The exhibition will focus on the background to the work’s creation, the artist’s dedication and perseverance, the significance that the painting held for him and the fierce criticism it attracted.
A selection of paintings, drawings, sketches and letters by Vincent van Gogh and works by contemporaries and sources of inspiration like Jozef Israëls and Anthon van Rappard tell the full story behind The Potato Eaters.
Visitors can get even closer to the painting in the Potato Eaters Studio – a full-sized model of the cottage of the De Groot-van Rooij family as featured in The Potato Eaters, in which workshops and other activities will be organized.
The exhibition opens to the public on Friday 8 October 2021 and will run until 13 February 2022.
This Autumn: ‘The Potato Eaters: Mistake or Masterpiece?’
This autumn, the Van Gogh Museum will present the exhibition The Potato Eaters: Mistake or Masterpiece? – an ode to the painting of the same name by Vincent van Gogh.
- Date 8 July 2021
- Press release Autumn exhibition pays tribute to The Potato Eaters
Beginning on 8 October 2021, the Van Gogh Museum is presenting the exhibition The Potato Eaters: Mistake or Masterpiece? – an ode to the work which Vincent van Gogh painted in the Brabant village of Nuenen in 1885.
Although the painting is now one of the highlights of the Van Gogh Museum’s collection, it was by no means viewed that way by everyone at the time. The exhibition invites visitors to form their own opinion of what Van Gogh then viewed as the best work he produced so far.
Although he never explicitly used the word in his letters, Van Gogh only considered four of his paintings to be ‘masterpieces’: The Bedroom (1888), Sunflowers (1888) and Augustine Roulin (La berceuse) (1888–89), but also The Potato Eaters (1885), which he spent months preparing to paint.
Having drawn and painted for several years by then, he viewed the canvas as his first ‘masterwork’ – a demonstration of his newly acquired skills. He hoped the challenging group composition would provide his entrée into the Paris art market.
Van Gogh decided to depict a peasant meal, a popular theme at the time. In choosing it, he followed in the footsteps of role models and contemporaries including Joseph Israëls and Charles Degroux.
Van Gogh wanted The Potato Eaters to be a symbol of honest, unidealized rural life – something that was not yet common in painting. The Potato Eaters: Mistake or Masterpiece offers an insight into the genesis of the painting and what Van Gogh hoped to achieve with it.
For all his ambition, however, the success he hoped for failed to materialize: the painting was received critically by dealers, artists and his brother alike. The Potato Eaters never featured in an exhibition and ended up hanging unsold above the fireplace in Theo’s apartment in Paris. All the same, Van Gogh did not admit defeat: he stuck to his career and continued to develop as an artist.
The many studies, drawings and oil sketches that Van Gogh made in Nuenen to prepare for The Potato Eaters, together with works by artists who inspired him, form the thread running through the exhibition.
The Potato Eaters: Mistake or Masterpiece shows that Van Gogh was not only a self-taught, struggling artist, but also an ambitious man who meticulously prepared his work. He did not give up easily, even in the face of withering criticism.
‘What I think about my own work is that the painting of the peasants eating potatoes that I did in Nuenen is after all the best thing I did.’ –
Vincent van Gogh to his sister Willemien, October 1887
Closer to the painting
To get even closer to the artist and the painting, part of the exhibition will be configured as a Potato Eaters Studio. Visitors will be able to step into the canvas, as it were, by taking a seat at the dining table of the portrayed De Groot-van Rooij family – the spot in which Van Gogh spent hours preparing The Potato Eaters.
The studio will highlight peasant life in the nineteenth-century Brabant countryside, visitors will have a chance to get creative, and drawing workshops will be held.
The Potato Eaters: Mistake or Masterpiece opens at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam on 8 October 2021 and runs until 13 February 2022.
Find out what else there is to see at the museum now and in the near future.
‘The Potato Eaters: Mistake or Masterpiece?’ has been made possible by the support of the Van Gogh Museum’s principal partners ASML and Van Lanschot, partner Hyundai and the contributions of The Sunflower Collective. The Potato Eaters Studio will be fully financed with the support of ASML.