VAN GOGH ALONG THE SEINE at Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam

Vincent van Gogh, Fishing in Spring, the Pont de Clichy (Asnières) , 1887, oil on canvas, 50.5 x 60 cms. The Art Institute of Chicago. Gift of Charles Deering McCormi

For the first time Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam presents a total of seventy-five works produced in Asnières by the renowned Dutch artist together with four of his contemporaries in the new exhibition, Van Gogh along the Seine.

In collaboration with the Art Institute of Chicago and in celebration of Van Gogh Museum’s 50th anniversary, Van Gogh along the Seine sublimely explores the experiments and techniques of ambitious painters who pushed the avant-garde of (neo)-impressionism.

The five artists – Vincent van Gogh, Georges Seurat, Paul Signac, Émile Bernard and Charles Angrand – travelled to the idyllic and serene Parisian suburb of Asnières where they developed their revolutionary painting techniques known as Divisionism, Pointillism and Cloisonnism.

Located on the River Seine, about six kilometres due north of the Eiffel Tower, Asnières was a favoured leisure destination for locals. Facilitated by rapid industrialization and the construction of two railway stations, many Parisians flocked to the outskirts of the city in order to distance themselves from the restless hustle of work culture and business.

Under the additional ruling of Napoleon III, the city further endured a drastic alteration of the Parisian landscape where newly constructed apartment complexes, factories and chimneys eventually infringed the serene horizons of Asnières. With the increase of more leisure time, the population also foresaw a contrast between the social classes: the bourgeois who took delight in the suburb’s serenity versus the (350,000) displaced working class citizens who sought refuge outside of the city’s rapid industrial redevelopments.

The exquisite collection of paintings in Van Gogh along the Seine perfectly mirrors the stark juxtapositions between industry and nature, labour and leisure. From the callously elongated brushstrokes characterising the lush green lands to the ominous looming smoky chimneys endangering the peace of the suburbs, especially noted in, for example, Bernard’s View of Saint-Ouen (1885).

The iconic and tranquil oil paintings of the Seine at Courbevoie and La Grande Jatte by Angrand and Seurat are also positioned beside each other for the first time. Employing one of the very first uses of Pointillism, viewers now have a chance to make a comparison and observe how Angrand adopted the stippling technique from Seurat, the inventor. The vibrant palette used in the paintings to depict the calm landscape with sailboats furthermore contrasts abruptly with Bernard’s paintings – Quai de Clichy sur la Seine (1887) and Two Women on the Asnieres Footbridge, (1887) – which are composed of flat planes of colour (i.e Cloisonnism) and portray more the sombre, heavy atmosphere of the working class.

Described by researcher and curator, Bregje Gerritse, as unveiling “hidden gems”, this exhibition uniquely features the lesser known works of Angrand, such as The Seine at Dawn (1889) and others which “finally offers him a spotlight” in the study of art development. Also shown are van Gogh’s triptychs. Never before have seven of his nine triptychs been reunited and displayed together in one exhibition. Considered as the pinnacle of Van Gogh’s time in Asnières, the artist skillfully illustrates a different mood in each location and in the motifs used. The inclusion of preparatory sketches (Les Croquis) and other artworks are additionally on display for the first time at the Van Gogh Museum and even in the Netherlands. Namely, Van Gogh’s Fishing in Spring, the Pont de Clichy (Asnières) (1887) and an oil sketch for La Grande Jatte (1883) by Georges Seurat, thus making this exhibition truly exceptional.

In this cohesive body of paintings, we not only observe a moment captured in time but are further able to realise an essential narrative to the development of the five artists residing in Asnières. After seven years of preparation, the wonderful Van Gogh along the Seine invites us to realise how the power of location influences the way artists project their reality onto canvas and how the viewer, in turn, perceives the emotions conveyed.

From Friday 13th October until 14th January this unforgettable exhibition is a must see for anyone interested in observing the unique transformation of the 19th century Parisian cityscape, the depictions of Asnières and the innovating avant-garde of (neo)-impressionism.  Anja Herrmann  11th October 2023