Pencil drawing of old man identified as Van Gogh work

A pencil drawing of a broken old man, head in hands looking utterly exhausted, has been identified as a work by Vincent van Gogh.

los Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam said on Thursday that it had authenticated the drawing as being the work of the man himself. Teio Meedendorp, a senior researcher at the museum, said it was a “spectacular” discovery shining light on Van Gogh’s early career as an artist living in The Hague, a time less well known than his years in Paris or the south of France.

The drawing is similar to a highly regarded one in the museum’s collection called Worn Out. This is an earlier take on the same subject and has been titled Study for Worn Out.

It was drawn in late 1882 when Van Gogh was 29 and two years into his career as an artist. He was drawing as many studies of people as he could, often recruiting models from the Dutch Reformed Old Men’s and Women’s House, paying them a modest fee of perhaps 10 cents and some coffee.

He called these models his “orphan men” and “orphan women”. A favourite was the man in the newly discovered drawing, Adrianus Jacobus Zuyderland, the only one of these models whose name is known.

Van Gogh used a thick carpenter’s pencil and drew it on coarse watercolour paper. The sheet measures 48.8cm by 30cm. He finished off the drawing by rubbing pellets of bread on the lighter parts of the sitter’s clothes. He then coated the drawing with a fixative made from milk and water, which made the pencil darker and more matt.

Experts have dated the drawing to the end of November 1882, linking it to several other works made at the time. He talked about the drawings in a letter to his brother Theo. “Today and yesterday I drew two figures of an old man with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands … Perhaps I’ll do a lithograph of it. What a fine sight an old working man makes, in his patched bombazine suit with his bald head.”

At the time Van Gogh was harbouring ambitions to work as a magazine illustrator so he could earn money in his own right and be less dependent on his brother.

The drawing has been in a private collection in the Países Bajos since around 1910. It goes on display at the museum from Friday until 2 enero, after which it will return to the owner.

In a normal year the museum gets up to 300 inquiries from people believing they own a lost Van Gogh. Very few of those make it to the museum, and even fewer are found to be the real deal.

Meedendorp said it was exciting to make the discovery. “I’ve worked with Van Gogh for a substantial part of my life, especially the drawings, and it is always a delight to have them in your hand and looking at them up close. These drawings from The Hague are absolutely delightful to look at; you can follow working process of Vincent so well … the way he handles the pencil.

“Whenever you have a closeup look at drawings like this you want to pick up a pencil yourself and start drawing.”

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