First details on the largest American exhibition of Van Gogh paintings in a generation


The arrival Van Gogh in America exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts will include 72 Van Goghs, along with 56 paintings and 16 works on paper. This will represent the largest number of paintings by the artist at any US location in over 20 years.

Van Gogh in America, which will take place from October 2 to January 22, 2023, will reveal for the first time the story of the artist’s rise in the United States. Detroit is a most appropriate place, since its museum was the pioneer in North America in the purchase of a Van Gogh.

In 1922, the Detroit Institute of Arts purchased Self-Portrait with Straw Hat (August-September 1887), for $4,200. This painting is currently on display at the Courtauld Gallery, Self-portraits of Van Gogh, but it will be returned at the close of the London show on May 8.

Detroit is also an appropriate location for another reason. The next four Van Goghs purchased by other American museums in the 1930s also all went to the Midwest and not, as one might expect, to the East Coast.

The first four purchases from the Midwest will come to the Detroit Institute of Arts. These belong to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City (Olivier, June 1889), Museum of Art of Saint Louis (Staircase in Auvers, June-July 1890) and the Toledo Art Museum (Houses in Auvers and Wheat fields with Reaper, June 1890).

by Van Gogh Olivier (June 1889) and Auvers staircase (June-July 1890) Credits: Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri and Saint Louis Art Museum

It should be noted that of the 72 works in the Detroit exhibition, 40 will come from American museums, five from private American collections and 27 from abroad. Among the largest international loans is Van Gogh’s chair (January 1889), from the National Gallery, London.

Van Gogh’s chair (January 1889) Credit: National Gallery, London

But why is the London photo loaned to an exhibition about America’s discovery of Van Gogh? In 1920, when it was still owned by the Van Gogh family, Van Gogh’s chair was offered for sale and included in the artist’s first solo exhibition in the United States, organized by New York dealer Newman Montross. Important image, it was chosen to be illustrated in vogue magazine (December 1, 1920), which describes it as “a character study in furniture”.

Priced at $11,000, Van Gogh’s chair failed to sell in New York. The painting was then returned to Jo Bonger, Vincent’s sister-in-law, who then sold it to the National Gallery in London in 1924, for the much lower sum of £700 (then $2,700).

Van Gogh’s chair has since become one of the National Gallery’s most popular paintings, in high demand for exhibitions – so it’s a big hit for Detroit. The painting is currently on display at Courtauld’s exhibition, as a symbolic self-portrait, with the artist’s beloved pipe resting on the seat. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, we can leak one show for which a loan request was rejected: Van Gogh’s chair was refused for an exhibition on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the introduction of tobacco in France at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris in 1961.)

The Detroit exhibition will trace how Van Gogh became one of America’s favorite artists. The breakthrough began in 1913, when around 20 works were displayed at the International Exhibition of Modern Art in New York, known as the Armory Show. But it was not until 1935-1937 that Van Gogh was the subject of a solo museum exhibition in the United States, first at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, then in nine other cities.

This coincided with the publication of Irving Stone’s bestselling novel thirst for lifewhich was first published in 1934 and reprinted endlessly (and in 1956 made into a feature film, starring Kirk Douglas).

Detroit exhibit curator Jill Shaw and her colleagues broke new ground with their study of Van Gogh in the United States. Among his discoveries, the artist’s first work that was almost acquired by an American museum was perhaps a little earlier than Self-Portrait with Straw Hat.

In 1921, his own museum was presented with an atmospheric watercolor, landscape with wheelbarrow (September-October 1883), which Van Gogh had painted in Drenthe, a remote region in the north of the Netherlands.

by Van Gogh landscape with wheelbarrow (September–October 1883) Credit: Cleveland Museum of Art

Detroit never proceeded to purchase landscape with wheelbarrow. It remained in private collections and was bequeathed to the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1958. It will be loaned for the exhibition in Detroit.

The Detroit exhibit was originally scheduled to open in June 2020, but had to be postponed due to Covid-19. When the postponement until October 2022 was initially announced, it seemed an unduly long wait and the pandemic was not expected to last that long. But the 28-month postponement now turns out to have been a prudent decision. Most of the loans were renegotiated, although nine works were no longer available.

Van Gogh in America is part of a larger scholarly effort to trace the artist’s rise to fame in various key countries. It follows recent broadcasts on Van Gogh and Japan (Sapporo, Tokyo and Kyoto museums, 2017-18 and Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, 2018); Van Gogh and Brittany (Tate Britain, London, 2019); and Making Van Gogh: A German Love Story (Städel Museum, Frankfurt, 2019).

Other Van Gogh short stories:

The Ace of Hearts, a playing card just released by the Monuments Men Foundation depicting Van Gogh the Painter on the way to Tarascon (August 1888) Credit: Monuments Men Foundation, Dallas

The Dallas-based Monuments Men Foundation is releasing a set of playing cards this week, each of which bears the image of an important work of art still missing from World War II and which may well have been looted.

The Ace of Hearts features Van Gogh The Painter on his way to Tarascon (August 1888), which belonged to the Magdeburg Museum. The map reads: ‘Missing from the Neu-Stassfurt Salt Mine in Germany, this painting may have survived the fires that broke out in the mine after the arrival of US Army forces on April 12, 1945’ .

The most detailed account of the fate of The Painter on his way to Tarascon was published by The Arts Journal. We also revealed the first image of the bold frame, complete with sunflower designs, in which it once hung.

The Monuments Men Foundation is offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to Van Gogh’s recovery.

Martin Bailey is the author of Van Gogh finale: Auvers and the artist’s rise to fame (Frances Lincoln, 2021, available in the UK and U.S). He is a leading Van Gogh scholar and investigative journalist for The arts journal. Bailey has curated Van Gogh exhibitions at the Barbican Art Gallery and Compton Verney/National Gallery of Scotland. He was co-curator of Tate Britain’s The EY exhibition: Van Gogh and Great Britain (March 27-August 11, 2019).

Van Gogh’s Last Books by Martin Bailey

Bailey has written a number of other bestselling books, including The Sunflowers Are Mine: The Story of Van Gogh’s Masterpiece (Frances Lincoln 2013, available in UK and U.S), Southern Studio: Van Gogh in Provence(Frances Lincoln 2016, available in UK and U.S) and Starry Night: Van Gogh in the Asylum (White Lion Publishing 2018, available in the UK and U.S). whiskey cream Living with Vincent van Gogh: the houses and landscapes that shaped the artist (White Lion Publishing 2019, available in the UK and U.S) provides insight into the artist’s life. The Illustrated Letters of Provence by Van Gogh has been re-released (Batsford 2021, available in UK and U.S).

• To contact Martin Bailey, please email: [email protected] Please note that it does not perform authentications.

Read more on the Martin’s Adventures with Van Gogh blog here.


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