If you’re looking for the answer to Art Abstracts, it’s Vincent Van Gogh’s Portrait of Alexander Reid.
Today we’re wishing this iconic artist a Happy Birthday!
Alexander Reid (1854-1928), the Scottish subject of this portrait by Vincent Van Gogh, was the son of a successful art dealer in Glasgow. Not wanting to join his father’s business, Reid became an artist but eventually began to show and sell work by other artists. He befriended Van Gogh in London during the 1870s, when Reid worked for the international art-dealing firm Goupil & Cie. In 1886, Reid moved to Paris to work for the same firm, which also employed Vincent’s brother, Theo Van Gogh. From the fall of 1886 through the winter of 1887, Reid lived with the Van Gogh brothers in their Paris apartment, where Van Gogh painted this portrait of Reid. (Legend has it that Reid hastily moved out of the Van Gogh apartment after Vincent suggested a suicide pact one night.)
Reid was almost the same age as Van Gogh, and his features are curiously similar to Van Gogh’s own, as is also revealed in another portrait of Reid by Van Gogh, now at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Glasgow. A Scottish man who in 1887 knew both men wrote of their resemblance: “The likeness was so marked that they might have been twins. I have often hesitated, until I got close, as to which of them I was meeting. They even dressed somewhat similarly, though I doubt if Vincent ever possessed anything like the Harris tweeds Reid usually wore.” In fact, this painting and the one in Glasgow were once considered Van Gogh self-portraits instead of portraits of Reid.
Portrait of Alexander Reid could be called a painting about friendship. Not only is it of Van Gogh’s friend, Reid, but it may also be the actual painting that Vincent gave to Reid in a gesture of friendship. Moreover, two of the three paintings in the background have been identified as works by Van Gogh’s friend Frank Myers Boggs, an American artist who lived in France; Boggs had given Van Gogh these paintings as gifts. One of the background paintings depicts Coal Barges on the Thames, and the other Honfleur Harbor. (The painting between the two works by Boggs is one of the several portraits of peasant women that Van Gogh painted in the mid 1880s.) The two paintings by Boggs are now in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and they are inscribed prominently in the lower-left corner of each canvas (translated): “To his friend Vincent/Boggs.”
The portrait is also the only surviving historical record of the Paris apartment that Van Gogh shared with his brother between 1886-1887.
Stop by the Fred Jones to see this work in person!
Vincent Van Gogh (Netherlands, 1853-1890)
Portrait of Alexander Reid, c. 1887
Oil on panel, 15 1/2 x 13 1/4 in.
Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, The University of Oklahoma, Norman
Bequest of Aaron M. and Clara Weitzenhoffer, 2000