The account Book of Theo van Gogh and Jo van Gogh-Bonger.
One of the most important items in the archive of the Van Gogh Museum is a small and rather scruffy account book, started by Vincent's brother Theo at the time of his marriage to Johanna (Jo) Bonger in 1889. Theo tragically died less than two years later, but the ledger was taken over by his widow and after her death in 1925 by their son Vincent Willem, who added a final page of entries. During Vincent Willem's lifetime, he regarded the account book as personal, and it was only in 1982 that it was deposited at the Amsterdam museum by the Van Gogh Foundation, set up by the family. Since then it has been embargoed, and very few scholars have been allowed access to it. Happily, with the passage of time, it has finally been published.
The account book is a complex manuscript, requiring considerable deciphering, researching and annotating--and regrets that it had previously been inaccessible are now dispelled by this excellent publication. Its greatest value is that it records the sale by the family of one hundred and ninety-two Van Gogh paintings and fifty-five drawings (a further twelve paintings and sixteen drawings were also sold but are unrecorded in the ledger--they are listed in note 33 on p. 20). For around half the works in the account book, more provenance information is provided than in the standard catalogue raisonne published in 1970 by de la Faille (although considerable data on works acquired by German collectors is given in Walter Feilchenfeldt's important 1988 study on Vincent van Gogh & Paul Cassirer, Berlin). From the account book we can therefore trace works back to Jo Bonger, learn the prices for which they were first sold, identify the dealers through whom they passed, and usually find the names of their first owners. A number of collectors have been identified for the first time, such as the artist and dealer Willy Gretor, who bought six Van Goghs as early as 1891.
The account book also records family expenditure, including the funeral expenses of Vincent. In addition, it provides intriguing insights into daily life (the accounts show that Theo drank cognac and raw egg for breakfast, Jo took beer to stimulate her milk production after giving birth, and baby Vincent was fed asses' milk when he fell ill).
This new publication on the account book is extremely comprehensive--with a thirty-page introduction, a full transcription of the account book (with the original Dutch text in black and an English translation in red), detailed annotations, a catalogue of the two hundred and forty-seven recorded Van Gogh works accompanied by thumbnail illustrations, and an index of names. There is almost nothing at which to cavil here, but full-size facsimiles of a few of the most important pages would have been welcome (there are four much reduced illustrations). The other key early document on provenance in the Van Gogh Museum archives is an inventory drawn up after Vincent's death by Andries Bonger, the brother of Jo. This lists three-hundred and sixty-four paintings and the museum is now working on its publication.
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2003|
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