The Vincent van GoghHuis presents the exhibition ‘Closer to Vincent – Everyday objects in Vincent van Gogh’s work’ from 30 July to 30 October 2022. The exhibition is based on research by art historian Alexandra van Dongen on the objects that Van Gogh portrayed in his paintings. Her study has provided many new insights into Vincent’s work. The exhibition was designed by the artists André Smits & Monika Dahlberg and entails various objects from Vincent’s legacy, from the collections from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
Together with visual artists André Smits (Artist in the World) and Monika Dahlberg, who will be participating in an artist’s residency programme in July and August 2022 in Zundert, Van Dongen now translates her research into an exhibition with texts, drawings and collages on the walls and a variety of objects in which Van Gogh’s paintings and the locations that he worked are visible.
The exhibition focuses on the objects of Vincent Van Gogh’s legacy, on loan from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. There is also a display of archaeological finds from the garden of the vicarage in Nuenen.
Vincent van Gogh frequently depicted everyday objects in his drawings and paintings from the start of his artistic life up to and including the last year of his life in France. They figure in his earliest work in his interiors with people engaged in domestic work or figures sitting on chairs by the fireplace. Later also in his (flower) still lifes, which he mainly regarded as studies of colour and form. They often arose due to a lack of money to afford living models. Some of his material attributes, such as a French earthenware liquor jug and a Norman copper milk jug, have ended up in the collection of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam thanks to Vincent’s sister-in-law Jo van Gogh-Bonger.
Never before have all the everyday objects depicted by Vincent been accurately identified. Recent research by art historian Alexandra van Dongen, curator of historical design at Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum, shows that a precise identification of Vincent’s objects can sometimes shed new light on the possible place of manufacture and the dating of his work.
For example, a very simple earthenware saucepan that appears on ‘Still life with potatoes’ comes from the southern French pottery centre Vallauris. It was previously assumed that Vincent painted this still life in Nuenen, but identification of the saucepan as well as technical research into the linen canvas shows that Paris 1886 was the place and time of its manufacture.
The presence of such objects in Vincent’s mother’s kitchen has been confirmed by recent archaeological finds in the vicarage’s backyard. Vincent sometimes borrowed antique or special objects from the collector and amateur painter Antoon Hermans, to whom he gave painting lessons. The identification of several antique objects, such as a sixteenth-century stoneware bearded man’s jug, point to the provenance of this Eindhoven collector.
The sketches of The Potato Eaters clearly show which objects Vincent chose and studied for his composition. For the exhibition, the Netherlands Open Air Museum is making available a characteristic paraffin lamp similar to the one hanging above the table as well as the one depicted in the interiors of Nuenen weavers.
Wooden chairs are also often used in Vincent’s work. They are even the main subject of two paintings that he considered to be portraits of Gauguin and himself when they briefly worked together in the Yellow House in Arles. Many of his famous French flower still lifes show ‘vases’ that were not originally intended as flower vases. Vincent placed his bouquets in various stoneware beer tankards, majolica pitchers and apothecary jars, copper milk jugs, faience ewers and earthenware storage jars, which were intended for the storage of ‘confit de canard’.
The presence of certain types of objects in Vincent’s work often says something about the place and location where he painted them or refers to his artistic sources of inspiration. Because Vincent portrayed his material models in a very naturalistic way, they are often very easy to identify.
The exhibition in Zundert presents various objects that are related to objects in Van Gogh’s work, such as a ‘confit de canard’ pot of the same type that he used in his still lifes with sunflowers.
Another remarkable object in the Vincent Van GoghHuis is a replica of the cane chair that Vincent had made in Arles (Van Gogh Museum collection) and on which his models, such as the postman Joseph Roulin, posed. Because the original chair is so fragile, it is not lent out. This replica is specially made for the exhibition by the Zundert chair maker Rien Stuijts. Another cane replica from the fifties (Vincent van GoghHuis collection), which is believed to have been commissioned by Marc Edo Tralbaut, is displayed in the front room (the former brasserie). Visitors are allowed to sit in it and take selfies.
Rien Stuijts at work (video in Dutch).
An overview of publications related to the Closer to Vincent exhibition:
- 'Adventures with Van Gogh' / 'Closer to Vincent': the secrets of everyday objects in Van Gogh’s paintings. Blog Martin Bailey.