Vincent van Gogh, his brother Theo, Theo’s wife Jo van Gogh-Bonger and their son Vincent are the protagonists in the anniversary exhibition ‘Choosing Vincent.’
Without the unconditional support that the family offered Vincent, the Van Gogh Museum simply would not have existed. The exhibition Choosing Vincent. Portrait of a Family History tells the story of the Van Gogh family, which until now has not received the attention it deserves. This story is punctuated with doubt, setbacks, pride and triumph seen through the eyes of Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), his brother Theo (1857-1891), Theo's wife Jo (1862-1925) and their son Vincent (1890-1978), named after his uncle. Many masterpieces and less well-known gems show and tell how a personal family collection grew to become a world-famous museum collection.
Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) Van Gogh Museum, (Vincent van Gogh Stichting)
Almond Blossom, Vincent van Gogh, 1890, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)
It is to a large degree thanks to the dedication and involvement of the Van Gogh family that the Van Gogh Museum is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2023. The support offered by Vincent’s brother Theo allowed him to develop into an innovative artist. Other members of the Van Gogh family have helped to ensure that everyone has access to the Van Gogh Museum’s now world-famous collection. The exhibition Choosing Vincent introduces the genesis of the museum’s core collection through the eyes of Vincent, his brother Theo, Theo’s wife Jo, and their son Vincent. It shows clearly which choices helped determine the course of history. Choosing Vincent offers visitors an accessible introduction to the decisive moments in the lives of the four protagonists. What would you have done if you had stood in their shoes?
Vincent van Gogh, Quinces, Lemons, Pears and Grapes, 1887
Collected with love
Choosing Vincent. Portrait of a Family History allows visitors to see and hear how a family collection grew to become a world-famous museum collection, from Vincent’s early years through to the foundation of the museum. The exhibition uses artworks by Vincent van Gogh and his contemporaries, previously unexhibited documents, family objects and an enlightening multimedia guide to explore this extraordinary history. Choosing Vincent starts with Vincent’s youth in Brabant, and explores periods such as his formative years as an artist in Paris, where he lived with his brother Theo. In addition to taking charge of Vincent’s works, Theo also collected art by their contemporaries. After the death of the brothers, Theo’s wife Jo van Gogh-Bonger and her son Vincent – also known as ‘the engineer’ – tirelessly dedicated themselves to raising the international profile of the collection, which has been on display at the Van Gogh Museum since 1973.
Vincent van Gogh, Jo Cohen Gosschalk-Bonger and Johan Cohen Gosschalk in the dining room of the house at 77 Koninginneweg, Amsterdam, late 1910 or early 1911. On the wall behind them are the paintings The Langlois Bridge and The Harvest. Bernard Eilers, Amsterdam. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)
Vincent’s family members are still closely involved with the Van Gogh Museum and the Vincent van Gogh Foundation, which manages the collection. One of these family members is Janne Heling (1987), who is committed to the legacy as Chair of the Foundation. ‘Thanks to the dream of my great-grandfather, ‘the engineer’, to keep the collection intact and make it accessible for all, I myself am now able to – and do – choose Vincent. I think that is very special indeed’. Willem van Gogh (1953), the eldest great-grandchild of Theo and Jo, is involved with the Vincent van Gogh Foundation as an ambassador for the Van Gogh Museum. ‘It is a privilege to be so closely involved with Vincent and his brother’s legacy.’
'Engineer' Vincent van Gogh (Theo and Jo van Gogh's son, and founder of the museum) shortly before the opening of the Van Gogh Museum, 1973. Photo: Jan Versnel
With some 200 paintings, 500 drawings, 30 prints and more than 800 letters, the Van Gogh Museum is home to the world’s largest collection of works by Vincent van Gogh. This anniversary exhibition allows visitors to experience this world-class collection like never before. Lisa Smit, curator of Choosing Vincent: ‘We not only show iconic paintings and drawings by Vincent, such as Almond Blossom, but also previously unexhibited pieces: his birth certificate, Jo van Gogh-Bonger’s diary, and a portrait of engineer Vincent van Gogh, which was restored especially for the exhibition.' Knowledge gained from a number of the museum’s long-term research projects is combined in this appealing and accessible exhibition, which is ideal to visit with your (chosen) family.
Vincent van Gogh, Seascape near Les Sainters-Maries-de-la-Mer, 1888.
Choosing Vincent. Portrait of a Family History is on display in the Exhibition Wing at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam from 10 February to 10 April 2023.
Courtesy the Van Gogh Museum.