6 August 2014
Nienke Bakker (b. 1972) has recently been appointed Curator of Van Gogh Paintings at the Van Gogh Museum.
She is now responsible for the collection of paintings by Vincent van Gogh, the largest in the world with more than 200 paintings.
This summer, Nienke Bakker has begun working as Curator of Van Gogh Paintings at the Van Gogh Museum. In this role, she is responsible for the conservation, presentation and expansion of this important part of the collection. She enthusiastically comments, 'A curator's responsibilities include the story that the museum tells through the presentation of its permanent collection. The story of the Van Gogh Museum is about Van Gogh's artistic life. The collection and organisation of the museum show what makes Van Gogh such an exceptional artist. As a curator, I want to provide insight into his artistic quest and show our visitors what he wanted to express in his work.' Making the collection even stronger through loans and new acquisitions is an essential part of Bakker's new job: 'A museum collection is always in motion. There are always new insights and themes to be explored through these works of art. For example, our new permanent exhibition will include a section on new generations of artists inspired by Van Gogh's life and work.’
Bakker’s successful career has unfolded in the Netherlands and France. Bakker studied art history at Utrecht University and French language and culture in Utrecht, Leiden and Lille. During both her studies and her career at the Van Gogh Museum, she has spent time doing research in Paris; in 2012, for example, she was a chercheur invité at the Institut national d’histoire de l'art (INHA).
Bakker came to the Van Gogh Museum in the year 2000, initially as an assistant curator for the major anniversary exhibition Vincent's choice (2003). She comments, 'That exhibition was about Van Gogh's sources of inspiration and was based on his letters. The project was a terrific first encounter with the astonishing richness of those letters, which show that he was not only a painter and draughtsman, but also a great writer.’ Bakker then spent seven years working as a researcher on the Van Gogh Letters Project. In this megaproject, all the letters were newly studied and transcribed. In cooperation with Hans Luijten and Leo Jansen, Bakker did art historical research, wrote essays and commentaries for the new edition of Van Gogh's correspondence, was the editor in charge of the translations and mounted the related exhibitions. In 2009, this project culminated in the online version of Van Gogh’s complete correspondence, the 6-volume print edition in three languages Vincent van Gogh – The Letters: The Complete Illustrated and Annotated Edition and the acclaimed exhibition Van Gogh’s Letters: The Artist Speaks.
After the completion of the Letters Project, Bakker was involved as a researcher in the project Van Gogh's Studio Practice, which combined art-historical and materials research and made the findings accessible to a broad public in publications and the exhibition Van Gogh at Work (2013). Nienke Bakker was appointed exhibition curator in 2010 and organised such exhibitions as Félix Vallotton: Fire Beneath the ice (2014), Van Gogh at Work (2013), Dreams of nature: Symbolism from Van Gogh to Kandinsky (2012) and Stepping out in Montmartre: Prints of cafés and theatres (2011).
As Curator of Paintings, Bakker has succeeded Leo Jansen, who left the museum on 1 May to work on the Mondrian edition project at Huygens ING/RKD. She comments, ‘Leo and I worked together on researching the letters and on their publication. Now I’m following in his footsteps as a curator. This new position is a dream job for me, in which I can use my knowledge about Van Gogh’s life and work, combined with my experience in organising exhibitions, to care for the collection and put it in the spotlight. And of course I hope to acquire a lot of new knowledge and experience now that I’m even more closely involved with these works of art.’