Het Noordbrabants Museum, Den Bosch, Holland has recently acquired from a private collection The Garden of the Vicarage at Nuenen by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). The work of October-November 1885 is the last known watercolour van Gogh produced in Nuenen; it occupies a special place in his oeuvre. This acquisition – the most important purchase ever made by Het Noordbrabants Museum – underlines the museum’s ambition to offer a representative overview of van Gogh’s Brabant period by means of original works by the artist. The purchase of The Garden of the Vicarage at Nuenen was made possible by the generous support of the BankGiro Lottery, the Mondriaan Fund, the VSB Foundation, the Friends of Het Noordbrabants Museum, the Renschdael Art Foundation and Coen Teulings. The BankGiro Lottery donated almost half of the total purchase price of over 1 million euros.
Vincent van Gogh lived with his parents in the vicarage at Nuenen for nearly a year and a half. The garden behind the vicarage was one of his favourite spots. He produced a number of works there, some of them very ambitious indeed. This watercolour occupies an important place in van Gogh’s oeuvre for a variety of reasons. In a letter to his brother Theo, Vincent wrote: ‘I’ve also made another autumn study of the pond in the garden at home. There’s definitely a painting in that spot.’ In fact, van Gogh did make a large painting based on this drawing, but it was lost in the Second World War and is known only from black-and-white reproductions. The watercolour drawing gives a rough idea of the palette of the lost painting.
Its importance to Dutch cultural heritage
Both works were intended to be used as examples for a well-conceived, complex figure piece, the kind of picture that van Gogh had been wanting to make from the beginning of his artistic career. It is, moreover, his first experiment with a subject that he would also depict in Paris and Arles: strolling figures and couples in an attractive garden or a poetic park setting.
As one of his last Nuenen works (and the only drawing), this sheet displays the brighter colours that van Gogh began to use after visiting the Rijksmuseum in early October 1885. Studying the Old Masters there had made him realise that he had gone too far in his preference for a dark palette. Back in Nuenen, he immediately set to work, bearing in mind his new insight; this resulted in the appealing (and well-preserved) coloration of this work. The watercolour was presumably acquired in 1903 by the renowned art critic and lecturer H.P. (Hendrik) Bremmer, who later became adviser to Helene Kröller-Müller; after Bremmer’s death in 1956 it became the property of his heirs. Around 1969 the work ended up in the collection from which it was recently acquired through the art dealer Ivo Bouwman.
Its importance to Noord-Brabant
In ‘van Gogh Brabant’, five cultural heritage institutions in the province of Noord-Brabant – the van Gogh Village in Nuenen, Vincents Tekenlokaal in Tilburg, the van Goghkerk in Etten-Leur, the Vincent van Gogh House in Zundert and Het Noordbrabants Museum in ’s-Hertogenbosch – have joined forces to preserve and share van Gogh’s cultural legacy in Brabant. There is increasing collaboration with ‘van Gogh Europe’, a joint Dutch, Belgian and French venture. Their goal is to preserve and promote van Gogh’s legacy in this international context. The purchase of the watercolour also fits in with the intention of the province of Noord-Brabant to pursue a more active policy in the coming years to link van Gogh more explicitly to Brabant. Interestingly, the new acquisition actually depicts one of the van Gogh cultural heritage sites in Brabant.
Van Gogh in Het Noordbrabants Museum
Het Noordbrabants Museum is the only museum in the southern part of the Netherlands to exhibit original works by Vincent van Gogh. They are on display in Het Verhaal van Brabant (The Story of Brabant); to be exact, in a pavilion devoted to van Gogh and his Brabant period. In addition to the one painting in its possession (Peasant Woman Digging), the museum has, among others, two works on permanent loan from the Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed (Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands) and several works on temporary loan from the van Gogh Museum. The new acquisition will be added to the display in the van Gogh pavilion. Owing to its fragility, the watercolour will now be shown only until 19 March 2017. After a few months of rest, it will return to a specially built display case, where it can be viewed for longer periods.
Van Gogh Examined – presentation of research results
Between 1884 and 1888, van Gogh re-used his canvases with some regularity. Het Noordbrabants Museum wishes to know more about what is beneath the paint layer of a number of works in the permanent display. For this reason, five paintings will be examined by means of X-radiography, infrared photography, infrared reflectography and raking light photography. The exhibition van Gogh Examined (24 June 2017 – 21 January 2018) will present the results of this research.
Travel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018