Theo and Vincent van Gogh collected art by their contemporaries, and these works are still an essential part of the Van Gogh Museum’s collection. It is my great pleasure to invite you to discover this part of the museum’s collection, which has now received the comprehensive academic attention it deserves for the very first time. The brothers’ collection of works by their contemporaries is vital within the museum, as they place Vincent van Gogh’s work in the artistic context in which it was made. This catalogue combines the genesis of the collection with the fascinating stories behind the individual objects. The works were made, collected and cherished for good reason, and all of these aspects come together in this collection. The research underlying this catalogue reveals how Vincent’s and Theo’s tastes developed, how they built their joint network in the Parisian art world, and how they took a strategic approach to the works they acquired. The new digital environment now enables you to discover the many layers of this collection.
The Van Gogh Museum already has considerable experience with online publications. This started with the online edition of Van Gogh’s letters in 2009, made in collaboration with the Huygens Institute, and was followed by a number of impressive digital publications. The page Van Gogh Museum Articles was also launched on the museum website in 2019, featuring academic essays by our researchers, curators and restorers. The museum has only previously released one digital collection catalogue: Odilon Redon and Andries Bonger: 36 Works from the Van Gogh Museum Collection, by Fleur Roos Rosa de Carvalho (2022). The present catalogue of Van Gogh’s contemporaries represents a significant step: it is published in a specially developed, fully searchable digital environment. Previously published collection catalogues (both digital and physical) will also be included in this new digital environment in the future.
The major advantage of publishing a collection catalogue online is the option to update the contents with the latest insights, literature and exhibitions with ease. This will allow us to ensure that this catalogue remains relevant and up to date. In contrast to a printed book, this catalogue is dynamic and will continue to develop. The reading tools, such as the footnotes that appear upon a click of the mouse, or a sidebar with information about the work in question, provide an easier and enhanced reading experience. Another significant benefit of this digital publication is that it is free for everyone, all around the world. Purchasing a book or going to the library is no longer necessary for those who are unable to do so.
The catalogue Contemporaries of Van Gogh 1: Works Collected by Theo and Vincent is written by a team of authors consisting of seven researchers and curators, who shared their expertise freely and critically appraised each other’s texts. The conservators also meticulously examined several of the artworks selected for the catalogue together with the authors, resulting in a number of new insights. Thanks to this smooth collaboration between art historians and conservators, the art historical entries have been complemented with technical expertise.
A comprehensive digital production such as this demands close collaboration between colleagues from the Digital Communication, Collection Information and Publications departments. All of the Van Gogh Museum’s expert staff involved with this project played their roles with verve. A special word of thanks is reserved for Researcher Joost van der Hoeven, who was the driving force behind this publication. Edith Schreurs, Senior Digital Communication Advisor, was essential to the design and construction of the digital environment. She acted as the linchpin between the Van Gogh Museum and the designers from DEPT®, and the developers from Q42, which resulted in this delightful and consummate achievement.
This catalogue is being published in the Van Gogh Museum’s 50th anniversary year, during which we reflect on our remarkable history, as well as looking to the future. The origins of the museum are inextricably linked with the story of the Van Gogh family, who played an indispensable role in the foundation of the museum and in opening the former family collection up to the public. We are deeply grateful to all generations of the Van Gogh family for what they have done. When Jo van Gogh-Bonger and her son Vincent Willem van Gogh inherited the collection of contemporaries, they took just as good care of the works as they did of Van Gogh’s legacy. They barely sold any works from this part of the collection, and for this reason, Theo and Vincent’s collection has remained largely intact. And this is yet another reason to celebrate the genesis of the Van Gogh Museum in this anniversary year.
Emilie E. S. Gordenker