Until now, the fact that Van Gogh left the city nearly every day for three months during his two-year stay in Paris has remained widely unknown. Van Gogh worked in and around Asnières, making some forty paintings from early May until the end of July 1887. The area was about five kilometres from where he lived in Montmartre, and Van Gogh went on foot with his painters’ supplies nearly every day in order to capture the changing landscape. He viewed this period as a ‘painting campaign’, in which he wanted to discover new motifs and experiment extensively with style and use of colour.
Van Gogh was not the only artist to be attracted to Asnières. He was following the example of painters like Seurat, Signac, Bernard and Angrand, who had also started working on the banks of the river to the north-west of Paris. On La Grande Jatte, an island in the Seine near Asnières, Seurat developed his revolutionary stippling technique (pointillism), which he further refined together with Signac. Bernard also started using his characteristic painting style in the suburbs: cloisonnism, using large, flat areas of colour with strong contours. It was on the banks of the Seine that Van Gogh first experimented with the colourful portrayal of light, using loose brushwork. And it was here that he took significant steps towards the brightly-coloured paintings that he made in the South of France. When he ultimately returned into nature a year later in Arles, the same energy and productivity was reignited in him as during his campaign in Asnières.
‘And when I painted landscape in Asnières this summer I saw more colour in it than before’
Vincent van Gogh to his sister Willemien, 1887
Drawing on new and in-depth art historical research, the exhibition sheds light for the first time on the artistic revolution that took place in Asnières. An international team of experts studied historical photographs and postcards and were able to establish the exact locations of the paintings and to chart the small area in which the works were made. The period in Asnières had a significant impact on all five artists, inspiring them to refresh both their use of colour and painting technique. By leaving the city and heading into the suburbs, they were they able to continue to modernise painting.