Can This $45 Thrift Store Painting Provide Clues About Vincent Van Gogh’s Final Days in France?

It appears to be the work of Edmund Walpole Brooke, an artist who knew Van Gogh in his final days.

The signature E.W. Brooke suggests this painting is the first known work by Edmund Walpole Brooke, an obscure artist who was one of Vincent van Gogh's last associates. Photo courtesy of John Mathews.

An unassuming thrift-shop find appears to have a tantalizing tie to the final days of Vincent van Gogh. A watercolor painting recently purchased at a Maine store bears the signature E.W. Brooke, suggesting that it could be the first known work of the artist Edmund Walpole Brooke, who painted with Van Gogh in the months before his death.

Katherine Mathews bought the painting earlier this spring at Warehouse 839 in the town of Saco for just $45, as first reported by the New York Times. The store’s owner, Kevin Keraghan, had originally purchased it as part of a New Hampshire estate.

“It hung in my house for 15 years,” Keraghan told Artnet News of the painting, which depicts a woman in a kimono carrying a baby on her back, in front of two Japanese-style buildings and a tree-filled landscape. He had tried researching the artist when he first acquired the work, but wasn’t able to learn much.

“I liked the image so it didn’t matter,” he said. “But now I like Modern stuff, so I brought it to my shop.”

The signature E.W. Brooke suggests this painting is the first known work by Edmund Walpole Brooke, an obscure artist who was one of Vincent van Gogh’s last associates. Photo courtesy of John Mathews.

That’s when it caught the eye of its new owner. “In each room of my house, I have something from Kevin’s shop,” Mathews told Artnet News. “He opens every other weekend, and I usually expect to find something interesting.”

“I was flipping through some paintings and I saw the mother with the little baby peeking over her shoulder and I thought, ‘Oh, I love that,'” Mathews added. “I never imagined it would have this story connected to it.”

Some sleuthing turned up the research of Tsukasa Kōdera, a curator and professor of art history at Osaka University in Japan. Mathews realized that E.W. Brooke might be Edmund Walpole Brooke, a young painter who Van Gogh spoke of in a letter to his brother, Theo van Gogh.

“In those days there were many painters, including American painters, in Auvers, probably because of the beauty of landscapes,” Kōdera told Artnet News in an email. The town, 20 miles north of Paris, was where Van Gogh made his last works before dying of a gun shot wound, likely self-inflicted, in July 1890.

Vincent van Gogh, Tree Roots (1890), the artist’s final work, painted in Auvers. Courtesy of the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, and the Vincent Van Gogh Foundation.

“An Englishman, Australian, called Walpole Brooke will probably come to see you,” Van Gogh wrote to Theo on July 2, 1890. “He’ll probably show you some of his studies, which are still rather lifeless, but however he does observe nature. He has been here in Auvers for months, and we went out together sometimes, he was brought up in Japan, you would never think so from his painting—but that may come.”

When Mathews reached out to Kōdera, he suggested they look for a watermark on the painting. Held up to the light, the paper bore the name J. Whatman, a British paper manufacturer popular with turn-of-the-century artists, including Van Gogh. The period-appropriate materials and Japanese subject matter both suggest the work could be the first documented Brooke p