The National Gallery in London will mark the anniversary of its creation in 1824 with a successful exhibition on Van Gogh. The arts journal may reveal that the exhibition will focus on the artist’s period in Provence, where he produced his greatest work.
Although exhibitions are rarely announced this far in advance, they are scheduled to run from September 2024 to January 2025. There will be at least 50 works, mostly paintings, along with a few drawings. This will make it the largest Van Gogh exhibition in the UK since the Royal Academy show in 2010, which attracted 411,000 visitors.
The National Gallery exhibition, tentatively titled Van Gogh: poets and lovers, is to begin with the period when Van Gogh was in Arles. He arrived there from Paris in February 1888, seeking the strong sun of southern France. After initially staying in a small hotel, he then took a room above a cafe, then moved into the Yellow House.
We can point out that among the most important international loans will be the version of Bedroom (September 1889) of the Art Institute of Chicago. This work offers an intimate vision of the artist’s nocturnal retreat on the upper floor of the Yellow House.
In October 1888, Van Gogh was joined by Paul Gauguin and, initially, they set up their easels side by side. But their collaboration ends on the evening of December 23, when Vincent mutilates his ear. Although the wound healed quickly, the mental scars remained.
In May 1889, Van Gogh realized he was unable to live independently. He then moved to an asylum on the outskirts of the nearby town of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, where he remained for a year. Painting was his salvation, giving him a reason to live.
Another photo promised for the London exhibition is Garden of the Asylum, (November 1889) from the Folkwang Museum in Essen. It represents a fortified enclosure where the prisoners did their exercise under the trees, with a distant view of the hills of the Alpilles.
A sunny national treasure
The National Gallery in London is the most appropriate venue for a Van Gogh extravaganza, since one of its greatest treasures is the original version of the Sunflowers on yellow background. This was painted in August 1888 to decorate Gauguin’s bedroom.
The exhibit will tell the amazing story of how Sunflowers finished in London. In December 1910, the painting was loaned by Vincent’s sister-in-law, Jo Bonger, for inclusion in curator Roger Fry’s groundbreaking Post-Impressionist exhibition. The painting had a great influence on the British avant-garde and was published as the frontispiece of Charles Hind’s book in 1911. The post impressionists.
Sunflowers returned to London on loan in December 1923, for Van Gogh’s first solo exhibition in the UK, at the Leicester Galleries. At this point the National Gallery was just beginning to collect modern European art, supported by an extremely generous gift of £50,000 from Samuel Courtauld. Jim Ede, a young gallery curator, is keen to acquire Sunflowers.
Bonger, who had inherited hundreds of paintings from Vincent, politely refused his request in October 1923: “Sunflowers are not for sale, ever; they belong to our family”.
Ede tried again in January 1924 and Bonger then sent a moving reply: “For two days I tried to harden my heart against your appeal; I felt like I couldn’t bear to part with the image, which I had looked at every day for over 30 years. But in the end, the call proved irresistible. I know that no painting would represent Vincent in your famous gallery in a more dignified manner than the “Sunflowers”, and than himself, “the Painter of Sunflowers”. [the Painter of Sunflowers], would have liked him to be there… It’s a sacrifice for the glory of Vincent. The price was £1,300.
What is less known is that Bonger soon realized that his reluctant decision had been the right one. On March 12, less than two months later, she wrote to Paul Gachet Jr, the son of the doctor who treated Vincent at the end of his life. Bonger told him that the Sunflowers was staying in London: “I’m so happy.”
Sunflowers was originally displayed at Millbank, in what was to become the Tate Britain building. In 1961 the picture was moved to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.
Van Gogh’s still life is now one of the most famous paintings in the world. A decade ago, before mobile phone images became ubiquitous, this was the National Gallery’s best-selling postcard (26,000 a year). The story goes that the ground in front of the Sunflowers is the most scuffed by the shoes of millions of visitors.
On the occasion of the centenary of the acquisition of Sunflowers is reason enough for Van Gogh to be the highlight of the gallery’s bicentenary exhibition, but there is another anniversary. In 1874, 150 years before the next exhibition, Van Gogh was living in Brixton, South London, and working as a young art dealer at the Goupil Gallery in Covent Garden.
The National Gallery was only a five-minute walk from his work, so he was a regular visitor, probably during his lunch hours. Many years later, Vincent remembers seeing specific paintings there by Constable, Rembrandt (a work now downgraded to Nicolas Maes) and Hobbema. In the spring of 1874 he would have celebrated his 21st birthday and the National Gallery would have celebrated its 50th birthday.
Vincent at this point seems never to have envisioned that he might become a professional artist, let alone that his work would enter the hallowed portals of the National Gallery in London – and that one of his paintings would eventually become his most popular work. .
And why the 2024-25 exhibition is provisionally subtitled poets and in love? For the answer and more details on the upcoming show, see The art journal Blog Adventures with Van Goghto be published tomorrow (June 24, 2022).