In addition to Vincent van Gogh’s artistic legacy, the Van Gogh Museum also preserves paintings, drawings, sculptures and prints by other nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century artists. The core of this collection was assembled by Theo and Vincent van Gogh between 1880 and 1890. Like Van Gogh’s art and letters, this collection was transferred to the Vincent van Gogh Foundation in 1962. This foundation lends the works to the Van Gogh Museum on a permanent basis, where the highlights of Theo and Vincent’s collection, such as Paul Gauguin’s Self-Portrait with Portrait of Emile Bernard (Les misérables) or Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s Young Woman at a Table, ‘Poudre de riz’, are on view every day.
This part of the museum’s collection is made accessible for scholarly research for the first time in this online collection catalogue through entries and an in-depth introductory essay. Of the more than 250 works Theo and Vincent collected, a selection was made of 136 pieces, each of which is described in detail. All of the works can be viewed in the online collection. The choices made for the catalogue were based on the importance of the works for both art history in general and the Van Gogh brothers themselves. No distinction between media was made because for Vincent and Theo there was virtually no hierarchy between paintings, drawings and prints. All these media are therefore covered in the catalogue, as well as a ceramic pot by Gauguin.
The research for this catalogue was begun in 2015 by the museum’s former curator of paintings Maite van Dijk. This was a year after the display of the Van Gogh Museum’s permanent collection had been revised to award an integral role to Van Gogh’s contemporaries in the presentation of his work. After all, Van Gogh developed as an artist in dialogue with others. This rehang was in part what prompted the museum to place Van Gogh’s contemporaries more prominently on its research agenda, with this catalogue as an important result.
Written by a team of seven researchers and curators, the entries in this publication are mainly art historical in nature. When relevant to the art historical account, technical details were treated in consultation with colleagues of the Conservation Department. Together, the entries and the introductory essay provide an integral and multivalent picture of both Theo and Vincent van Gogh’s collecting practice and the history of each individual object. The brothers took an interest in a wide range of styles and approaches, bringing them together in a diverse and high-quality collection. If the collecting history is followed chronologically, as is done in the introductory essay, a clear image emerges of two brothers whose tastes became increasingly modern but who never lost sight of the importance of the full breadth of nineteenth-century art. Fortunately, their heirs Jo van Gogh-Bonger and her son Vincent sold very few of the works by contemporaries in this collection, keeping the overall picture of the Van Gogh brothers’ collecting practice intact.
For them, collecting was an important way to relate to increasingly progressive artists; however, more conservative works acquired in earlier periods were equally cherished. This broad conception of art is at the heart of this catalogue. Moreover, every effort has been made to pay attention not just to the artists who rose to the top of the art historical canon but also those who were important to Vincent and Theo. Thus, in-depth entries were written for drawings by artists such as Paul Gauguin and Emile Bernard, and works by artists and close friends of Theo and Vincent, such as Joseph Jacob Isaacson, Arnold Koning and Christian Mourier-Petersen, receive the art historical attention they deserve for the first time. Through this selection of works, as the compilers we hope to provide a diverse impression of the collection as a whole while not overlooking the now undisputed highlights.
Joost van der Hoeven
And on behalf of the co-authors:
Fleur Roos Rosa de Carvalho