The authenticity of this fascinating discovery has been confirmed by Dr. Sjraar van Heugten, Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.
Portrait of a woman has an exceptionally prestigious and private provenance. It was initially handled by Hendricus Petrus Bremmer, the long-standing advisor to Hélène Kröller-Müller, joint founder of the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo in 1938, who acquired the drawing for him.
"Hélène Kröller-Müller first had the idea of forming her own art collection in 1907 when she was in her late thirties and enrolled in an art appreciation course with Bremmer. Two years later, with Bremmer's encouragement, she made her first major auction purchase - three masterpieces by Van Gogh - a version of Sunflowers (F.452) (originally painted to decorate Gauguin's room in the Yellow House at Arles), The Sower (F.422) and Still Life with Bottle and Lemons (F.1425).
At that time most dealers bought from dealers, but with Bremmer at her side the German shipping heiress, energetic and determined in everything that she undertook, was able to build a magnificent collection of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century European art. During the following decade she tracked down and purchased the quite amazing number of 278 Van Goghs. Hélène Kröller-Müller and the professor paid regular visits to art galleries and salerooms in Paris, where Bremmer advised her.. and at auction she always bid herself." (S. de Vries-Evans, The Impressionist Revealed, Masterpieces from Private Collections, London 1992, p. 173).
Portrait of a woman was executed by Van Gogh during the spring of 1882, whilst he was living in The Hague. The present work is closely related to a slightly smaller pencil drawing, Head of a Woman (F.1059) of 1883, in a South American collection, which appears to depict the same sitter. Since January 1882, the artist had been living with Clasina (Sien) Hoornik, who, along with her mother and daughter often sat for Van Gogh, thus implying that the model for Portrait of a Woman might possibly be Sien or her mother.
Portrait of a Woman is further linked to other drawings of this period by Van Gogh's confident, bold pencil strokes, the faint suggestion of a grid of horizontal and vertical pencil lines drawn as a guide to perspective and the residue of the same watermark which appears in the paper of several works executed in The Hague at this time.
The authenticity of the signature on the present drawing is a matter of some debate, as is the case with a signature of a similar style which appears on the aformentioned Head of a Woman and The Fisherman: Facing Right (F.1049) of November 1882, in a private collection, London.
Mrs. Kröller-Müller chose to present Portrait of a Woman to her daughter Helene, from whom it passed to the family of her fiancé Boudewijn Roesingh, following his death before their wedding. His mother, Mrs. Roesingh then gave the drawing as a wedding gift to the present owner in the 1940's.
We are extremely grateful to Dr. Sjraar van Heugten for his major contribution to this catalogue entry.
See colour illustration