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Rarely seen van Gogh painting star of Drenthe exhibition 'Travelling with Vincent'

Updated: Feb 24

A Vincent van Gogh masterpiece which has not been seen in public for over 40 years is about to go on show in an important new exhibition on the Dutch master in the Netherlands.

Landscape with a Farm — which van Gogh completed in 1883 — is a colourful watercolour depicting a solitary farm building amongst the flat Dutch terrain. It has been in the possession of a Canadian private family collection for more than four decades and it has never been shown to the public in that time.

That will change when it goes on display as part of a landmark new exhibition opening 11 September 2023 at the Drents Museum in the provincial capital of Assen in the Netherlands.

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Travelling with Vincent - Van Gogh in Drenthe is the first ever exhibition on Van Gogh's stay in the far north of the country, and it opens on the anniversary of the artist arriving in the province. It was on 11 September 1883 he arrived, meaning that the show opens fittingly exactly 140 years later.

Speaking to maxwell museums, Annemiek Rens, chief curator of the Drents Museum, said it was "very special" for the museum to be able to present the work to visitors, especially as it "is virtually unknown to the public and has been on the other side of the world for decades."

She added that the paining was "very surprising because of Van Gogh's bold use of colour."

The three months van Gogh spent in Drenthe became decisive for his development as a person and as an artist — and he travelled there in order to find peace and reflection and new inspiration. These are all important aspects of his artistic output which the exhibition explores.

Over the past eight years, the Drents Museum has conducted extensive research into Vincent van Gogh's Drenthe period. The exhibition will bring together more than 20 works by Van Gogh ranging from paintings, watercolours and drawings as well as those by his contemporaries such as Jacob van Ruisdael, Jules Dupré, Jean-François Millet, Anton Mauve and Anthon van Rappard. The works come from museums and private collections from all over the world and it is the first time the museum has presented so many works from that era together.

Watercolour of muted colours showing a building in the centre of a rural landscape
van Gogh, Landscape with a farm, Drenthe, 1883. Private Collection, Canada. Courtesy Ars Docet

Securing the loan of Landscape with a Farm involved a bit of detective work. "Only a poor black and white image of this watercolor was known until recently" Rens told us. "Thanks to a mediator, we were able to trace the artwork and request it on loan for the exhibition."

It will be see alongside the five other paintings from van Gogh's Drenthe period that are known today. One of these will be Peasant burning weeds, acquired by the museum in 2019 together with the Van Gogh Museum. The small yet powerful work shows a solitary figure on a deserted plain at twilight, illuminated by a fire. Its display usually alternates between the two museums.

The exhibition comes about thanks to loans from a large number of museums, including the Van Gogh Museum, Kröller-Möller Museum, Rijksmuseum, Musée d'Orsay (Paris) and Museo Soumaya (Mexico City) and private lenders.

The exhibition marks the moment in van Gogh's life commencing from boarding the last train from The Hague to Drenthe on 11 September 1883, where he then went on to stay in Hoogeveen for a few weeks before moving to Nieuw-Amsterdam and Veenoord. His letters show that he produced a large number of works during his stay, but most of them have been lost.

Rural van Gogh

2023 and beyond is an exciting time for van Gogh fans, as the Dutch provinces of Drenthe and Noord-Brabant are putting the artist's little-known time in the region in the spotlight — of which this exciting exhibition is one.

Rural Van Gogh is a programme of celebrations looking at his years in the Dutch countryside, his love of nature and his connection with rural life.

Van Gogh's short and eventful life was characterised by a large number of moves to various places in Europe, and while his period in France is best known, he actually spent most of his life in the Netherlands. North Brabant is the region where he lived longest and where he was formed as a person and an artist. There he developed his love for nature and landscape, struggled with his family, faith and feelings, started there as an artist and completed his first masterpiece here.

During his time in Drenthe, Vincent wrote letters about the impression the landscape made on him. Afterwards, the landscape, rough working-class life and playing with light always remained important themes in his work. That same landscape can still be admired in many places in North Brabant and Drenthe.

The region-wide celebrations kicked off in May 2023 when HM Queen Maxima opened the Van Gogh Village Museum in Nuenen and the fifth Van Gogh National Park walking trail was opened in Helvoirt. In October, the renovated Van Gogh Huis Drenthe in Nieuw-Amsterdam/Veenoord, where the painter stayed during his time in Drenthe, will also reopen.

In addition, signposted Van Gogh cycling and walking routes have been developed around Emmen, Hoogeveen and Zweeloo. The cycling and walking routes provide an illuminating picture of where Van Gogh drew his inspiration.

In December 1883 Vincent finally left Drenthe, to move to his parents’ home in Nuenen, in the far south of the Netherlands. He wrote to Theo: “Drenthe is superb, but staying there depends on many things—depends on whether one has the money for it, depends on whether one can endure the loneliness.”

One question that remains is why so few works from van Gogh's time in Drenthe survive today. According to Rens, he may have made "double or even triple" the six that survive.

"It is possible that he was not satisfied with some works and destroyed them" Rens suggests. "He also left Drenthe fairly headlong, and didn't take everything with him. Then he left a lot of works with his family as he headed for Belgium and France. But even in the years after his death, when he was not well known, work may have been lost. So there are many times when work could have gone out of sight."

Is there the chance some surviving work is still out there, yet to be discovered? "It's always possible that some could turn up now" thinks Rens, "but I consider the chances very small after 140 years."

Travelling with Vincent - Van Gogh in Drenthe runs at the Drents Museum in Assen in the Netherlands from 11 September 2023 until 07 January 2024. Tickets are €15 for adults, and under 17s go free.


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