“Van Gogh in America”: How the Dutch artist entranced a nation

When Americans were introduced to 21 works by Vincent van Gogh at the first major US exhibition for modern art, the famous New York Armory Exhibition of 1913, the response was nothing short of love at first sight. It wasn’t until 1922 that the Detroit Institute of Arts, or DIA, became the first museum in the country to purchase a Van Gogh work, his 1887 “Self-Portrait.”

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price? $4,200. [It’s worth considerably more now.]

The only record of the public’s reaction to the work when it was exhibited is from a newspaper account, with one reporter remarking that it “belongs among the old masters”.

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“Self-Portrait” (1887) by Vincent van Gogh. Oil on art board mounted to wood panel.

Detroit Institute of Arts

That self-portrait is the centerpiece of a new exhibit now on view at the DIA’s “Van Gogh in America,” marking the centennial of the museum’s acquisition.

DIA is not alone; As curator Jill Shaw told “Sunday Morning” reporter Rita Brewer, several other Middle Eastern museums soon acquired their own Van Gogh works. In 1926, the Art Institute of Chicago became home to several Van Gogh works, including “The Bedroom” (1889). Museums in Kansas City, St. Louis, and Toledo soon followed.

Yes, it all happened in the Middle East. “I think there’s some kind of element of making our own name, claiming pieces of some kind of avant-garde art that’s still being reviewed and accepted by East Coast museums,” Shaw said.

A view of the “Van Gogh in America” ​​installation at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

CBS News

In 1934, Irving Stone captivated Americans with his bestseller “Lust for Life,” a loosely biographical novel about Van Gogh. Combined with an exhibition organized by New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1935 (Van Gogh’s first museum retrospective in the United States), it was a period of explosive interest in the Dutch artist.

Shaw considers Van Gogh the most beloved artist by Americans. “Oh, sure, I think there are several reasons for that: they’re fun, they’re beautiful, and the texture of his ink strokes is like cake icing!”

Detail from “Wheat Fields with Reaper, Auvers” (1890) by Vincent van Gogh.

Toledo Museum of Art

The 1956 film version of “Lust for Life,” starring Kirk Douglas as the artist, intensified America’s fascination with Van Gogh and his inner demons. Van Gogh suffered from mental illness, which led him to cut off his own ear, as well as what was believed to be suicide.

But Shaw insists works like “Starry Night” were born out of artistry, not obsession.

“Of course, he paints this from nature and he paints it from life,” she said. “He’s very controlling. [He] Even sketches of this work were sent to friends in letters.”

“Starry Night (Starry Night over the Rhone)” (1888) by Vincent van Gogh. Oil on canvas.

© Musée d’Orsay, Paris, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais/Patrice Schmidt

After working as an artist for only ten years, Van Gogh died in 1890 at the age of 37. Although it may have taken decades for this country to appreciate him, Shaw said he embodies the American spirit: “Vincent is basically self-taught, and I think Americans are especially drawn to people who pick themselves up by the bootstraps.” [overcome adversity]And do what they feel they have to do for their role in the world.”

For more details:

The story was produced by Sara Kugel. Editor: Chad Cardin.

See also:

A brush with madness



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