December 05, 2020

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The EY Exhibition: Van Gogh and Britain

The EY Exhibition: Van Gogh and Britain

Van Gogh Self Portrait
Van Gogh Self Portrait

Next March, Tate Britain will open a major exhibition about Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). The EY Exhibition: Van Gogh and Britain how Van Gogh was inspired by British art, literature, and culture throughout his career and how he, in turn, inspired British artists, from Walter Sickert to Francis Bacon.

Bringing together the largest group of Van Gogh paintings shown in the UK for nearly a decade, The EY Exhibition: Van Gogh and Britain will include over 45 works by the artist from the public and private collections around the world.

They include Self-Portrait 1889 from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, L’Arlésienne 1890 from Museu de Arte de São Paolo, Starry Night on the Rhône1888 from the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, Shoes from the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, and the rarely loaned Sunflowers 1888 from the National Gallery, London.

The exhibition will also feature late works including two painted by Van Gogh in the Saint-Paul asylum, At Eternity’s Gate 1890 from the Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo and Prisoners Exercising 1890 from the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow.

Van Gogh spent several crucial years in London between 1873 and 1876, writing to his brother Theo, ‘I love London’. Arriving as a young trainee art dealer, the vast modern city prompted him to explore new avenues of life, art, and love.

The exhibition will reveal Van Gogh’s enthusiasm for British culture during his stay and his subsequent artistic career. It will show how he responded to the art he saw, including works by John Constable and John Everett Millais as well as his love of British writers from William Shakespeare to Christina Rossetti. Charles Dickens, in particular, influenced Van Gogh’s style and subject matter throughout his career.

L’Arlésienne1890, a portrait he created in the last year of his life in the south of France, features a favorite book by Dickens in the foreground.

The exhibition will also explore Van Gogh’s passion for British graphic artists and prints. Despite his poverty, he searched out and collected around 2,000 engravings, most from English magazines such as the Illustrated London News.

‘My whole life is aimed at making the things from everyday life that Dickens describes and these artists draw’ he wrote in his first years as a struggling artist.

He returned to these prints in his final months, painting his only image of London, Prisoners Exercising, from Gustave Doré’s print of Newgate Prison.

Tracing Van Gogh from his obscure years in London to the extraordinary fame he achieved in Britain in the 1950s, the exhibition will show how his uncompromising art and life paved the way for modern British artists like Matthew Smith, Christopher Wood, and David Bomberg.

It will conclude with an important group of portraits by Francis Bacon based on a Van Gogh self-portrait known only from photographs since its destruction during the Second World War.

The exhibition will provide an opportunity to look afresh at well-known works by Van Gogh, through the eyes of the British artists he so inspired. To artists like Bacon and the British public at large, Van Gogh epitomized the idea of the embattled, misunderstood artist, set apart from mainstream society.

The EY Exhibition: Van Gogh and Britain is organized by lead curator Carol Jacobi, Curator of British Art 1850-1915, Tate Britain and Chris Stephens, Director of Holburne Museum, Bath with Van Gogh specialist Martin Bailey and Hattie Spires, Assistant Curator Modern British Art, Tate Britain. It will be accompanied by a major catalog from Tate Publishing and a programme of talks and events in the gallery.




The first exhibition of the Gogh’s work at Tate

The EY Exhibition: Van Gogh and Britain will be the first exhibition of the artist’s work at Tate in over 70 years when a blockbuster show in 1947 attracted record-breaking crowds. Dubbed by the press as ‘the miracle on Millbank’, Tate’s Van Gogh exhibition was a phenomenon in London and went on to tour to Birmingham and Glasgow.

Over 150,000 visitors came to see the exhibition over the course of five weeks including the Queen. Newspapers compared the queues outside the gallery to those found outside food shops during rationing (‘And now they queue to see paintings’), attributing its standout success to the fact that ‘the people are color-starved’ by the austerity of war-time Britain.

A letter from a Tate administrator to the Arts Council even requested reimbursement for three years’ worth of damage to its floors done in five weeks.

Among the crowds were a whole generation of young British artists, for whom Van Gogh became a hero and a source of great inspiration. This is one of the stories explored in Tate Britain’s upcoming exhibition, where Van Gogh’s influence will be seen in the work of artists from Matthew Smith to Francis Bacon.


Sunflowers 1888

A highlight of the forthcoming The EY Exhibition: Van Gogh and Britain will be the artist’s world-renowned Sunflowers 1888, which has only ever left the National Gallery three times in its history. For the first time, this masterpiece will be shown at Tate Britain alongside the British artwork that it inspired – from flower paintings by Frank Brangwyn and Matthew Smith to Jacob Epstein and David Bomberg – enabling visitors to experience this much-loved painting in an entirely new context.

Sunflowers entered the national collection originally as part of the Tate Gallery in 1924 where it hung until it was transferred to the National Gallery in 1961. It was first seen in London at Roger Fry’s ground-breaking exhibition ‘Manet and the Post-Impressionists’ in 1910. It was lent from the personal collection of Van Gogh’s sister-in-law Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, who wanted to ensure that Van Gogh was introduced to Britain with his best work. Many viewers at the time were bewildered by VanGogh’s unfamiliar style and the press mocked his paintings. Some British artists however vehemently defended him, and Sunflowers stimulated a renaissance in British flower painting. Vibrant yellow flowers appeared in works by artists such as Matthew Smith, Christopher Wood, and Jacob Epstein. United for the first time at Tate Britain next Spring, this collection of paintings will illustrate the legacy Van Gogh inspired among modern British artists.

When Sunflowers next returned to England for an exhibition in 1923 it was not for sale, but Jo van Gogh-Bonger was eventually persuaded to part with the work so it could join Britain’s national collection.  In a moving letter, now in Tate’s archive and featured in the exhibition, she wrote: ‘For two days I have tried to harden my heart against your appeal. I felt as if I could not bear to separate from the picture, I had looked on every day for more than thirty years. But … I know, that no picture would represent Vincent in your famous Gallery in a more worthy manner than the “Sunflowers”, and that he … would have liked it to be there… It is a sacrifice for the sake of Vincent’s glory.’

The painting went on to be the star of Tate’s 1947 exhibition and has since become one of the most recognized paintings in the world. Its temporary return to its old home at Tate Britain, to hang alongside the modern British art that it did so much to inspire, is a significant opportunity to look afresh at this well-known work. 

The EY Exhibition: Van Gogh and Britain
27 March – 11 August 2019
Tate Britain
This exhibition is part of The EY Tate Arts Partnership, with additional support from the Van Gogh Exhibition Supporters Circle and Tate Members
Open daily 10.00 – 18.00


The EY Exhibition: Van Gogh and Britain is the eighth ground-breaking exhibition supported through The EY Tate Arts Partnership.

This nine-year partnership makes EY one of Tate’s largest and longest-standing corporate supporters and this support extends to corporate memberships around the country.

Michel Driessen, Partner Sponsor of the EY Arts Programme, UK & Ireland, EY said: “Central to this exhibition is the dignity and humanity which Van Gogh applies to his subjects. Here at EY, these qualities are important to us and we believe in creating an environment in which people feel, and are, valued. This exhibition is extraordinary in its invitation to explore Van Gogh’s personal struggles and achievements and encourages everyone to talk openly about these through the lens of the 21st century.”


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