Head of a Fisherman by Vincent van Gogh
Head of a Fisherman by Vincent van Gogh Head of a Fisherman by Vincent van Gogh Head of a Fisherman by Vincent van Gogh
Head of a Fisherman by Vincent van Gogh

Head of a Fisherman by Vincent van Gogh

  • This compelling portrait of a fisherman was captured by the deft hand of Vincent van Gogh
  • The drawing is part of an important early series dedicated to the subject of the fisherman
  • It exemplifies the legendary artist's sensitive eye and remarkable skill as a draughtsman
  • Like many of his compositions, the piece reveals van Gogh's troubled, yet immense genius
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Item No. 30-7152
Price: Available upon request
Vincent van Gogh
1853-1890 | Dutch

Hoofd van een Visser, Driekwart naar rechts Gekeerd
(Head of a Fisherman, Turned three-quarters to the Right)

Pencil and black lithographic crayon on paper

The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.
-Vincent Van Gogh

Offering considerable insight into the development of this master’s oeuvre, Hoofd van een Visser, Driekwart naar rechts Gekeerd is a compelling and important early drawing by the great Vincent van Gogh. Van Gogh is remembered today as one of the world’s most iconic artists, and his commanding works speak of a troubled, yet immense genius. At the time he completed this dramatic portrait, van Gogh was living in The Hague, where he dedicated a series of drawings to the subject of the fisherman. These important studies helped him to master his compositional techniques, and they reveal his remarkable skill as a draughtsman.

Since 1881, the subject of the fisherman fascinated the young artist, who was influenced in part by the written works of the French Naturalists, as well as by Realist painters such as Jean-François Millet and Jules Breton. Portraits of the fisherman, as well as peasants and field workers, were his primary focus for a four-year period, first while working in The Hague and later in the village of Nuenen. The studies would ultimately culminate in his earliest recognized masterpiece, De Aardappeleters (The Potato Eaters) from 1885, now in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. A certain likeness can be found between the famed oil painting and the present work, both with their stark lines and Realist subjects that expose van Gogh’s empathy for the peasant class.

For van Gogh, portrait painting proved an important exploratory genre, dedicated as he was to truthfully portray the life of workers. This example also betrays the artist's sensitive eye, as the forlorn stare of his subject evokes an emotional response to the harsh realities of the fisherman's life. Even in this early drawing, the quintessential essence of van Gogh’s greatest works can be seen. His distinctive, heavy-handed lines and play of emotion are classic van Gogh, while the work’s flattened pictorial plane reflects the advance of Impressionism.

Born the son of a pastor in Groot-Zundert in the southern Netherlands, van Gogh was unsuccessful in several ventures in his early life. In 1880, van Gogh decided to study art, and in 1886 he traveled to Paris to join his brother Théo, who was managing Goupil’s gallery. There, van Gogh studied with Fernand Cormon and met such Impressionists as Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, and Paul Gauguin, who would become a close friend. Under their influence, he began to brighten his very dark palette and to paint using heavy brushstrokes. 

Van Gogh's nervous temperament made him a difficult companion, and night-long discussions, combined with painting all day, undermined his health. In 1888, he moved to Arles where the Provençal landscape provided his best-known subject matter. Here, he hoped his friends would join him and help find a school of art. Gauguin did visit him, but with disastrous results. Some scholars have posited that it was a disagreement with Gauguin that pushed van Gogh to slice off a portion of his earlobe. From that point, van Gogh then began to alternate between fits of madness and lucidity and was sent to the asylum in Saint-Remy for treatment in 1889. He continued to paint, but the following year he committed suicide. Though his death ended a brief career devoid of artistic acclaim, van Gogh has since been exalted as one of the premier painters of his generation.

Circa 1883

Frame: 23 1/2" high x 17 1/4" wide
Paper: 17" high x 11" wide

This important work is mentioned in:Moderne Kunstwerken, H.P. Bremmer, ed., 1907, no. 4 (illustrated)
De Hollandsche Periode (1880-1885) in het Werk van Vincent van Gogh, W. Vanbeselaere, 1937, pp. 101, 200 and 409, no. 1012
The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh, V.W. van Gogh and J. van Gogh-Bonger, eds., 1958, vol. I, pp. 527-528, 542-544, letter nos. 261 and 267; vol. III, pp. 354-355, letter no. R22
The Works of Vincent van Gogh: His Paintings and Drawings, J.-B. de la Faille, 1970, p. 374, no. F 1012 (illustrated)
The Complete Van Gogh: Paintings, Drawings, Sketches, J. Hulsker, 1977, p. 76, no. 308 (illustrated)
Vincent Van Gogh: The Complete Works on Paper, Catalogue Raisonné, J.-B. de la Faille,  1992, vol. I, p. 261, no. 1012 (illustrated)
The New Complete Van Gogh: Paintings, Drawings, Sketches, J. Hulsker, 1996, p. 76, no. 308 (illustrated)
The Letters: The Complete Illustrated and Annotated Edition, L. Jansen, H. Luijten and N. Bakker, 2009, vol. 2, pp. 88-90, 233-236 and 274-275, letter nos. 235, 301, 302 and 316

H.P. Bremmer, The Hague (until 1956)
By descent to private collection, The Hague
E.J. van Wisselingh & Co., Amsterdam
The Norton Simon Foundation, Pasadena
Sotheby Parke Bernet, Inc., New York, 2 May 1973, lot 30
Stanford Z. Rothschild, Jr., Baltimore, 1973
Gifted to the Rothschild Art Foundation, Baltimore
M.S. Rau Antiques, New Orleans, 2017

London, The Lefevre Gallery (Alex. Reid & Lefevre, Ltd.), XIX and XX Century French Paintings and Drawings, November-December 1963, no. 39
Artist: van Gogh, Vincent
Framed: 17 1/4"W x 23 1/2"H
Unframed: 11"W x 17"H
Origin: Netherlands
Subject: Portrait
Width: 17 1/4 Inches
Height: 23 1/2 Inches
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