I didn’t expect very much from the Van Gogh Museum’s Choosing Vincent: Portrait of a Family History exhibition, but it quickly became one of my Amsterdam highlights.
The exhibition takes us on a whistle-stop tour through the lives of four key members of the Van Gogh family: the artist Vincent, his brother Theo, sister-in-law Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, and the artist’s namesake nephew Vincent. The aim is to educate visitors on the historic family decisions and dilemmas that eventually led to the formation of the Van Gogh Museum, which celebrates its 50th anniversary later this year.
Understandably, the most important dilemma was Jo’s, who inherited the Van Gogh estate and hundreds of works following her husband Theo’s death in 1891. Should she continue Theo’s dream of promoting her late brother-in-law’s art, or simply walk away? Her decision ultimately led to the largest ever Van Gogh monograph in 1905 at the nearby Stedelijk Museum.
Jo’s son Vincent also had a key decision to make as he grew older. After his mother’s death, he chose to dedicate himself to the preservation of the collection, rather than pursue his own path as an entrepreneur in engineering. In 1927, he made the ultimate decision to stop selling works off, and global institutions and exhibitions benefited from loans over the decades. And then in 1960, Vincent created a Foundation and started work on creating a purpose-built museum to house his namesake’s collection, eventually opening in 1973.
In addition to seeing Van Gogh’s birth certificate, drawings, paintings, and other archival materials, one gains a sense of Vincent’s inspiration from prints, Theo’s growing art collection, and the selfless philanthropy of the family. There’s even a cute selfie corner at the end.
This temporary exhibition really ought to exist as part of the permanent collection. It’s honestly perfect.
Choosing Vincent: Portrait of a Family History runs until 10 April 2023 at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, https://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en