Amsterdam, 27 January 2005

Van Gogh Museum acquires major drawing from Van Gogh's Dutch period

The Vincent van Gogh Foundation recently acquired a significant early drawing by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) for the Van Gogh Museum: Portrait of Jozef Blok. The subject was a well-known street vendor of books in The Hague. He traded in literature and magazines, and was known as the 'open-air library of the Binnenhof'. Among the items Van Gogh bought from him was a set of 21 complete volumes of The Graphic magazine, from which he cut and collected illustrations. In early November 1882 he wrote to his brother Theo: 'Do you know who I drew this morning? Blok the Jewish bookseller, not David but the short one who's on the Binnenhof [...] I'm very pleased with Blok'.

Van Gogh's portrait of Jozef Blok (1832-1905) provides an excellent likeness of the bookdealer's remarkable physiognomy. He clearly intended this to be a portrait. Around that time, Van Gogh usually tried to portray types rather than the individual features of a subject. The faces he depicted in his Dutch period, including those he drew in Nuenen,  are often rough and angular, drawn in black, and therefore little more than studies.

Blok's portrait, by contrast, is finely executed in pencil and watercolour, with the sideburns added in black lithographic chalk. In fact Van Gogh generally avoided colour around this time, since it still presented too many difficulties; the use of watercolour is therefore remarkable. It confirms the work's status: the drawing can justifiably claim to be the only genuine portrait we know from Van Gogh's Dutch period.

The Van Gogh Museum has over 500 drawings by Van Gogh. Since the principal motifs in his oeuvre and the various periods are amply represented in the collection, his drawings are rarely purchased (the last was ten years ago). But because the museum did not yet have a proper portrait drawing, this new acquisition represents a valuable addition to the collection. Moreover, drawings by Van Gogh are seldom offered for sale. For this reason too, the acquisition of this portrait for the Van Gogh Museum from a private collection is significant.

Portrait of Jozef Blok can be seen from 5 February to 16 May 2005 in The Hague School and young Van Gogh, an exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague. The drawing will also feature at the Van Gogh Museum from 1 July to 18 September in Van Gogh draughtsman: The masterpieces, an exhibition organized jointly with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. One hundred of Van Gogh's finest drawings have been assembled for this unique project.

For more information and visual material please contact the Van Gogh Museum Press Office: +31 (0)20 570 52 92 or email

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