This 1887 melainotype showing six men sharing a convivial drink together is believed, by some experts, to include a rare sighting of the artist Vincent Van Gogh. Famous for his self portraits Van Gogh is known to have hated photography and is generally thought to have never sat for a photograph as an adult. However, at ages 13 and 19 two rare photos of the painter are known to exist.
JULES ANTOINE (1863-1948) ATTR. – Vincent Van Gogh in conversation with friends, Paris, 96 rue Blanche, December 1887 Melanotype, direct positive and reversed image on blackboard (carton photographique), 86×112 mm, “Gautier Martin” stamp, recto. Vincent Van Gogh in conversation with Paul Gauguin, Emile Bernard, Félix Jobbé-Duval. André Antoine is standing between them.
Two individuals found the image at an estate sale and thought they recognised artists Paul Gauguin and Emile Bernard.
Serge Plantureux writes for magazine L’Oeil de la Photographie (The Eye of Photography):
…The photograph they had brought to show me was small, dark, and rather difficult to see. Six characters were around a table. The light was pale, perhaps it was a winter afternoon.
They told me, still hesitant, that they thought they recognized the people in it, artists in whom they had long been interested. They were collectors and liked the painters of the late 19th century, in particular the neo-impressionists. They also said it was possible that one of the figures around the table was someone whose true face had never been seen…
The photo recently went to auction and was expected to fetch between $136,000 to $170,000. However, some experts aren’t convinced. The photo expert for the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam feels it can’t be the artist “because it simply does not look like him,” and also mentions the artist’s desire to never be photographed. Others note that Van Gogh didn’t mention the gathering in his meticulously written letters from the time period.
Regardless, the photo is still of significant historical value and only time will tell if experts reach a consensus in the identities of everyone depicted.