Monday, February 11, 2008

More on the Missing Painting

The Zurich theft gave me a great excuse to come home and play in my van Gogh books instead of grading exams. "Blossoming Chestnut Branches" (F820, H747 for those keeping score in Faille and Hulsker) was painted early in Vincent's stay at Auvers-sur-Oise, either in the first few days, e.g. between May 20-25, 1890 (Faille) or early June (Hulsker). The May date advocated by Faille comes from mention in an early Auvers letter of four paintings; two of those are later said by Vincent to be studies of blossoming chestnut trees (street scenes). "Blossoming Chestnut Branches" may be in the same group. In any case, it's interesting to me that Vincent returned to the theme of blossoming trees when first arriving in Auvers -- he'd done the same in Arles in Feb-March 1888. Perhaps in Auvers, too, it was a way of affirming his desire for a new beginning. Especially poignant given that he went to Auvers hoping to find solace and recovery from the illness that had kept him in the asylum at Saint-Rémy for a year.

"Blossoming Chestnut Branches" entered the collection of Dr. Paul Ferdinand Gachet, Vincent's doctor in Auvers, and passed to Dr. Gachet's children, Paul and Marguerite. Paul Gachet fils sold the painting to a Paris art dealer in 1912: one of the first van Goghs from the Gachet collection to be sold (not the last). It is unclear why that particular painting was sold early on, whereas less noteworthy van Goghs were sold later or not at all. "Blossoming Chestnut Branches" is held by many to be one of the finest still lifes of the Auvers period.

For more on the Gachet collection, see Susan Alyson Stein's essay "The Gachet Donation in Context" in the 1999 exhibition catalogue, "From Cezanne to van Gogh: The Collection of Doctor Gachet." Interestingly, "Blossoming Chestnut Branches" was not included in the Gachet exhibition nor in the Met's 1989 show, "Van Gogh in Saint-Rémy and Auvers." E. Buehrle acquired the painting in 1951, after it passed among a couple of private collectors in Germany and France.

No comments: