Plans for Van Gogh: Face to Face began with a portrait of the artist's favorite sitter, which was recently acquired by one of the exhibition's organizing institutions. In 1992, the Detroit Institute of Arts received the Portrait of Joseph Roulin (1888), a splendid gift from Mr. and Mrs. Walter Ford II. It complemented two landscape paintings by van Gogh and the superb Self Portrait (1887), which was acquired in 1922, and was the first van Gogh painting purchased by an American museum. Inspired by the new acquisition, George Keyes, DIA's Elizabeth and Allan Shelden Curator of European Painting, proposed an exhibition of van Gogh's portraits of the Roulin family. With the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art as partners in the project, Van Gogh: Face to Face expanded in focus to become the first comprehensive examination of the artist's work in portraiture.
Boston's permanent collections feature six paintings by van Gogh. Among them are his masterful portrait of The Postman, Joseph Roulin (1888) seated at a table, and the enigmatic Le Berceuse (Lullaby: Madame Augustine Roulin Rocking a Cradle) (1889).
The Philadelphia Museum of Art owns five van Gogh paintings, including the portraits Madame Roulin Holding Her Baby (1888 or 1889), and Camille Roulin (1888 or 1889), as well as Rain (1889), Still Life with a Bouquet of Daisies (1886), and the only one of the celebrated Sunflowers (1888 or 1889) in the United States. In nearby Merion Station, PA, The Barnes Foundation is home to a spectacular bust-length portrait of Joseph Roulin (1889) with a patterned-wallpaper background.
With the exception of van Gogh himself, the Roulins were the artist's most important sitters, serving as remarkable models during his stay in Arles. In Van Gogh: Face to Face, depictions of the Roulin family and an important selection of self-portraits are presented amidst the full range of van Gogh's work in portraiture, from early copies after Holbein in 1881 to the final portraits painted less than a decade later in Auvers.
Van Gogh: Face to Face will feature some 60 paintings and drawings, including bright and iconic masterworks celebrated throughout the world, as well as subtle and monochromatic works that were created in the Netherlands and are little-known outside the artist's native country. Prominent among the many generous and supportive lenders to the exhibition are the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, The Netherlands.
Van Gogh: Face to Face will be on view at The Detroit Institute of Arts from March 12 to June 4, 2000; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston from July 2 to September 24, 2000; and the Philadelphia Museum of Art from October 22, 2000, to January 14, 2001.
Van Gogh: Face to Face is organized by The Detroit Institute of Arts, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Detroit showing of the exhibition is made possible by a generous contribution from the DaimlerChrysler Corporation Fund. In Philadelphia, the exhibition is made possible, in part, by a generous contribution from First Union Bank.