Vincent van Gogh, “Worn Out” (1882), pencil on paper. A study for this work was recently discovered. (photo via the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam; Vincent van Gogh Foundation)
This week, a new work by van Gogh was announced and put on display at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. The piece is dated to 1882 and is a study for a known sketch titled “Worn Out,” also from the same year. “Study for ‘Worn Out’” (1882) is an early work by the artist and an extremely rare find; for an artist with such a collector’s pedigree, the discovery of new works is relatively unusual.
The work, which depicts a man sitting in a chair, face pressed into his hands in a posture of defeat or — as the title suggests — exhaustion, was created during van Gogh’s time in the Hague.
“In drawings like these, the artist not only displayed his sympathy for the socially disadvantaged — no way inferior in his eyes to the well-to-do bourgeoisie,” said the materials accompanying the presentation of the piece. “He actively called attention to them too.” The piece is listed as part of a private collection, whose owner brought it to the museum in an effort to confirm the work as authentic. The drawing went on display at the museum on Friday, September 17.
The artist made his own accounts of this particular drawing in letters to his brother Theo and to his friend Anthon van Rappard.
“What a fine sight an old working man makes, in his patched bombazine suit with his bald head,” van Gogh wrote about this drawing. The model was a resident of the Dutch Reformed Almshouse for Men and Women in The Hague — one of several residents of the home who posed for van Gogh in old, worn-out clothing in return for a small payment. In addition to adding a new addition to an elite canon, the discovery is exciting to the museum because it reveals more nuance in the artist’s process of developing an artwork.
“The artist began by drawing a grid on the paper, which tells us that he worked with a perspective frame to help him capture a figure quickly with the correct proportions. He then worked the sheet up in his characteristically expressive drawing style: not refined, but with energetic scratches and strokes and laying down contours, in search of a pithy image with special attention to effects of light and shade.”
“In terms of the materials, too, you find everything you’d expect in a Van Gogh drawing from this period,” said Meedendorp. “A thick carpenter’s pencil as medium, coarse watercolour paper as support, and fixing with a solution of water and milk. There are traces of damage in the corners on the back of the drawing, which we can link to the way Van Gogh customarily attached sheets of paper to his drawing board using wads of starch.”
The piece will remain on display at the Van Gogh Museum through January 2, 2022, after which it will return to the custody of a probably quite pleased art collector.