If you are a fan of marginal notes, doodles, and finding little surprises tucked in books, then you will appreciate Vincent van Gogh’s bookmark now on view as part of the Here to Stay exhibit at the Van Gogh Museum. Researchers recently uncovered a few early drawings slipped inside one of the Dutch artist’s books. More than 135 years later, a series of early sketches by the beloved artist, Van Gogh, has emerged.
The three drawings, laid out vertically on a single strip of paper, were found in a copy of Histoire d’un Paysan, an illustrated novel about the French Revolution told through the perspective of a peasant. Each pencil sketch depicts a single figure—each one thought to be a peasant inspired by the characters in the book. It dates back to autumn 1881, when the artist was in his late 20s and living in his parents’ village of Etten.
Van Gogh mailed the book to fellow Dutch artist and friend Anthon van Rappard in 1883, which he first inscribed with his name and a message: “I do think you’ll find the Erckmann-Chatrian beautiful,” referring to the book’s authors, Emile Erckmann and Alexandre Chatrian. Shortly after Van Gogh mailed the book, Van Rappard visited him in the Dutch town of Nuenen, where Van Gogh sketched a portrait of his friend—the largest such drawing he’s believed to have made. However, only the top half of the work survives because in May 1885, Van Rappar and Van Gogh had a falling out. After Van Rappard criticized Van Gogh’s lithograph of his painting The Potato Eaters, the very upset Van Gogh chopped the portrait in half. The bottom portion has been lost.
After Van Rappard died in 1892, the book was then passed on to his wife. It stayed with her family for generations, until 2019, when it was sold to the Van Gogh Museum.