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Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)
Please note for tax purposes, including potential … Read more Property from the Rothschild Art Foundation
Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)

Hoofd van een visser, driekwart naar rechts gekeerd

Details
Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)
Hoofd van een visser, driekwart naar rechts gekeerd
pencil and black lithographic crayon on paper
17 3/8 x 11 in. (44 x 27.5 cm.)
Drawn in The Hague in January-February 1883
Provenance
H.P. Bremmer, The Hague (until 1956).
Private collection, The Hague (by descent from the above).
E.J. van Wisselingh & Co., Amsterdam.
The Norton Simon Foundation, Pasadena; sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, Inc., New York, 2 May 1973, lot 30.
Stanford Z. Rothschild, Jr., Baltimore (acquired at the above sale).
Gift from the above to the present owner.
Literature
H.P. Bremmer, ed., Moderne Kunstwerken, 1907, no. 4 (illustrated on the cover).
W. Vanbeselaere, De Hollandsche Periode (1880-1885) in het Werk van Vincent van Gogh, Antwerp, 1937, pp. 101, 200 and 409, no. 1012.
V.W. van Gogh and J. van Gogh-Bonger, eds., The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh, London, 1958, vol. I, pp. 527-528, 542-544, letter nos. 261 and 267; vol. III, pp. 354-355, letter no. R22.
J.-B. de la Faille, The Works of Vincent van Gogh, His Paintings and Drawings, New York, 1970, p. 374, no. F 1012 (illustrated).
J. Hulsker, The Complete Van Gogh, Paintings, Drawings, Sketches, New York, 1977, p. 76, no. 308 (illustrated, p. 77).
J.-B. de la Faille, Vincent Van Gogh, The Complete Works on Paper, Catalogue Raisonné, San Francisco, 1992, vol. I, p. 261, no. 1012 (illustrated, vol. II, pl. XLVII).
J. Hulsker, The New Complete Van Gogh, Paintings, Drawings, Sketches, Amsterdam, 1996, p. 76, no. 308 (illustrated, p. 77).
L. Jansen, H. Luijten and N. Bakker, The Letters, The Complete Illustrated and Annotated Edition, London, 2009, vol. 2, pp. 88-90, 233-236 and 274-275, letter nos. 235, 301, 302 and 316.
Exhibited
London, The Lefevre Gallery (Alex. Reid & Lefevre, Ltd.), XIX and XX Century French Paintings and Drawings, November-December 1963, p. 34, no. 39 (illustrated, p. 36).
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Lot Essay

Executed in 1883, Hoofd van een visser, driekwart naar rechts gekeerd belongs to a series of drawings 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 jacket with stand-up collar and distinctive sou’wester hat. Van Gogh considered drawings such as the present work to be important studies that allowed him to master his technique as a draughtsman, while bringing him closer to the subjects he desired to depict the most: the working class.
Van Gogh had started to work methodically from models 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 [it] 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 no. 148, The Complete Letters of Vincent Van Gogh, London, 1958, vol. I, p. 237). By 1883, 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 announced his plan to Theo: “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 no. 141, ibid., p. 216).
The isolated pose of the model in the present work anchors it within the realm of the life-drawing study. The figure’s withdrawn stare, however, demonstrates Van Gogh’s 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 achieves this effect through the richly worked lines of pencil and black lithographic crayon. In November 1882, he had begun to experiment with lithography. He used as a basis his drawings of old men, and planned to execute a series of prints that would be affordable and attractive to working class people. The scheme never went beyond an early experimental stage, however in the process he was introduced to materials commonly used in printmaking, including the lithographic crayon. With this medium, Van Gogh could achieve an elevated sense of expression in his drawings, a phenomenon he described as “painting in black.” As he explained to Theo, “Painting in black…in the sense that one puts into a drawing the depth of effect and the rich gradations of tone that a painting should have. You rightly said not long ago that every colorist has an individual color spectrum. This is also the case with Black and White. Yet fundamentally it’s one and the same. One must be able to go from the highest lights to the deepest shadows, and do so with a few simple ingredients” (Letter no. 297, ibid., vol. 2, p. 228).
In his desire to paint in black, Van Gogh was drawn to the potential of oily, deep-black lithographic crayons, even though these were not ordinarily used for drawing. This material, however, did not permit any corrections. When working with the lithographic crayon on a stone, marks could be removed with a scraper, but this was not possible with paper as it would be damaged by scraping off the crayon. Van Gogh adopted a solution whereby he began with a comprehensive drawing in carpenter’s pencil, and then added the dark areas in lithographic crayon on top. If the lithographic crayon needed to be scratched off, it would reveal the lighter pencil underneath, rather than harming the paper. One sees this process skillfully employed in the present work, where the grey of the graphite is the mid-tone, and the black of the lithographic crayon is used to further model the subject. The effect is one of a rich and deeply expressive drawing, which reveals the artist’s sensitivity to his subject and the skillful manipulation of his materials.

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