Van Gogh Museum to reopen with anniversary exhibition ‘Van Gogh at work’
The anniversary exhibition Van Gogh at work, with which the renovated Van Gogh Museum will reopen on 1 May, will show how in ten years’ time Van Gogh developed into a unique artist with an impressive oeuvre. This unique exhibition is based on an ambitious large-scale research programme carried out by the Van Gogh Museum, its Partner in Science Shell Nederland, and the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE). The exhibition, which will mark the close of eight years of research into Van Gogh’s working methods, will illustrate the painter’s development with 200 works of art by Van Gogh and his contemporaries. Microscopes and paint samples will help visitors to discover how he worked and mastered new skills. Many masterpieces from the museum’s own collection by Van Gogh and his contemporaries, along with exceptional art works on loan, will form unique combinations and shed light on Van Gogh’s fascinating career.
Van Gogh’s sketchbooks, paint tubes and palette accompany unique combinations
In Van Gogh at work, visitors will look over Van Gogh’s shoulder, as it were, discovering how the painter lived and worked. The exhibition will include some 200 works of art, including 150 paintings, works on paper, letters and personal effects of the painter, such as his original sketchbooks, paint tubes and only surviving palette, from the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
Visitors can trace Van Gogh’s development with the aid of numerous masterpieces from the museum’s own collection, in unforgettable combinations with unique loans. For example, the Sunflowers from the National Gallery in London will hang next to the Sunflowers from the Van Gogh Museum and The bedroom from the Art Institute of Chicago will be on display beside the museum’s version. Another exceptional sight will be the Portrait of Père Tanguy, on loan from the Musée Rodin in Paris. This painting was last exhibited in the Netherlands in 1930 and will probably no longer be sent out on loan after this exhibition, because of its fragile state. A rich assortment of works by Van Gogh’s contemporaries will also be on show. Pieces from the museum collection will hang side by side with unique works on loan by Monet, Gauguin, Seurat and Bernard that Van Gogh himself once saw.
Discoveries about the artist and his work
The Van Gogh Museum is constantly studying its collection to determine how best to preserve it for future generations. This involves gaining new insights into Van Gogh’s working methods. Van Gogh at work will be based on insights gleaned from our long-term programme of research on the artist’s working methods, Van Gogh’s studio practice. A multidisciplinary team of researchers from the Van Gogh Museum, the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE) and Partner in Science, Shell Nederland, has been studying the art-historical, material and technical aspects of Van Gogh’s work intensively since 2005. Their findings have placed old familiar works in a new light. They have also investigated Van Gogh’s relationships with his contemporaries. The results represent a tremendous contribution to our knowledge about the artist and his work and are revealed in Van Gogh at work.
Paint samples, microscopes and X-ray photographs
For instance, Van Gogh at work describes how Van Gogh learned his craft, from his first experimental drawings to his famous later paintings. The largely chronological exhibition – filling the four levels of the renovated Rietveld building – will allow visitors to see for themselves what materials Van Gogh used, under what conditions he worked, which artists influenced him and where he bought his materials.
Like the researchers who took part in Van Gogh’s studio practice, they can examine paint samples under a microscope and discover the grains of sand in the pieces he painted outdoors. They can also find the discoloured spots where varnish has been removed and the letters of the newspaper with which Van Gogh covered The bedroom, examine X-ray photographs and experience a recreation of 19th-century art supplies.
Colour, recycling paintings and paint use
Distinctive aspects of Van Gogh’s work and methods will be presented through a number of themes. The theme of Studies focuses on both the academy in Antwerp and the influence of his contemporaries. Materials and tools highlights the many different kinds of canvas and paint that he used and the perspective frame that helped him to achieve accurate proportions and depth. Recycling painting shows that the painter recycled canvases when he used up his own supply and was short of money. He would paint over earlier pictures or on the backs of canvases. Sometimes cracks formed because he was too impatient to let the paint dry.
Colour plays an essential role in Van Gogh’s work; he chose his combinations carefully, striving for powerful contrasts. Applying paint shows that Van Gogh never stopped experimenting with ways of using paint. He often applied thick layers, shaping them with his pencil almost as if modelling clay, but he also worked with diluted oil paint. Open air or studio shows that Van Gogh painted outdoors as often as he could, but also worked in his studio regularly.
Van Gogh at work will be accompanied by several publications. These include a detailed scholarly and technical work marking the end of eight years of research and an exhibition catalogue produced in partnership with the Mercatorfonds in Brussels. There will also be a convenient booklet with exhibition highlights and a fun children’s activity book.
Finally, the Folio Society in London is working with the Van Gogh Museum to publish a unique facsimile edition of Van Gogh’s only four surviving sketchbooks.
Educational activities, Sunday talks and Friday night programmes
The educational programme will be highly diverse, with activities for young and old: workshops, painting lessons, guided visits and a multimedia tour. Check www.vangoghmuseum.nl for the latest information and an overview of interesting Sunday talks and Friday night programmes.
Van Gogh at work is made possible in part by the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands and Partner in Science, Shell Nederland. The colourful exhibition, designed by the Ghent firm Tijdsbeeld & Pièce Montée, will be open daily from 1 May 2013 to 12 January 2014 and can be seen only in Amsterdam.