Plans for Van Gogh: Face to Face began in 1992 with a picture of the artist's favorite sitter, Portrait of Joseph Roulin (1888), which was then recently acquired by The Detroit Institute of Arts. 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 (not included in the exhibition).
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 (1888-9). 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 an early copy after Holbein in 1881 to the final portraits painted less than a decade later in Auvers.
Van Gogh: Face to Face will feature more than 70 paintings and drawings, including bright and iconic masterworks celebrated throughout the world, as well as remarkably penetrating monochromatic works on paper that were created in the Netherlands less 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 Philadelphia Museum of Art from October 22, 2000, to January 14, 2001.
Van Gogh: Face to Face is made possible in Philadelphia by Aetna and First Union. Additional support was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts, Amtrak, and the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation. NBC 10 WCAU is the broadcast media sponsor. The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News are the print media sponsors. The exhibition was organized by The Detroit Institute of Arts, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.