Exhibition Here to Stay
Which artworks has the museum acquired in recent years and why? Find out in the new exhibition Here to Stay.
6 Must Knows on how we buy art for our collection
The museum frequently acquires new works for its collection. Acquisitions keep the collection dynamic and inspiring. Every piece brings a new story to the collection, which is why they are so important. But how does the museum decide what (not) to acquire?
In this story, you’ll discover 6 things you need to know about acquisitions at the Van Gogh Museum.
We don’t often have the opportunity to add a work by Vincent van Gogh to the collection, but we are always on the lookout. Our museum is home to the largest collection of Vincent’s works, but we are constantly looking for suitable additions, such as drawings from his youth, or early watercolours.
In 2019, we acquired the painting Peasant Burning Weeds together with the Drents Museum. The first acquisition of a painting by Van Gogh since 1977! This was very special, as the huge sums paid for Van Gogh’s work makes it difficult for museums to acquire it.
Peasant Burning Weeds is a powerful painting from Van Gogh’s period in Drenthe: he had just started as an artist, but did a good job of capturing an intimate evening effect. It is also one of the few works from this period that have survived, and the subject is different to other works from the Drenthe period already in the museum collection. This makes it an outstanding addition to the collection.
The museum certainly does not only acquire works by Vincent van Gogh. Our acquisition and collection policy also focuses on works by artists associated with Van Gogh: those who inspired him, his contemporaries, and those whom he inspired. This helps us to offer better context and share new stories about Van Gogh and his time. This work by Charles Angrand is a good example. It’s hardly surprising if you’ve never heard of him – Angrand is not very well known. But Van Gogh knew him.
Curator Maite van Dijk: ‘The two artists became acquainted in Paris in 1886. It is fairly likely that Van Gogh saw this work. Here we see the River Seine in the north-western outskirts of Paris, an area where Van Gogh also often worked. The fact that Angrand is less well-known nowadays doesn’t matter to our museum. The work fits seamlessly into the collection, and into the story of Van Gogh’.
When we are considering buying an artwork, there are always several things we have to think about. The price, for example; is it a fair reflection of the value of the work, or is it much too high when compared with similar pieces on the market?
The condition of the piece is also important. However, an artwork certainly does not need to be in perfect condition for it to be considered. A restorer can often work wonders to improve its condition.
Paper restorer Nico Lingbeek describes the condition of a letter recently acquired by the museum: ‘This letter, which Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin wrote jointly to Émile Bernard, has been folded open and closed many times. The paper was completely worn through. I experimented with different types of glue, and ultimately chose an almost invisible glue that surrounds the fibres like a film. With the naked eye, you can no longer see where the letter had torn’.
If an artwork that we have our eye on meets the strict selection criteria, that’s when it really gets exciting! We then try to secure the work, sometimes with the help of funds and supporters. Artworks are often sold at auction. It can get tense, as only the highest bidder wins. Last year, we acquired a pastel by Edgar Degas. Curator Fleur Roos Rosa de Carvalho explains how things went:
‘When Woman Bathing came up for auction in New York, we really wanted to acquire the work. Someone in the auction room was doing the bidding on our behalf, and several colleagues and I ensconced ourselves in a hotel bar [in Amsterdam] to follow the auction. When we secured the work, we cheered so loudly that we were – politely but firmly – asked to leave the chic hotel lobby’.
But artworks certainly do not always enter our collection after being purchased at auction. We sometimes buy works directly from art dealers or collectors, and artworks are occasionally gifted to the museum.
Our collection of late-19th-century French prints is a hidden treasure to many. Although Van Gogh never made prints, we do collect these works. They offer great insight into how a large number of artists close to Van Gogh developed after his death. Printmaking became highly popular, and many artists got involved. One of the best known is Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: a friend of Van Gogh and the most significant printmaker of his time. Perhaps you recognise some of his works.
Curator Fleur Roos Rosa de Carvalho on a special print by Toulouse-Lautrec in our collection:
‘Sometimes a print comes up for sale that outshines the rest. That is certainly the case with this prestigious litho by Toulouse-Lautrec. The paper is still pristine white. This makes the subtleties in the print clearly visible, like the face on the far left made up of two dots and a splash of red, or the subtle markings around the eyes of the female clown Cha-U-Kao’.
Unfortunately, there are still works missing from our collection. And if you ask us, it’s time for that to change. We would like to add more art from the period after 1900 to the collection, and more work by female artists. But that is sometimes easier said than done.
Curator Maite van Dijk: ‘For years, we have been on the lookout for a representative piece by Berthe Morisot, an amazing Impressionist, and a feminist. She wrote that she wanted to be treated as a man’s equal, because she knew that she was worth it’.
Last year, we acquired this painting by Gabriele Münter, the only artwork by the artist in a Dutch collection! We hope to add lots more work by female artists to the collection in the years ahead, to offer an even more complete and diverse picture of developments in the arts of the late 19th century.