Collection Catalogue Van Gogh
More information on the final collection catalogue, which focuses on Van Gogh's paintings 1888-1890.
From 2018 to 2021, an international research team conducted comparative research into Van Gogh’s painting technique and the materials he used in this olive grove paintings.
The exhibition Van Gogh and the Olive Groves offered a unique, one-off opportunity to study Van Gogh’s paintings of olive groves. Curators Nienke Bakker (Van Gogh Museum) and Nicole R. Myers (Dallas Museum of Art), launched a collaborative project to research all works in the series in detail.
The exhibition Van Gogh and the Olive Groves, on view at the Van Gogh Museum until 12 June 2022, reunites for the very first time the important series of paintings and drawings that Van Gogh dedicated to olive trees. This impressive group of works, produced during his stay at the asylum of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, reveals the artist’s passionate investigation of the expressive powers of colour, line, and subject.
Van Gogh and the Olive Groves is a collaboration between the Van Gogh Museum and the Dallas Museum of Art, where the exhibition was held until 6 February 2022. Over the years, Van Gogh’s fifteen paintings of olive trees have become scattered around the world. Three of these works are now in the collection of the Van Gogh Museum, the others are in museums in Europe and the United States and in a private collection.
From 2018 to 2021, an international research team led by Van Gogh Museum paintings conservator Kathrin Pilz, in collaboration with the conservators of the eleven collections that are home to these works, conducted comparative research into Van Gogh’s painting technique and the materials he used in this series. Of particular interest were questions related to the artist's working method in the studio versus painting outdoors in front of the motif, his use of unstable pigments, and whether technical examination could help resolve the sequence in which the paintings were produced.
In November 2018 we have invited the conservators of the different institutions for a first expert meeting at the Van Gogh Museum. The objective of this meeting was to establish the research questions, parameters, and timeline for the project. In the conservation studio, Kathrin Pilz and Hannie Diependaal presented their research to date on the three olive tree paintings in the Van Gogh Museum collection. The Kröller-Müller Museum hosted the second day of the expert meeting, with paintings conservator Margje Leeuwestein presenting on the treatment history and preliminary technical studies on the two olive grove paintings in their collection.
After this first expert meeting, the research started. Every work was examined by the conservator of the institution that is home to the painting, in close collaboration with conservation scientists. In order to receive comparable results for all fifteen paintings in the series, the team followed a standard procedure which is based on extensive research carried out at the Van Gogh Museum for the collection catalogues. Apart from the technical examination of each painting this included painting material analysis (XRF, sampling fibers and ground and/or paint layers) as well as technical imaging (X-Ray, IRR, UV, micrographs, etc.).
A second expert meeting was held in New York in October 2019, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, where the results achieved up to that point were brought together and discussed in a broader context and circle. All participants shared their findings and presented their research to the group. Enough time was planned between this second meeting and the catalogue text deadline to wrap up and pursue any further research questions that emerged as a result of the group’s findings, to finalize the research and to write the catalogue texts.
The art-technical research into Van Gogh’s olive groves produced valuable new information about his working process in this important series. We now know for each painting in detail how Van Gogh built up the composition, how he experimented with his brushwork, and which canvases and pigments he chose. We have gained more insight into Van Gogh’s use of colour and how some purple, red and pink hues in these paintings have changed over time due to fading of red pigments. The research also helped us to solve the questions we had about the order of the paintings.
The results of the research have been published in a richly illustrated catalogue consisting of essays on various aspects of Van Gogh’s olive grove paintings, such as the symbolism of the motif and the context in which the works were created. The catalogue also contains detailed entries on all fifteen paintings in the olive groves series, to which all the participants in the research project have contributed. The catalogue was published by the Dallas Museum of Art (2021).