Vincent van Gogh was a passionate man, who sometimes had complex relationships with his family, friends and fellow artists. In some cases, these relationships were close and enduring, but some also ended in estrangement, due to his forthright character. In the exhibition, the most important people in Van Gogh’s life appear in roughly chronological order, from his years in Brabant and The Hague, through the periods in Paris and the south of France, until his death in Auvers-sur-Oise on 29 July 1890. His immediate and extended family circle, his friendships with artists such as Anthon van Rappard, Anton Mauve, Emile Bernard, Paul Gauguin, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Paul Signac, but also his love affairs are examined. The visitor learns more about the artist through drawings and paintings of those in his inner circle as well as through often very personal documents – letters, sketchbooks – and thus gains insight into the person behind the artist.
Works on loan never previously exhibited and masterpieces
The works on loan hail from Dutch collections, including the Van Gogh Museum and the Kröller-Müller Museum, supplemented by several special loans from abroad. The exhibition also includes work and documents owned by private collectors. Furthermore, it brings together many rare documents, the existence of which is virtually unknown to the general public: a sketchbook for Matthijs Maris, never previously shown sketchbooks by Van Gogh for Betsy Tersteeg, daughter of the art dealer H.G. Tersteeg in The Hague, but also a privately owned and seldom exhibited letter from Vincent to Paul Signac and six rarely seen condolence letters to Theo van Gogh, from Camille Pissarro, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin, and others. Among the absolute masterpieces are Still life with Bible (1885) from the Van Gogh Museum (Vincent van Gogh Foundation), Madame Roulin Rocking the Cradle (La berceuse) (1889) from The Art Institute of Chicago and L’Arlésienne (Madame Ginoux) (1890) from the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Rome.
Special attention for Theo van Gogh
Certain subjects receive extra attention in the exhibition. For example, there is a ‘niche’ for Theo van Gogh (1857-1891), undoubtedly the most important person in Van Gogh’s life. Nobody knew Vincent better than his brother Theo, who characterised him in a letter to their sister Willemien (Paris, 14 March 1887) as follows: ‘It's as if there are two people in him, the one marvellously gifted, sensitive and gentle, and the other self-loving and unfeeling.’ The friendship between the brothers and their shared love of art and literature is illustrated in, among other things, the painting Portrait of Theo van Gogh (1887), a book of poetry from Vincent to Theo from 1874-1875 and a book with 42 pasted prints, presumably belonging to Theo van Gogh, all from the Van Gogh Museum. The book of poetry in particular provides a poignant impression of their brotherly love.