Aaron M. and Clara Weitzenhoffer
Vincent van Gogh (Netherlands, 1853–1890)
Portrait of Alexander Reid, c. 1887
Oil on panel
16 ½ x 13 1/3 in.
Aaron M. and Clara Weitzenhoffer Bequest, 2000
Alexander Reid aspired to a career as an artist but ultimately became a dealer for the international firm Goupil & Cie. He met Vincent van Gogh in London in the 1870s and, when Reid relocated to Paris for business in 1886, he shared an apartment with Vincent and his brother Theo, who worked for the same firm. Reid left the apartment in the winter of 1887 after his relationship with Vincent deteriorated, possibly because Reid refused to organize an exhibition of Impressionism in London.
Reid posed for Van Gogh twice, and this painting is one of the few full-length portraits that Van Gogh completed during his career. The two men bore a striking resemblance, and this painting has often been confused for a self-portrait of Van Gogh. It is also the only surviving image of the apartment that Vincent shared with Theo, although apart from a few furnishings, the painting provides little information. Most notably, on the wall behind Reid, one of Van Gogh’s portraits of peasant women painted a few years prior hangs in the center, flanked by two paintings by American artist Frank Myers Boggs, both of which were gifts from the American.
Reid poses somewhat tensely in the foreground, leaning forward in an armchair, and Van Gogh used animated brushwork, inspired by Impressionism, and an expressive palette in the complementary colors of orange and blue. The artist’s subjective, often spiritual, interpretation of nature was influenced by Japanese woodblock prints, especially in the use of complementary colors, defined contours, and a tilted spatial perspective.
In subsequent years, Van Gogh’s brushwork and colors became more lively and his space more dynamic, in part because of his friendship with Paul Gauguin. The two moved to Arles in 1888 and entered the most experimental phase of their respective careers. Van Gogh’s emotional instability and frequent disagreements led to Gauguin’s departure soon after. Van Gogh spent most of the following year in a mental institution before committing suicide.