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


Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
signed 'Vincent' (lower left); inscribed 'Sorrow' (lower right)
pencil and wash on paper laid down on thin card
18 3/8 x 11 7/8 in. (46.7 x 30.2 cm.)
Executed in April 1882
A.G.A. van Rappard, Utrecht, by whom given by the artist (probably) in May 1882.
Ph. de Kanter, Delft.
Henricus P. Bremmer, The Hague, by 1950.
Floris Bremmer, The Hague, by descent from the above.
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, p. 25, no. 929 (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 (illustrated p. 346).
A. Wofsy (ed.), J.B. de la Faille, Vincent Van Gogh. The Complete Works on Paper, Catalogue raisonné, vol. I, San Francisco, 1992, p. 237, no. 929 (illustrated vol. II, pl. XXVI).
J. Hulsker, The New Complete Van Gogh. Paintings, Drawings, Sketches, Amsterdam and Philadelphia, 1996, no. 129 (illustrated p. 38).
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Vincent van Gogh, July - August 1905, no. 262.
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, Städische Galerie, Vincent van Gogh Zeichnungen und Aquarelle, May - June 1961, no. 17.
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Lot Essay

'In my opinion... the best figure I have drawn yet... It is not the study from the model, and yet it is directly after the model' (Van Gogh, The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh, London, 1958, Vol. I, no. 186, p. 336).

So wrote Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo, describing Sorrow after its execution in The Hague in April 1882. This was the first picture that Vincent sent his brother from the Hague. This picture, for which the model was the prostitute Sien, who had become Van Gogh's lover, was basically his first nude. Experimentally, he has chosen this opportunity to allow a simple, calligraphic line to convey an image: 'Last summer when you showed me Millet's large woodcut 'The Shepherdess', I thought, How much can be done with one single line. Of course I don't pretend to be able to express as much as Millet in a single contour. But I tried to put some sentiment into this figure' (Van Gogh, op.cit., 1958, Vol. I, no. 186, p. 336).
The Millet woodcut, of which Van Gogh owned a flawed print, depicted a woman who appeared forlorn. Van Gogh has taken this image a step further, making an essentially Symbolist picture in which Sorrow itself has been invoked, prefiguring his later distinctive expressionism.
Van Gogh was clearly impressed with these results, but nervous about his brother's reactions. 'I don't always draw this way,' he wrote, 'but I'm very fond of the English drawings done in this style, so no wonder I tried it for once; and as it was for you, and you understand these things, I didn't hesitate to be rather melancholy. I wanted to say something like
'Mais reste le vide du coeur/Que rien ne remplira'' (Van Gogh, op.cit., Vol. I, no. 186, pp. 336-37).
Van Gogh's mention of English drawings, whose importance is reflected even in the inscribed English title of Sorrow, can be seen to refer both to the socialist realist artists whose works he had seen published in magazines during his time in London and Isleworth between 1873 and 1876, and to the Pre-Raphaelites. The influence of the latter is clearer in the version of Sorrow formerly owned by the famous Van Gogh collector, the Reverend Theodore Pitcairn, which was sold in these rooms in 1966 to Lady Epstein and bequeathed by her to the Walsall Museum of Art, and which has a more detailed background and surroundings, with the roughly recalled Michelet quotation inscribed.
Of the three or four drawings of Sorrow mentioned by the artist, only that and the present work are known. That Van Gogh reverted to the present design for a print of the same subject reveals his own preference. The print exists in only three examples, two in the Van Gogh Museum which came from the artist's family, and one in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which passed through the hands of Van Gogh's friend, the Dutch artist Anton van Rappard. It has also been reasonably posited that Rappard was given the present Sorrow as a gift from the artist.


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