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

Le Pêcheur

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
Le Pêcheur
bears signature 'Vincent' (lower right)
pencil and pen and brown ink on paper
48.5 x 23 cm.
Executed in September - November 1882
Dr H.P. Bremmer, The Hague.
F. Bremmer, The Hague.
E.J. van Wisselingh & Co., Amsterdam.
F.A.C. Guépin, London.
By descent from the above to the present owner in 1966.
W. Vanbeselaere, De Hollandse Periode in het Werk van Vincent van Gogh, Antwerp 1937, p. 92, no. 410.
J. Hulsker, The Complete Van Gogh, Paintings, Drawings, Sketched, New York 1980, no. 312, p. 77 (illustrated).
J.B. De la Faille, Vincent van Gogh, The Complete Works on Paper Catalogue Raisonné, vol. I, San Fransisco 1992, no. 1049, (illustrated vo. II, pl. LVI).
Memphis, Dixon Gallery and Gardens, The Genius of Van Gogh, May - June 1982, no. 6, (illustrated p. 23).

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Lisa Snijders
Lisa Snijders

Lot Essay

Executed in 1883, Le pêcheur belongs to a series of drawings Vincent van Gogh dedicated to the figure of the fisherman: portrayed in three-quarter profile, a man poses in the traditional outfit of his trade, composed of a three-quarter sleeves jacket with stand-up collar and distinctive sou'wester. Van Gogh considered drawings such as Le pêcheur to be important studies that allowed him to master drawing techniques, while bringing him closer to the subjects he desired to depict the most: the workers and the poor. The isolated, straightforward pose of the model anchors Le pêcheur within the realm of the life-drawing study. The figure's withdrawn stare, however, betrays Van Goghs sensitive eye, turning the image into a compassionate homage to the harsh life of the fisherman, possibly even carrying some religious undertones, resonating with the biblical symbolism of the subject.

Van Gogh had only started to work methodically from the model in 1881, while in Etten, where he employed the family's gardener, Piet Kaufman, and other villagers for his studies. The artist, however, had a hard time trying to make them pose as he wished: "But what a job is to make people understand how to pose", he lamented to his brother Theo. "Folks are desperately obstinate about it, and it is hard to make them yield on this point: they only want to pose in their Sunday best, with impossible folds in which neither their knees, elbows, shoulder blades nor any other part of the body have left their characteristic dents or bumps" (Letter 148, The Complete Letters of Vincent Van Gogh, vol. I, London 1958, p. 237). By 1883, the year he probably executed Le pêcheur, Van Gogh had found a solution to the problem: he had started collecting a series of second-hand clothes that he wished his models to wear. He had announced his plan to Theo in 1881: "For you should know that eventually I must have a small collection of workmen's clothes in which to dress the models for my drawings. For instance, a Brabant blue smock, the grey linen suit that the miners wear and their leather hat, then a straw hat and wooden shoes, a fisherman's outfit of yellow oilskin and a sou'wester (...) Drawing the model with the necessary costumes is the only true way to succeed" (Letter 141, ibid., p. 216).

Since 1881, then, the figure of the fisherman had been a priority for Van Gogh, dedicated as he was to truly portraying the life of the workers, but it was only in January 1883 that he finally came across the sou'wester he had so desired: "Tomorrow I get a sou'wester for the heads. Heads of fishermen, old and young, thats what I've been thinking of for a long time and I have made one already, then afterward I couldn't get a sou'wester. Now I shall have one of my own, an old one over which many storms and seas have passed" (Letter 261, ibid., p. 528). Le pêcheur may have been executed following the acquisition of the much coveted sou'wester, satisfying Van Gogh's eagerness to work on the subject. Two weeks later, Van Gogh was still reiterating in his letter: "I am very glad to have my sou'wester" (Letter 305, ibid., p. 531).

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