Van Gogh painted the Still life with Bottles and Shell in the autumn of 1884 when he lived in Nuenen. The piece is considered one of the best still lifes from his Brabant period. Following minor restoration, the painting will be available at the Noordbrabants Museum to view from the autumn, where it will be given pride of place in the existing display on Van Gogh's early Brabant period.
Museum Director, Charles de Mooij is delighted with the acquisition: "We can't quite believe it ourselves: three such wonderful new additions in such a short period. This has only been possible thanks to the support we continue to receive from governments, funds, companies and private individuals. We are very conscious that such generous support is not to be taken for granted." The painting's acquisition was made possible thanks to a 1.5 million Euro loan from the province of Noord-Brabant. The remainder of the funds came from the annual contribution from the BankGiro Loterij, a bequest of Mr Th.M.J.A. Verstappen, who passed away in 2012, and the Noordbrabants Museum Fund. This fund was set-up in 2017 to facilitate purchases of special artworks, restorations and projects. The monies in this fund originate from corporate and private partners of the museum. The museum was advised by Heron Legal (Eindhoven) on the purchase.
Study in composition and proportion
Vincent van Gogh lived in Nuenen, Brabant for almost two years from the end of 1883. He painted nine still lifes between November 1884 and April 1885, including Still life with Bottles and Shell. This painting features - from left to right - two bottles, a tiger cowrie shell, a wooden cylinder on a copper base, a smoking set and a powder horn. Both the texture of the objects depicted, as well as their placement and proportion, represented a challenge for the artist. The same applies for the tiger cowrie shell in the image. Shells like these had been depicted by artists since the seventeenth century: they represented a challenging object to draw and paint, given their bulbous and shiny, speckled surface. In the spring of 1884, Van Gogh was tutor to three amateur painters, including Antoon Hermans, a goldsmith from Eindhoven. Hermans owned a collection of antique objects, which particularly appealed to Van Gogh. A number of the objects featured in this still life were borrowed by Van Gogh from Hermans.
The Noordbrabants Museum Ambitions
Following the success of the exhibition Hieronymus Bosch – Visions of a genius, in 2016, the Noordbrabants Museum expressed its intent to enhance the collection through the acquisition of key pieces over the coming years. This intent is consistent with the desire to offer a permanent representative overview of Van Gogh's Brabant period. To that end, the museum already exhibits pieces on loan from the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed, the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, a private collection, as well as Peasant woman digging, the painting acquired in 1984. A number of important purchases were recently made to enhance the collection. At the end of 2016, the museum purchased the watercolour Garden of the vicarage at Nuenen (1885) through the art market. Subsequently, at the end of 2017, it acquired Watermill at Kollen (1884) at a Sotheby’s New York auction. With the acquisition of the painting Still life with Bottles and Shell (1884), in just three years, the Noordbrabants Museum has been able to grow its collection with three prominent pieces by the Brabant master.
Van Gogh exhibition 2019
Since re-opening in 2013, the Noordbrabants Museum has also been paying special attention to the world-famous Brabant artist through its programme of temporary exhibitions. Work is currently underway on an exhibition about Van Gogh's relationship with family, friends, models and fellow artists. This exhibition, entitled Van Gogh’s Intimate Circle, will be available to view at the Noordbrabants Museum from 21 September 2019 until 12 January 2020 inclusive.
In recent years, Van Gogh has grown to become somewhat of an icon for Brabant. The province of Noord-Brabant, Van Gogh Brabant, VisitBrabant and the Noordbrabants Museum have been working closely together since 2008 to increase awareness of this Brabant artist in the region where he was born and where his artistry was largely formed. In Van Gogh Brabant, five heritage institutions in Brabant (Van Gogh Village in Nuenen, Vincents Tekenlokaal in Tilburg, the Van Goghkerk in Etten-Leur, the Vincent van Goghhuis in Zundert and the Noordbrabants Museum in Den Bosch) have joined forces with a view to safeguarding and sharing the Van Gogh cultural heritage in Brabant. Collaboration is also intensifying with Van Gogh Europe, an international alliance between various institutions in the Netherlands, Belgium and France, that is invested in the preservation and collective promotion of Van Gogh's legacy.