‘You see his eyes go’

Closer to Vincent

NOS News

  • Lambert Teuwissen

    editor online

  • Lambert Teuwissen

    editor online

Cups out The potato eaters. ‘s vase sunflowers. Getting out of the yellow bed Bedroom. For years, art historian Alexandra van Dongen of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen examined objects portrayed by Vincent van Gogh. In an exhibition that opened at the weekend in Vincent Van GoghHuis in Zundert, she shows what the choices of objects say about the painter’s life and art.

“You get to look at his work in a different way,” she explains. “It makes it very tangible. At one point I felt like I was looking over his shoulder.”

“He’s always interested in shapes, materials, colors. So you see him see if something has an interesting shape and then he takes it.”

From mom’s kitchen cupboard

For his research, Van Dongen studied almost a hundred paintings and drawings by Van Gogh. What the painter depicts changes depending on where he lives. “You can see the shared material culture from Vincent’s immediate environment where he was working at the time.”

In Nuenen, it is the simple peasant interiors that appeal to him. “There you see all sorts of pots and pans that must have been in his own mother’s kitchen. This can also be supported by archaeological finds.”

Van Dongen cites the coffee cups as an example The potato eaters standing, Maastricht pottery. “Industrially made pottery, everyone used it. It was not only for farmers, but also in use by the Van Gogh family. Fragments of it have been found when the sewage system behind their parsonage was replaced.”

Bartman jugs and powder horns

After Van Gogh began teaching painting to the collector Antoon Hermans, he suddenly had interesting objects from his collection at his disposal. “Then some more special items appear that aren’t in his mother’s kitchen at all. Antique bearded jars or an odd object like a powder horn or cigar holder. Clues that if he saw something nice, he’d ask, ‘Oh, may I get the gothic jug? borrow it?’.”

  • Closer to Vincent

    A simple still life with a straw hat
  • Closer to Vincent

    And more expensive items in Still life with a bearded man jug

“If you look at his entire oeuvre, you see that in the floral still life he continuously takes objects that are not even intended as a vase. A jug of liqueur, a jug of milk and a small sprig of flowers in a jam jar. He just grabs what is around him and uses it. him. It gives a surprisingly different view of his work.”

As an example, Van Dongen mentions the famous sunflowers, where Van Gogh did not use a vase, but a greasepot. “They could be found in any French kitchen, with beef or goose fat for frying.”

French pan in Nuenen?

In this way, not only Van Gogh’s thinking can be reconstructed, the objects sometimes also say something about the work itself. A few years ago, Van Dongen discovered a French painting on a painting that was thought to have been painted in Nuenen stew parisienne.

“Suddenly all neighborhoods started to decline,” says Van Dongen. “It is French pottery. The chance that he had seen such a pan in Nuenen is many times less than that he saw it a year later with his brother Theo in Montmartre.” Later research into the canvas confirmed this conclusion.

  • Closer to Vincent

    Still life with potatoes
  • Closer to Vincent

    A Stew Parisienne

In front of Closer to Vincent Van Dongen tracked down various objects that Van Gogh actually used. A copper milk jug and a liqueur bottle kept by Van Gogh’s sister-in-law Jo, a vase from the Gachet family. Comparing them to the works of art Van Gogh made of them, it is striking how lifelike he worked.

“He doesn’t change those objects. He lays them down with rough strokes, but still accurate in shape and detail. When you see the real model, you think, ‘Damn, yes, that can be accurately identified’.”

Closer to Vincent

Majolica vase with field bouquet with the pictured jug next to it

She points to a majolica jug from a still life. “You see his eyes go. He’s not going to paint the three cranes, but it will be an impression in brown spots. And the bottom of the pitcher has relief, as if it were a woven basket. Then you understand why he was there in the painting fiddling with paint. He just wants to blob-blob-blob depict that pattern. He portrays the character of these objects.”

Last Thursday, one of the exhibition’s highlights arrived: a vase by the Gachet family, immortalized by Van Gogh. “The flower still life hangs in the Louvre, but this vase is in stock, so we were allowed to borrow it.”

Before it went into the display case, Van Dongen was able to touch it. “Nice if you can hold something like that in your hand for a while. One of Vincent’s real props.”

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