A century ago, the Detroit Institute of Arts was way ahead of the curve when it became the first U.S. museum to purchase a painting by Vincent Van Gogh. That was his 1887 “Self-Portrait,” a 13.75-inch by 10.5-inch oil painting made several years before the painter would die by suicide.
The museum paid $4,200 for the painting at an auction, or about $75,000 in today’s dollars. It was a good investment — when the cash-strapped city considered selling it in 2014, it was valued by Christie’s to now be worth somewhere between $80 million and $150 million.
Fortunately, the city did not resort to selling it. And that fateful purchase a century ago helped set the stage for Van Gogh in America, a retrospective of the iconic artist’s career that opens to the public on Sunday.
“Not everyone can go to Paris. Not everyone can go to Amsterdam,” DIA director Salvador Salort-Pons said during opening remarks at a media preview event on Thursday, adding, “We have a phenomenal assembly of paintings by Van Gogh. And also, we have ‘Starry Night’ from Paris.”
“Starry Night,” on loan from the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, was an 11th-hour addition to the years-in-the-making exhibition, which was postponed from 2020 due to the pandemic. It was also eclipsed in the past year by two dueling “immersive” digital exhibitions profiting off of Van Gogh’s work. The DIA show, however, is the largest Van Gogh exhibition in years, and includes more than 70 works on loan from roughly 60 museums and collections all over the world.
At first, the art world did not seem to know what to make of Van Gogh. He reportedly sold very few paintings in his life, but was eventually embraced after death, after museums like the DIA helped boost his profile. And there was something about his paintings that seemed to really resonate with Americans, especially from the heartland. The next U.S. museums to purchase Van Goghs were also in the Midwest, including the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri, the Saint Louis Art Museum, and the Toledo Museum of Art.
“Van Gogh in America tells the story of how Americans shaped in their hearts and minds the image of Van Gogh,” Salort-Pons said.
If you go — and you should — take your time. No photograph or digital reproduction can do Van Gogh’s radiant brushstrokes justice, so it’s best to experience them in person.
Van Gogh in America is on view from Oct. 2, 2022-Jan. 22, 2023 at the Detroit Institute of Arts; 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-7900; dia.org. Tickets are $7-$29, and free for DIA members.
@metrotimes ‘Van Gogh in America’ opens Sunday at the Detroit Institute of Arts #detroit #vangogh #vincentvangogh #vangoghexhibition ♬ France - Paris Cafe Society