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Orphan Man with Top Hat

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Charcoal and crayon on cream wove paper
40 x 24.5 cm.
The Hague: Late December, 1882
F 954, JH 287

Worcester, Massachusetts: Worcester Art Museum


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Throughout late 1882 and early 1883 Vincent van Gogh undertook a series of studies featuring "orphan men" (a colloquial term for Dutch war veterans). Van Gogh was living in The Hague and he sought, through drawing, a means to allow him to continually hone his evolving artistic skills. Inspired by a comparable series Heads of the People published in the English illustrated periodical The Graphic Van Gogh went on to produce thirty-seven drawings featuring these elderly men.

The subject of this particular drawing is Adrianus Jacobus Zuijderland (also spelled Zuyderland) who resided at the Dutch Reformed Old Peoples' Home in The Hague. W.J.A. Visser noted the subject of the drawing was shown wearing an almshouse registration number of the arm of his coat. The stylized "199" lead Visser to discover Zuijderland's identity from the archives of the Old Peoples' Home.

David Acton, Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs at the Worcester Art Museum comments on Visser's research:

. . . Visser used this number to determine that the sitter was the seventy-two-year-old Adrianus Jacobus Zuijderland, a pensioner who first registered at the almshouse on 6 July 1876. A native of The Hague, he had fought in the Ten Days’ Campaign of Holland against Belgium in 1830, a rebellion that led to the separation and independence of the two countries six years later. For his participation in that campaign Zuijderland was awarded the Metal Cross, a decoration that he proudly displayed on his lapel.1

Shortly before Christmas, 1882 Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother, Theo, and expressed a warm affection for Mr. Zuijderland:

So I am now working on two large heads of an old man from the workhouse, with his wide beard and his shabby old-fashioned top hat. The old fellow has the kind of wrinkled, witty face that one should like to have near a cozy Christmas fire.

Letter 254

Van Gogh's comments suggest that he not only enjoyed Zuijderland's character, but also his somewhat harsh physiognomy which would be a standard throughout Vincent's orphan man series. He would draw Zuijderland six times altogether: four in dress clothing (the present drawing and those three seen in Table 1) and two in fisherman's clothing (see Table 2).

Table 1: Subject as Orphan Man

Title F JH Location Thumbnail
Orphan Man, Bareheaded, Head 955 355 Private collection

Old Man in a Tail-coat 977 243 Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum

Orphan Man with Top Hat, Head 954a 288 Johannesburg, Municipal Art Gallery

Van Gogh was pleased with his work on the men from the Old People's Home. Certainly the drawings from this series show a marked improvement over those Van Gogh attempted, say, a year earlier. His persistence paid off and his skill as an artist was truly coming to fruition. In early 1883 Van Gogh would use the same subjects--the elderly men--but now he wanted them to pose as weathered fishermen. With a worn sou'wester hat and a rain coat he achieved the desired effect.

Around 21 January 1883 Vincent wrote to Theo:

Though I have written you often, I am very hard at work. I cannot tell you how I long to speak with you about many things. Tomorrow I get a sou'wester for the heads. Heads of fishermen, old and young, that's what I have been thinking of for a long time, and I have made one already, then afterward I couldn't get a sou'wester. Now I shall have one of my own, an old one over which many storms and seas have passed.

Letter 261

Van Gogh would produce at least eight of his fisherman series. In the first volume of drawings from the new catalogues of the collection of the Van Gogh Museum, Sjraar van Heugten identifies the subject of two of these as Adrianus Jacobus Zuijderland2:

Table 2: Subject as Fisherman

Title F JH Location Thumbnail
Fisherman with Sou'wester, Pipe and Coal-pan 1016 304 Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum

Fisherman with Sou'wester, Sitting with Pipe 1010 306 Otterlo, Kröller-Müller Museum

Vincent van Gogh had a great love for portraiture and he would draw and paint people throughout his career. In keeping with his life-long empathy for the poor and downtrodden, most of the subjects of Vincent's portraits are those less fortunate than most. Van Gogh's orphan man series as well as the fishermen drawings reveal stark contrasts: the worry-worn and harshly realistic faces of the subjects are coupled with a sympathetic and compassionate undercurrent that softens the severity of the subject.

Van Gogh himself wrote of his fondness for Adrianus Jacobus Zuijderland. Vincent probably felt the same compassion for most of the subjects of his portraits. While Van Gogh's religious fervour was all but extinguished by the time he drew Zuijderland's portrait, words paraphrased from one of his favourite Bible passages may have still guided his hand:

"Blessed are they that mourn, blessed are they that sorrow, but always rejoice, blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. Blessed are those that find love on their road, who are bound together by God, for to them all things will work together for their good."


  1. David Acton, Master Drawings from the Worcester Art Museum (Hudson Hills Press, 1998), p. 158.

  2. Sjraar van Heugten, Volume One: Drawings--The Early Years, 1880-1883, (V+K Publishing, 1996), p. 200.




Date acquired


H.P. Bremmer

The Hague


Van Wisselingh Art Gallery



Mr. and Mrs. Chapin Riley

Worcester, Mass.


Worcester Art Museum

Worcester, Mass.


Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Chapin Riley in memory of Francis Henry Taylor.






Exhibition Name

Start Date

End Date



United States

Worcester Art Museum

European Drawings from the Museum Collection




United States

Florida State University

The Influences of Nineteenth-Century Illustration

April 18, 1980

May 10, 1980



United States

Dixon Gallery and Gardens

The Genius of Van Gogh





National Museum of Western Art

Vincent van Gogh exhibition

October 12, 1985

December 08, 1985




Nagoya City Museum

Vincent van Gogh exhibition

December 21, 1985

February 02, 1986




Kröller-Müller Museum

Vincent van Gogh. Tekeningen

March 30, 1990

July 29, 1990



United States

Worcester Art Museum

Master Drawings from the Worcester Art Museum

April 18, 1998

June 21, 1998


Ann Arbor

United States

University of Michigan Museum of Art

Master Drawings from the Worcester Art Museum

November 07, 1998

January 17, 1999



United States

Davenport (Iowa) Museum of Art

Master Drawings from the Worcester Art Museum

February 07, 1999

April 11, 1999


Atlanta (2)

United States

Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University

Master Drawings from the Worcester Art Museum

May 08, 1999

July 11, 1999

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