Van Gogh & Company

Article excerpt

WITH A SIGNIFICANT group of some 20 paintings and drawings by Vincent van Gogh as its core, the exhibition "Van Gogh to Mondrian: Modern Art from the Kroller-Muller Museum" tells the fascinating story of perhaps the 20th century's greatest patron of modern art, architecture, and design. One of the most important promoters of modernism in Holland, Helene Kroller-Muller created a remarkable ensemble of paintings by the most significant figures of the early modern period, including Fernand Leger, Pier Mondrian, Pablo Picasso, Georges Seurat, and van Gogh. Working with leading Dutch modernist artists and architects in the 1910s and 1920s, Kroller-Muller and her husband, Anion, envisioned a museum where the public could enjoy and study the development of modern painting from Pointillism and Cubism to Neoplasticism.

Influenced by her relationship with noted art historian H.P. Bremmer, Kroller-Muller's educated eye and vast wealth provided the resources for creating a remarkable collection in a short time. Her interest in modern painting drew her to the leading Symbolist, Neo-Impressionist, and Cubist painters of the period. She canoe to see art as evolving from 19th-century Realism towards an increasing "idealism" of spirituality and inner clarity. An early devotee of van Gogh, she created the largest private collection of the Dutch artist's works, ultimately owning more than 90 paintings and 185 drawings. The Kroller-Muller Museum's van Gogh collection is second only to that of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in site and quality.

"Van Gogh to Mondrian" features a grouping of 12 major van Gogh paintings and 10 drawings. Of these, one never has traveled to this country ("Self-Portrait," 1887), and others were last seen in special loan exhibitions more than 50 years ago. This selection of paintings includes iconic images such as "Cafe Terrace at Night" (1888), "Sorrowing Old Man" (1890), and portraits of Joseph and Augustine Roulin. Piet Mondrian is represented with seven paintings spanning a period from 1913 to 1919, reflecting key moments in the artist's evolution. The exhibition also includes architectural designs and models of the Kroller-Muller Museum--which opened in 1938--produced by Hendrick Petrus Berlage, Henry van de Velde, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, as well as furniture commissioned by the Kroller-Mullers from Berlage and a magnificent stained glass window designed by Bart van der Leck.

Following are brief biographies of some of the key artists featured in the exhibition:

Vincent van Gogh (1853-90). Vincent Willem van Gogh, the second of six children, was born in the village of Zundert in the south of the Netherlands. His father, Theodorus van Gogh, was a well-known preacher in the Dutch Reformed Church. In the autumn of" 1880, after more than a year living as a pauper in the Borinage, van Gogh began to study at L'Ecole des Beaux-Art in Brussels. There, he began to understand the rudiments of perspective and anatomy, but left the institution before completing his schooling. He enrolled briefly in the Academy in Antwerp in early 1886, but left only four weeks later, feeling stifled by the "narrow and rigid" approach of the instructors.

Drawn to the bohemian life and artistic activity of Paris, van Gogh relocated there in 1886. In Paris, he became acquainted with the work of Impressionists and experimented with their bright palette and rhythmic brushwork. This exposure marked a drastic taming point in the direction his work took thereafter. In 1888, seeking the calm of the southern French countryside, he moved to Aries to create what he called "a studio in the South" with Paul Ganguin. In Aries, van Gogh worked feverishly, executing over 200 pictures in 15 months.

Known for his psychologically wrought imagery, van Gogh's work is characterized throughout his career by his acute need for self-expression. Several of his most famous works were created in the last years of his life--before his suicide--when he lived in Provence, including "The Starry Night. …