London’s National Gallery will stage a Van Gogh blockbuster as part of its 2024 bicentenary celebrations

The National Gallery in London celebrates the anniversary of its founding in 1824 with a blockbuster exhibition on Van Gogh. the art newspaper may reveal that the show will focus on the artist’s period in Provence, where he produced his greatest work.

Although exhibitions are rarely announced that far in advance, they are planned to run from September 2024 to January 2025. There will be at least 50 works on display, mainly paintings, along with some drawings. This will make it the largest Van Gogh exhibition in the UK since the Royal Academy’s 2010 show, which attracted 411,000 visitors.

The exhibition at the National Gallery, tentatively titled Van Gogh: Poets and Lovers, is to start with the period when Van Gogh was in Arles. He arrived there in February 1888 from Paris, seeking the powerful sunlight of the south of France. After initially staying in a small hotel, he later took a room above a cafe and then moved to the Yellow House.

Van Gogh’s The bedroom (September 1889) Credit: Art Institute of Chicago (Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection)

We can report that one of the most important international loans is the version of: The bedroom (September 1889) of the Art Institute of Chicago. This work offers an intimate look at the artist’s nocturnal retreat on the top floor of the Yellow House.

In October 1888, Van Gogh was joined by Paul Gauguin, and at first they put their easels side by side. But their collaboration came to a terrible end on the evening of December 23, when Vincent mutilated his ear. Although the wound healed quickly, the mental scars remained.

In May 1889, Van Gogh realized that he could not live independently. He then moved to an institution on the outskirts of the nearby town of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, where he stayed for a year. Painting was his salvation and gave him a reason to live.

London's National Gallery will stage a Van Gogh blockbuster as part of its 2024 bicentenary celebrations

Van Gogh’s Garden of the shelter (November 1889) Credit: Museum Folkwang, Essen

Another promised photo for the London exhibition is garden of the shelter, (November 1889) from the Folkwang Museum in Essen. It represents a walled area where the prisoners would exercise under the trees, with a view of the hills of Les Alpilles in the distance.

A sunny national treasure

The National Gallery in London is the most suitable venue for a Van Gogh extravaganza, as one of its greatest treasures is the original version of the sunflowers on a yellow background. This was painted in August 1888 to decorate Gauguin’s bedroom.

London's National Gallery will stage a Van Gogh blockbuster as part of its 2024 bicentenary celebrations

Van Gogh’s sunflowers (August 1888) Credit: National Gallery, London

The exhibition will tell the amazing story of how the sunflowers ended in London. In December 1910 the painting came on loan from Vincent’s sister-in-law Jo Bonger, to be included in curator Roger Fry’s groundbreaking Post-Impressionist exhibition. The painting had a profound influence on the British avant-garde and was published as the frontispiece of Charles Hind’s 1911 book. The Post-Impressionists

London's National Gallery will stage a Van Gogh blockbuster as part of its 2024 bicentenary celebrations

Charles Hind’s book about The Post-Impressionists (1911)

sunflowers returned to London on loan in December 1923 for Van Gogh’s first one-man show in the UK, at the Leicester Galleries. At the time, the National Gallery was just beginning to collect modern European art, supported by an extremely generous donation of £50,000 from Samuel Courtauld. Jim Ede, a young gallery curator, set his sights on acquiring sunflowers

Bonger, who had inherited hundreds of Vincent’s paintings, politely declined his request in October 1923: “The sunflowers are not for sale, never; they belong in our family”.

Ede tried again in January 1924 and Bonger sent an emotional reply: “For two days I tried to harden my heart against your appeal; I felt like I couldn’t bear to be separated from the picture, I had looked at it every day for over 30 years. But in the end, the appeal proved irresistible. I know that no picture in your famous gallery would represent Vincent in a more dignified way than the “Sunflowers”, and that he himself “le Peintre des Tournesols” [the Painter of Sunflowers], would have liked it added… It is a sacrifice for the sake of Vincent’s glory.” The price was £1,300.

What is less well known is that Bonger soon realized that her reluctant decision had been the right one. On March 12, less than two months later, she wrote to Paul Gachet Jr., the son of the doctor who had treated Vincent at the end of his life. Bonger told him that the… sunflowers stayed in London: “I’m so happy.”

sunflowers was initially displayed in Millbank, in what would become the Tate Britain building. In 1961 the picture was moved to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.

Van Gogh’s still life is now one of the most famous paintings in the world. Ten years ago, before cell phone images became ubiquitous, it was the National Gallery’s best-selling postcard (26,000 a year). The story goes that the floor for the sunflowers is most polished by the shoes of millions of visitors.

On the occasion of the centenary of the acquisition of sunflowers Reason enough for Van Gogh to be the highlight of the gallery’s bicentennial exhibition, but there’s still an anniversary. In 1874, 150 years before the forthcoming exhibition, Van Gogh was living in Brixton, in South London, and worked as a young assistant dealer at the Goupil Gallery in Covent Garden.

The National Gallery was only a five minute walk from his work, so he was a regular visitor, most likely during his lunch hours. Many years later Vincent recalled seeing specific paintings by Constable, Rembrandt (a work now relegated to Nicolas Maes) and Hobbema. In the spring of 1874, he is said to have celebrated his 21st birthday and the National Gallery is said to have celebrated its 50th anniversary.

Vincent at that stage never seemed to have considered that he might become a professional artist, let alone that his work would enter the hallowed portals of London’s National Gallery – and that one of his paintings would eventually become the most popular work.

And why is the exhibition 2024-25 provisionally subtitled poets and loved ones† For the answer and further details about the upcoming show, see the art newspaper blog Adventures with Van Goghwill be posted tomorrow (June 24, 2022).

Leave a Comment