Revealed: Why Van Gogh’s ‘Empty Chair’ paintings weren’t shown together | Vincent van Gogh

not long ago Vincent van Gogh He cut off his left ear and collapsed. After a quarrel with fellow artist Paul Gauguin in the French city of Arles in 1888, he created a pair of unusual paintings. One, Gauguin chair, depicts two books and a lit candle lying on an ornate armchair. other, van gogh chairIt shows a tobacco pipe and bag on a rustic wooden chair and is instantly recognizable as one of the world’s most famous paintings.

Now, the mystery of how the double panels were divided – and why the portrait of Gauguin’s chair was preserved in the family collection during van gogh chair Sold – finally resolved.

The answer lies in the decision of Joanna Bonger, who inherited the paintings as the widow of Van Gogh’s brother Theo, not to display the masterpieces together in the decades after Van Gogh’s death in 1890 because of her “hatred of Gauguin”.

Van Gogh's chair, 1888.
Van Gogh’s chair, 1888. Photo: The National Gallery, London
Gauguin's chair, 1888.
Gauguin’s chair, 1888. Photo: Vincent Van Gogh Foundation

While she was happy to lend it van gogh chair To the fairs, kept Gauguin chair Once again, leaving the work to obscurity, research by a Dutch academic revealed.

It wasn’t until 1928, three years after her death, that Gauguin’s chair was first selected in an exhibition. By then, van gogh chair She was already famous and was sold to Tate.

Joanna never showed up Gauguin chairWhile van gogh chair said Louis van Tilburg, senior researcher at the Van Gogh Museum and professor of art history at the University of Amsterdam, whose research was published in the Dutch Art Journal. Simulos.

It is believed that the reason Bonger didn’t want to show the painting was that she hated Gauguin after the French artist publicly belittled his ex-boyfriend. Gauguin, very early on, popularized the idea that not only was Van Gogh crazy, but that he, Gauguin, had to teach Van Gogh how to draw. I think Bonger knew that and my conclusion is that, for this reason, she didn’t want to put these two pictures together. “.

Exhibiting the painting may lend credence to the suggestion that Van Gogh was a disciple of Gauguin, and thus an inferior artist. “Perhaps, by not showing the two works together, she wanted to avoid discussion about it.”

Van Gogh painted the pictures after inviting Gauguin, whom he deeply admired but did not know, to live with him in Arles and work together on a fine art. He bought 12 “very simple” wooden chairs but only bought one fancy armchair and put it in Gauguin’s room.

“In art-historical literature they have always been described as empty chairs. The emptiness was related to the fact that art historians and psychoanalysts believed that Van Gogh predicted that he would break up with Gauguin,” Van Tilburg said.

Van Gogh wrote a letter to his brother about his work on the paintings, describing them as “rather comic”. Due to an error regarding the date of that letter, for nearly a century it was believed that Van Gogh painted the chairs immediately after Gauguin declared her temper incompatible and Gauguin was considering leaving.

The date of this letter was corrected in 1984. But art historians have continued to suggest that Van Gogh created the paintings in awe and worry that Gauguin would abandon him and their studio collaboration, and their partnership would fail.

Indeed, Van Tilborgh notes that Van Gogh completed the diptych long before Gauguin’s proclamation, and that the chairs are not empty but occupied by the owners’ possessions, suggesting what they do to relax.

“It is all about interpretation. Of course you can say that the chairs are empty, because there is no one to sit on them. But, in principle, they are not empty. There are things on them that suggest the presence of their owner.” It is believed that Van Gogh painted the chairs in an optimistic frame of mind. “They symbolize the studio and the partnership, which gave him hope.”

Self-portrait dedicated to Carrier by Paul Gauguin, 1888.
Self-portrait dedicated to Carrier by Paul Gauguin, 1888. Photo: Heritage Images / Getty Images

After Gauguin left and Van Gogh was discharged from the hospital, the injured artist deliberately added a tobacco pipe and bag to his chair – at the time, completely empty – ensuring that his presence in the painting room was at least as conspicuous as Gauguin. , whose chair already contained the books and the candle.

He must have thought: ‘My chair is empty. But I’m the only one here. So he had to add something to make this more clear.”

Then Van Gogh signed Fifthjogger chair but not Gauguin chair, which – since Gauguin was no longer there to sit in it – he then described it in a letter to his brother as “empty”. “He made the image of his chair all the more important, because he stayed,” said Van Tilburg.

This situation Gauguin chair Belinda Thompson, Professor Emeritus at the University of Edinburgh, art historian specializing in the work of Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, said that as an unsigned painting it may have been a factor in Bonger’s decision not to display it. “She may have held it back, thinking it was one of the paintings that Vincent did not consider important.”

Thompson believes that Van Tilburg makes a “very persuasive” argument that the chairs are not “empty” as experts previously believed. “Dating these chairs, long before indications that the relationship was going wrong, just sheds a different light on them. It makes them make a more positive and optimistic statement about their relationship.”

Looking at Van Gogh’s description of them as “drool“In French, you think they can be seen as mere tongue-in-cheek or amusing, rather than paintings depicting a sense of longing, emptiness, or failure.” It is time for this reading. By the time they were drawn, Van Gogh and Gauguin were doing just fine.”

Later, when Van Gogh added a tobacco pipe and bag to it Vincent’s chairsuspecting that he was trying to make his own chair–which was, after all, one of 12–as personal and individual as Gauguin chair. “It gives parity between them.”

Richard Thompson, also a professor of art history at the University of Edinburgh, said he believed Van Tilburg’s research could lead art historians to rethink not only other images of Van Gogh but his relationship to Gauguin. “It’s very easy to say that Van Gogh and Gauguin disagree, and it was very difficult and risky, but here is a more subtle, more complex explanation and I think a deeper one.”