Exhibition: How Vincent van Gogh became world-famous

An interesting and charming exhibition can be visited at the NoordBrabants Museum till the 20th of December 2015. It explains why Vincent van Gogh only sold one work during his lifetime, while millionaires are now the only ones able to buy his art. It also shows how his works continue to inspire artists and the public.

Actually, the large NoordBrabants Museum hosts two small temporary exhibitions on Vincent van Gogh. The larger one concerns the increasing popularity of van Gogh’s works. The other one shows a few of his earlier works, created while he was staying at Nuenen.

Apart from these two exhibitions, the museum also has various other exhibitions. At the moment, there is one on botanical drawings and paintings. There are also the permanent collections as well as exhibitions of modern art. As this museum is housed in a former governor’s home, a few period rooms can also be admired. In short: if the Vincent van Gogh exhibitions are closed, it still has much to offer.

Vincent van Gogh at Nuenen

To the side of the main exhibition on Vincent van Gogh, is a room hosting the smaller one. This room is filled with works Vincent created while staying at the rectory in Nuenen. A few of the exhibits illustrate one of the themes of the main exhibition. By now, at auctions Vincent van Gogh’s works fetch such astronomical prices, only millionaires can afford to buy them. This means, most of the works now end up in private collections and can no longer be seen by the general public. This is illustrated by at least one work in this room. It belongs to the private art collection of Mexican multi-millionaire mr Slim.

What is on show is pretty interesting though. The colours Vincent used are pretty dark. The subjects range from poor Brabant folks to farms, the rectory garden, a watermill and similar regional images. The style is still very traditional and the figures show, Vincent did not study anatomy as long as other contemporary colleagues of his.

On the other hand: all the subjects and themes of his later works are already there. This really hits home, on the wall where the earlier works are projected next to his later, French works. Yes, in the latter the colours splatter off the canvas and swirl, move, are alive. But quite a few images are practically copies of earlier ones. Vincent actually mentions this in one of his letters.

How van Gogh became world-famous

The main exhibition is divided up in various sections. It starts with Vincent’s death. There is a beautiful photo of his grave. The wall-text explains how his brother Theo van Gogh owned all Vincent’s works apart from the one which was sold. But Theo died only a few years after his brother.

It is Theo’s widow Johanna, who actually gathered together and sorted all the letters, drawings, paintings. She ensured that exhibitions started to be organised, showing Vincent’s work. She lent Vincent’s works to other Dutch artists such as Isaac Israels, enabling them to study these. This exhibition shows two of his works, showing paintings by Vincent van Gogh in the background. She also edited the letters between the two brothers Vincent and Theo and paid for a first selection to be printed and published.

Art collectors and art dealers were introduced to Vincent’s work. Helene Kröller-Muller bought many of Vincent’s works. They became part of her collection and museum. The public could visit her museum in The Hague and now her complete art collection at  the Kröller-Müller Museum.

The exhibition also shows the impact of biographies. Quite a few of the earlier ones ensured many myths were created. The range and number of illnesses held responsible for the “ear-affair” is staggering. The various illnesses and other “interesting” facts and rumours penned down in various biographies promoted Vincent’s name and art. Nothing better than a scandal to help one become world-famous.

Other scandals include fake Vincent van Gogh’s. There are plenty cartoons digging at the art world and the inability of art experts to distinguish between a forgery and a real van Gogh. This is followed by a wall showing the influence of Hollywood and magazines.

Vincent’s paintings are no longer only forged and faked. They are used on various items, ranging from magazines and comic covers to bikes, cushions, haute couture. Vincent van Gogh has become a world brand.

Unable to visit this exhibition before it closes later this month? No worry: the museum will host an important exhibition on Hieronymus Bosch in 2016

Den Bosch, or ‘s Hertogenbosch can be reached easily by train from various places in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany. It is a charming histocial town and shopping-Walhalla, so well worth a short weekend break – especially in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

NoordBrabants Museum, Den Bosch: “How Vincent became world-famous”
Vincent van Gogh letters


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