BLOG 06   WHATS IN A PAINTING

I would like to shine some light on the relationship between Vincent van Gogh (1853 - 1890) and another Dutch artist of his era, Isaac Israels (1865 - 1934).

Vincent’s brother, Theo, his wife, Johanna, and their son, Vincent Willem, maintained close ties with the established and artistic Israels family in the Hague during the late 1800’s, just before the major drifts and shifts in European art were about to take place. The Jozef Israels Plein and the Isaac Israels Laan in the Hague are permanent reminders of these father and son prodigies.

Vincent did eleven variations on the ‘Sunflowers’ theme: four were painted before the autumn of 1887 whilst staying with his art dealer brother, Theo, in Paris, four in August 1888 after having moved to Arles in the south of France, and another three in January 1889. He made the last three as versions of the four he had painted the summer before. In January, it is winter in the northern hemisphere, also in the south of France, and certainly not sunflower season.

In 1917, Johanna, who had inherited hundreds of Vincent’s remaining works after Theo died in 1891, temporarily loaned Isaac one of his apparently still worthless ‘Sunflowers’ paintings. This particular vibrant version, 73 x 92 cm, the fourth painted in August 1888 and already twenty-nine years old, was hung unframed against a wall covered with wrapping paper in Isaac Israels’s studio in the Hague, using it as a backdrop for quite a number of his own paintings featuring various female models. He probably painted ‘Sunflowers’ more than Vincent did. Isaac painted the illustrated ‘Nude model in front of van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’, 60 x 95 cm, between 1917 and 1920. It is currently in a private collection somewhere in the Netherlands.

After having returned the painting to Johanna, this version of Vincent’s ‘Sunflowers’ was then loaned to the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam from 1920 to 1923. Because of Vincent’s growing popularity, it was subsequently sold to the Tate Gallery in 1924 by the Leicester Galleries on behalf of Johanna and Vincent Willem for around £ 1300, which in those days was an enormous amount of money. The painting has been on permanent loan to the National Gallery in London since and has now become virtually priceless.

Other artists who picked up on Vincent’s ‘Sunflowers‘ theme include Paul Gauguin, Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, and Emil Nolde.

Jon Eiselin.