In ‘Rogue’s Gallery: The Rise (and Occasional Fall) of Art Dealers’ (pub. Profile Books), Phil Hook, Sotheby’s senior international specialist in Impressionist and Modernist art, poses the tantalising notion that the Dutch artist and the Scottish art dealer Alexander Reid, who looked so much alike that van Gogh’s portraits of him were for years misidentified as self-portraits, agreed to swap lives.
With both suffering from depression, the theory goes, van Gogh made his way to Scotland and a successful career as an art dealer, while Reid moved to the Continent, going on to cut off his ear and ultimately take his own life. A related theory is that van Gogh (Reid?) was actually shot by a local youth in Ile-de-France. Google ‘Was van Gogh murdered?’ for more details. It is conceivable that the two could have swapped professions. Van Gogh came from a family of art dealers and was once an employee at the renowned Goupil & Cie in Paris, while Reid was a painter before selling other artists’ work.
What is certain is that for six months Reid and van Gogh shared a flat in Paris belonging to Vincent’s brother Theo and that during a night of heavy drinking they discussed a suicide pact, presumably thinking the better of it once they had sobered up. One of van Gogh’s portraits of Reid has been identified as having been painted in Theo’s flat, the only known depiction of it. Spoiler alert: Reid later returned to Scotland, where his father and son would no doubt have noticed if a Dutchman had joined the family. Still, nice story – or as someone else might say, fake news.