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FOUND: Is This a Photo of Camera-Shy Vincent van Gogh?


(Photo: Jules Antoine/Romantic Agony Auction)

This photo—technically, a melainotype—was taken in 1887, likely by the amateur photographer Jules Antoine. A few years ago, a couple of European art enthusiasts purchased it at an estate sale. And they thought they recognized some of the people in it. They took the photo to expert Serge Plantureux, and he agreed: All the way to the right? That’s the artist Paul Gauguin. Second from the left? Post-impressionist painter Emile Bernard.

And that mustachioed man, to the left of the standing guy? That person, they think, could be Vincent van Gogh.

The experts at the Van Gogh museum aren’t so sure: the tempestuous artist hated to be photographed, so why would he agree to this one? Also, a photo expert at the museum asserts it simply doesn’t look like him.

But it’s pretty hard to say for sure: there are only two photos of van Gogh as a young man. There is, however, one photograph of the artist in his later years, where he is posing with Emile Bernard, who is also in the melainotype found at the real estate sale. 

Otherwise, we’ve got his self-portraits. The new photo has some similarities to those: the hair swept back to reveal the the widow’s peak, and the beard and mustache. But Van Gogh tended to paint himself with a drawn face and pointy chin.

The man in the picture does seem to have an awfully square jaw. But those sharp cheekbones…


Self portrait, 1887 (Image: Vincent van Gogh)

Bonus finds: An out-of-place, always terrifying pacu fisha 13,000-year-old human footprint

Every day, we highlight one newly lost or found object, curiosity or wonder. Discover something unusual or amazing? Tell us about it! Send your finds to sarah.laskow@atlasobscura.com. 

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