Snapshot exhibition poster

Painters and photography 1888-1915

14 October 2011 - 8 January 2012

The invention in 1888 of the first manageable, easy-to-use camera for amateurs made spontaneous photography possible: the snapshot was born. The enthusiastic users of the earliest amateur cameras included many artists. What role did photography play in their lives and how did it influence their work? The exhibition Snapshot. Painters and Photography, 1888-1915 sheds a light on this creative process, presenting 220 photographs and 70 paintings, prints and drawings from seven artists.


The painters George Hendrik Breitner, Pierre Bonnard, Maurice Denis, Henri Evenepoel, Henri Rivière, Felix Vallotton and Edouard Vuillard latched onto this new possibility. Their intimate, personal snaps provide a broader picture of their time, and make it clear how photography and painting interacted.

Building pits and family photos
The seven artists mainly took photographs of what they found interesting; it was only later that they sometimes included these things in their artistic work. Breitner, for example, took pictures of urban renewal in Amsterdam, and Rivière recorded the building of the Eiffel Tower. Bonnard, Denis, Valloton and Vuillard regularly produced family photos, portraits and photographs of one another. The living-room photographs of Evenepoel provide a great picture of everyday life towards the end of the 19th century.

Original prints
Henri Evenepoel (1872-1899). Self-portrait in three-way mirror, 1898. Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Belgium, Brussels, Archives of Contemporary Art in BelgiumMore than 200 photos in the exhibition are suspended in space on steel cables. Approximately 130 photographs are original prints measuring just a few centimetres, the standard format of the time. The exhibition also includes old cameras so that you can get a feel for how the artists took their pictures, and see for yourself the difference with modern digital photography. The paintings, prints and drawings are on the walls. Some paintings can be compared directly with the photographs. More often, the link between the photography and the painting is more subtle, for example in the use of light and shade or striking compositions.

Travelling exhibition
The exhibition is a collaboration with The Phillips Collection in Washington and the Indianapolis Museum of Art and includes a generous number of loaned works from the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, which is also providing substantive support for the exhibition.

The exhibition will be on view in Washington from February to April 2012, and in Indianapolis from June to early September 2012.

Free tour every Friday and DJ
From Big brother or big Breitner? to photography workshops and Most Interesting Person in Amsterdam to Digital Obscura: Friday night in the Van Gogh Museum will be devoted to photography and snapshots, with performances, workshops DJs and tours.

Sunday lecture by Hans Rooseboom and Rachel Esner
On Sunday, 6 November 2011 Hans Rooseboom, the photography curator of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, will be discussing Breitner and photography: between conservatism and innovation (in Dutch). On Sunday, 8 January 2012, Rachel Esner, Assistant Professor -Art of the Modern Period at the University of Amsterdam, will talk about Snapshots of intimacy: Artists photograph themselves and their circles (in English). The Sunday lectures start at 2 pm and are free for museum visitors.

The catalogue in English, entitled Snapshot, explains the importance of the photography in a series of articles, which also look at the interaction with art in the late 19th and early 20th century, and the role of the seven artists included in the exhibition.
Snapshot, Elizabeth Easton, Eliza Rathbone, Ellen Lee et al., 248 pages, 285 illustrations, English, hardcover, approx. € 39.95 / $ 50, Publisher: Yale University Press, available from October 2011, ISBN 978 90 79310 28 9.

Photo competition Take a Snapshot!
With Take a Snapshot!, the Van Gogh Museum is organising a global photo competition on Facebook. Every month a different theme from the exhibition:

  • October: family and friends in Amsterdam
  • November: city life in Amsterdam
  • december: posing in Amsterdam

All your photos of emotional, inspiring and creative experiences in Amsterdam can be uploaded to, and they will then be shown at the exhibition. A jury of professionals will select three winning photos from each theme, which will be shown prominently in the corridor of the exhibition wing.

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