A Dutch museum has unveiled a previously unknown work by Vincent van Gogh – a study for one of his best-known drawings, Worn Out – in which an old man sits in a chair with his head in his hands.
Van Gogh “was really interested in the ordinary person, he was also looking to express emotion”, Van Gogh Museum director Emilie Gordenker said on Thursday.
“I think we’re all coming out of the COVID period feeling like this and the amazing thing is that we can share this with our visitors. We’re open, we’re delighted to be open.”
Discoveries of works by the famously troubled artist, who died in 1890, are extremely rare. The drawing is owned by a private collector and had never been known of or displayed.
The work was done with Van Gogh’s favourite drawing tool, a carpenter’s pencil, in his distinctive style, on water-marked paper from 1877.
It closely resembles the more famous Old Man drawing, but the perspective is at eye level with the old man, rather than from above.
The work can be dated with unusual precision to the last weeks of November 1882, senior researcher Teio Meenendorp said, because of two letters Van Gogh wrote on November 24 of that year.
It was a period of relative stability for the artist while he was living with a woman in The Hague.
One letter was to his brother Theo, saying he had made two drawings of “an old man with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands” and he was thinking of making it into a lithograph.
The other letter was to a fellow artist, saying with confidence he planned to make a lithograph of the theme. Van Gogh did make the lithograph, titled At Eternity’s Gate, three days later, on November 27, 1882.
The Dutch artist was troubled by mental illness and considered himself a failure. He returned to the theme with an oil painting known as Sorrowing Old Man, based on the lithograph, two months before his own death.