On the centenary of its status as the first public museum in the United States to purchase a painting by Vincent van Gogh, the Detroit Institute of Arts presents a landmark exhibition that tells the story of the artist’s rise to prominence among American audiences. Van Gogh in America features paintings, drawings, and prints by the Dutch Post-Impressionist artist.
The exhibition runs from Oct. 2 to Jan. 22, 2023 and features 74 original Van Gogh works. Visitors can experience the defining moments, people, and circumstances that catapulted Van Gogh’s work to widespread acclaim in the United States.
The exhibition’s presence in Detroit — and more generally, in the Midwest — holds special significance. The DIA’s 1922 purchase of “Self-Portrait” (1887) was the first by a public museum in the United States. During his lifetime, Van Gogh never visited the United States.
Notably, the next four Van Gogh paintings purchased by American museums were all in the Midwest, where audiences were galvanized by Van Gogh’s rugged aesthetic, featuring subjects from modern, everyday life; The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri; Saint Louis Art Museum; and Toledo Museum of Art. These important purchases – “Olive Trees” (1889; Kansas City); “Stairway at Auvers” (1890; Saint Louis); “Houses at Auvers” (1890; Toledo); and “Wheat Fields with Reaper, Auvers” (1890, Toledo) — are all featured in the exhibition.
“One hundred years after the DIA made the bold decision to purchase a Van Gogh painting, we are honored to present Van Gogh in America,” says Salvador Salort-Pons, director of the DIA. “This unique exhibition includes numerous works that are rarely on public view in the United States, and tells the story — for the first time — of how Van Gogh took shape in the hearts and minds of Americans during the last century.”
One of the most influential artists in the Western canon, Van Gogh amassed a large body of work: more than 850 paintings and almost 1,300 works on paper. He began painting at the age of 27, and was prolific for the next 10 years until his death in 1890.
Works by Van Gogh appeared in more than 50 group shows before he finally received a solo exhibition in an American museum in 1935 at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. Reflecting and fanning the excitement among American audiences for Van Gogh was Irving Stone’s novel “Lust for Life” (1934), and Vincente Minnelli’s film adaptation starring Kirk Douglas (1956), which helped shape Americans’ popular understanding of the artist.
“How Van Gogh became a household name in the United States is a fascinating, largely untold story,” says Jill Shaw, head of the James Pearson Duffy Department of Modern and Contemporary Art and Rebecca A. Boylan and Thomas W. Sidlik Curator of European Art, 1850 –1970, at the DIA. “Van Gogh in America examines the landmark moments and trajectory of the artist becoming fully integrated within the American collective imagination, even though he never set foot in the United States.”
Van Gogh in America is arranged in a narrative fashion spanning nine galleries, starting with “Van Gogh’s Chair (1888; The National Gallery, London):
- In the first gallery, the exhibition is introduced and illustrations of early black and white U.S. newspaper clippings pertaining to Van Gogh are presented.
- Following is a selection of works by Van Gogh that were included in the 1913 International Exhibition of Modern Art (Armory Show).
- Next, works from the first U.S. retrospective of Van Gogh’s work in a commercial gallery context in 1920 are displayed, documenting the role of Van Gogh’s family in fostering the artist’s reputation in the United States.
- To follow is a presentation of the DIA’s Self-Portraitpurchased in 1922. Works by other artists from the DIA’s permanent collection, as well as some lent by other American museums, are included in this gallery to reveal how the DIA displayed Self-Portrait soon after its acquisition.
- In the following room, the Midwest museums that followed the DIA in accessioning Van Gogh works of their own are highlighted.
- Next, galleries are dedicated to the marquee traveling exhibition organized by MoMA in 1935.
- In the final room, Hollywood’s representation of Van Gogh and the making of his art is brought to life, as well as a discussion of the legacy and enduring appeal of Vincent van Gogh.
Major highlights include:
- “Self-Portrait”(1887), Vincent van Gogh, oil on canvas, Detroit Institute of Arts.
- “Van Gogh’s Chair”(1888), Vincent van Gogh, oil on canvas, The National Gallery, London.
- “Starry Night” (“Starry Night over the Rhône”)(1888), Vincent van Gogh, oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
- “L’Arlésienne: Madame Joseph-Michel Ginoux” (Marie Julien, 1848–1911)(1888–89), Vincent van Gogh, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
- “The Bedroom” (1889), Vincent van Gogh, oil on canvas, The Art Institute of Chicago.
- “The Olive Trees” (1889), Vincent van Gogh, oil on canvas, The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
The exhibition includes select works by Van Gogh’s contemporaries Paul Cézanne and Paul Gauguin, in addition to 20th century European and American artists Raoul Dufy, Henri Matisse, Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes, and Joseph Stella.
A full-length, illustrated catalogue with essays by Rachel Esner, Joost van der Hoeven, Julia Krikke, Jill Shaw, Susan Alyson Stein, Chris Stolwijk, and Roelie Zwikker, and a chronology by Dorota Chudzicka will accompany the exhibition.
Museum hours for the exhibit are 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Fridays; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; closed on Mondays. Advanced reservations for Van Gogh in America are strongly recommended; tickets for admission are $7-$29, with discounted tickets for residents of Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne counties.
Adult and youth audio tours are complimentary with admission, along with a printed exhibition guide. For more exhibition information visit DIA. The catalogue for Van Gogh in America is available at the DIA Shop.
Van Gogh in America was organized by the Detroit Institute of Arts and is part of the Bonnie Ann Larson Modern European Artists Series.
Lead support was generously provided by the Founders Junior Council, The J. Addison and Marion M. Bartush Family Foundation, Bank of America, Cadillac, and Nancy and Sean Cotton.
Major support is provided by the William H. and Patricia M. Smith Family, Kenwal Steel, Frances and Kenneth Eisenberg, Nicole and Stephen Eisenberg, Alex Erdeljan, James and Sally Scapa Foundation, Marjorie and Maxwell Jospey Foundation, Spencer & Myrna Partrich, Friends of Art & Flowers, Joanne Danto, Arnold Weingarden & Jennifer Danto Shore, Huntington, Ford Motor Company Fund, DTE Energy Foundation, Jennifer Adderley, and The Family of Christopher R.W.D. Stroh.
Additional support is provided by the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, Wells Fargo, Gilbert Family Foundation, Nancy S. Williams Trust and executor, Sharon Backstrom, and Aaron and Carolynn Frankel.
This exhibition is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, as part of the Dutch Culture USA program by the Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York, and the European Paintings Council.
Funding is also provided by Mrs. William Clay Ford, Mr. and Mrs. John W. Ingle, Jr., Mr. and Mrs. John W. Ingle III, Mr. and Mrs. John M. Sullivan, Jr., Eleanor and Frederick Ford, and Kathleen and Robert Rosowski.
The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.
Major funding for the exhibition catalogue is generously provided by Jo Elyn and George M. Nyman.