Not many people know it, but the Groninger Museum hosted one of the biggest ever Vincent Van Gogh exhibitions more than a century ago. The exhibition How Van Gogh Came to Groningen will tell the story of the determined Groningers and enterprising students who brought modern art to the northern Netherlands in the 1890s. The exhibition will open on 30 November 2024.
‘Who had ever seen such things?’
At the end of the 19th century, Groningen was a lively city full of new buildings and ideas. Travellers could take the train to the city for the first time and disembark at a brand new station. The population was growing, and the city was expanding. The Stadsschouwburg theatre was under construction, and the Groningen Museum of Antiquities had recently opened. In a bid to shake up the art world, six University of Groningen students – including Johan Huizinga, who would become a world-famous historian – organised eight spectacular exhibitions at the Groninger Museum in 1896 and 1897. Their efforts would prove pivotal for the development of modern art.
A craving for change
How Van Gogh Came to Groningen sparkles with bold, experimental personalities, people who transformed the zeitgeist and the culture. Like its 1896 predecessor, the show features work by the Dutch painter Jan Toorop, Belgian symbolists, and French printmakers including Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – all innovators who challenged the art establishment. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, Vincent's sister in law, was another key figure; most of the 128 Van Gogh works shown in Groningen came from her collection.
After the exhibition, on the advice of the “art tsar” H.P. Bremmer, influential Groningen professors including Gerard Heymans began collecting Van Gogh’s work. Lecturers at the Minerva Art Academy recognised his importance and transmitted it to the artists of De Ploeg. Van Gogh’s paintings provided seminal inspiration for their bright palette.
In short, the fin de siècle was a thrilling, decisive time in Groningen when a lot went on. How Van Gogh Came to Groningen is an unmissable show for anyone interested in the history of modern art.
The book How Van Gogh Came to Groningen will be published in conjunction with the exhibition. Providing an in-depth look at the show’s subject matter, it is partially written and based on research by guest curator Mariëtta Jansen and published by WBooks.