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Van Gogh en de zee

Van Gogh and the sea Exhibition: 18 June - 10 October 2004

Museum press release, 13 May 2004

Presentation of Van Gogh and the sea alongside Manet’s sea paintings

Concurrent with the major summer exhibition of marines by Edouard Manet (18 June to 26 September 2004) the Van Gogh Museum will present a display on the theme of Van Gogh and the sea. The presentation features a selection of works made by the artist on the English coast at Ramsgate, at Scheveningen in Holland and at Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer and Saint-Rémy in the south of France in 1888. The sea was a recurring theme in Van Gogh’s oeuvre. The works shown here are from the museum’s own collection, together with a number of loans.

Several drawings and sketches in letters from the time Van Gogh spent in The Hague (1881-1883) show the beach and village of Scheveningen, as well as portraits of fishermen. He was apparently less interested in the cosmopolitan entertainments of the up-and-coming seaside resort, than in the life and work of the fishing village. Here Van Gogh followed the best traditions of the Dutch masters of the Hague School, such as Hendrik Willem Mesdag and Jozef Israëls.

The presentation focuses on three paintings – one on loan from the Kröller-Müller Museum – which Van Gogh painted at Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in the south of France. For many years Van Gogh had longed to see the Mediterranean and a few months after arriving at Arles in February 1888 he made an excursion to this picturesque fishing village. His brief trip to the coast provided a new creative impulse; he was fascinated by the bright southern colours and was all the more convinced that it was ‘the light’ which he needed to paint. ‘Now that I have seen the sea here, I am absolutely convinced of the importance of staying in the Midi […] I am convinced that I shall set my individuality free simply by staying on here’, he wrote to his brother Theo around 5 June 1888 [623/500].

The painting La Berceuse is also linked to Van Gogh’s marine theme. He suggested that this picture, a portrait of Madame Roulin holding a cradle cord, would look good on the cabin wall of a fishing boat, where it might soothe the lonely hearts of the sailors, bringing back ‘childhood memories of being rocked in their cots’.

Various Japanese prints will also be on show, as well as British and French magazine illustrations of the sea and fishing village life. The prints and illustrations are from Van Gogh’s own collection and represent a major source of inspiration in his oeuvre.