent van Gogh, February - March 1960, no. 81.
Amsterdam, Kunsthandel E.J. van Wisselingh, Vincent van Gogh Aquarelles & dessins de l'époque 1881-1885 provenant de collections particulières néerlandaises, April - May 1961, no. 11.
Munich, Städtische Galerie, Vincent van Gogh. Zeichnungen und Aquarelle, May - June 1961, no. 17.

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Adrienne Dumas
Adrienne Dumas

Lot Essay

'[...] it won't be long before Sien is supporting herself entirely through posing. She posed for my very best drawing, Sorrow, at least I think it's the best thing I've done' (Van Gogh, letter 250 to Theo).



Sorrow is one of the most important early drawings by Vincent van Gogh, an opinion that he himself repeatedly shared in his letters. This picture, which features a pale body crouching, distraught, rendered through the use of a bold, simplified outline, may have been given by him to Anton van Rappard and is considered to have been the first of a small group of pictures of the same theme (see J. Hulsker, The New Complete Van Gogh: Paintings, Drawings, Sketches, Amsterdam, 1996, p. 40; J. B. de la Faille & A.M. Hammacher, The Works of Vincent van Gogh: His Paintings and Drawings, London, 1970, p. 346; Jansen et al., op. cit., 2009, p. 116n). Two other versions were created by Van Gogh placing two sheets under the first Sorrow while he drew, leaving an impression that he subsequently worked up; one of these is considered missing, while the other, to which Van Gogh added background details and an adapted quotation from Michelet, is in the Walsall Museum and Art Gallery. A subsequent version which was larger but differed in appearance, with the hair falling in front of the woman's face, is now missing (see ibid., letter 222, p. 61). One of the three original examples of Sorrow is considered to have been the first work that Van Gogh sent to his brother Theo, a mark of his own appreciation of its importance; that importance is corroborated by the fact that Van Gogh confessed, 'I've kept the other two and wouldn't like to part with them' (Van Gogh, letter 216, ibid., p. 52).

Van Gogh discussed Sorrow, which would later also be the inspiration for one of his early lithographs, with his brother, explaining some of its inspiration. 'Last summer, when you had that large woodcut by Millet, "the shepherdess", I thought: how much one can do with one single line!,' he wrote. 'Naturally I don't presume to say as much as Millet with a single outline. But I've nevertheless tried to put some sentiment into this figure. Now I only hope that this figure is to your liking. And now you see at the same time that I'm hard at work... The enclosed is, I think, the best figure I've drawn' (Van Gogh, letter 216 ibid., p. 52). Van Gogh used Sien, the pregnant prostitute whom he had rescued and begun to support to the consternation of much of his family, as the model, explaining however that she served as a prompt for this exploration of human misery: 'This isn't the study from the model and yet it's directly from the model' (Van Gogh, letter 216, ibid., p. 52).

Another inspiration, as he himself wrote, was the social realist art that he had seen and loved while he had lived in England in the 1870s - a factor that explains the English-language title inscribed so prominently in the picture. 'Naturally I don't always draw like this,' he told Theo. 'But I'm extremely fond of those English drawings that are done in this style, so it's no wonder that I tried to do the same for once, and because it was for you, who understands these things, I didn't hesitate to be somewhat melancholy. I wanted to say something like

But the heart's emptiness remains
That nothing will make full again


as it says in Michelet's book' (Van Gogh, letter 216, ibid., p. 52).

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