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Van Gogh Exhibition 2006-07-09

Posted by clype in Europe, Humanities, Money, Scotland.

When Scottish art dealer Mr.Alexander Reid returned from Paris with two paintings by Vincent van Gogh, his father berated him for bringing such ‘atrocities’ home and so he sold them on — to a French dealer for five pounds each.

[Picture of Portrait of Alexander Reid]It did not matter that the paintings, a portrait of Mr.Reid and a still life of a basket of apples, were in fact gifts to the young Scot, who had lived for several months in Paris with Vincent and his brother, Theo, in Montmartre in 1886/1887.

The two paintings and another van Gogh portrait of Mr.Reid are included in an exhibition of the Dutch painter’s works that opened recently at ‘The Dean Gallery‘, part of ‘The National Galleries of Scotland’. It runs to 2006-09-24.

  • The exhibition is based on British ‘pioneer collectors’ who were among the first to appreciate Impressionist painters.

Ms.Frances Fowle, curator of the exhibition, said the anecdote about the sale of the two paintings by Mr.James Reid came in a book by Scottish student Mr.Alexander Hartrick, who met van Gogh in Paris in 1887.

Ms.Fowle said that in later life Mr.Alexander Reid, who became a major art dealer, bemoaned the sale of his two paintings and that ‘he hadn’t realised what a great artist van Gogh would turn out to be and how marketable he would be’.

Mr.Hartrick himself almost bought another still life with apples for two francs, but decided not to because he would have to carry it back to his hotel.

A century later, a van Gogh still life of 15 sunflowers was sold to Japanese insurance magnate Mr.Yasuo Goto for some 40 million dollars (21.6 million pounds) at auction in London in 1987-03.


Van Gogh’s two portraits of Mr.Alexander Reid in the exhibition, brought together for the first time, provide an insight into the evolution of his painting style.

[Picture of Portrait of Alexander Reid sitting]The earlier portrait, with Alexander seated in an armchair, was painted shortly after he moved into the apartment.

‘He still has that Realist style that he inherited from his time in the Netherlands … so he had a much darker tone of pallet,’ said Ms.Fowle.

‘But then you can see as soon as he got to Paris, his pallet lightened and I think the interest in neo-Impressionism is very clear in the second portrait.’

Ms.Fowle also noted that Mr.Reid and van Gogh were remarkably similar physically.

‘They were taken as twins and these portraits were originally catalogued as self-portraits (of van Gogh).’

The first portrait is now at the art museum of ‘The University of Oklahoma’ in the USA, while the second is in Glasgow’s ‘Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum’.

[picture of a still life with a basket of apples]Ms.Fowle said that Mr.Reid apparently acquired the still life of a basket of apples after setting out on a painting expedition with van Gogh.

Van Gogh saw the apples in a market stall and decided he had to paint them. He didn’t have any money on him, so Reid lent him the money or gave him the money, and he marched off back home with his apples.

‘At the end of the day he was presented with this picture — that’s the story, anyway.’

Vincent van Gogh may be a household name to us all, but the exhibition of his work that opens tomorrow at ‘The National Gallery’s’ ‘Dean Gallery’ is the first in Scotland for nearly 50 years, and one of the biggest in Britain for a long time.

There are 30 of his pictures in the show and they come from locations all over the world. His work is universally familiar, but he sold little or nothing during his lifetime (1853/1890).

Many people dismissed van Gogh as a madman, and, when his work was shown in London in the first post-Impressionist exhibition in 1910, the press had a field day pulling it to pieces.

Now his pictures fetch tens of millions, but the story in this show is of how, in spite of this unfavourable reception, British, and especially Scottish, collectors were nevertheless instrumental, early on, in bringing his painting closer to the limelight. Mr.Michael Clarke, director of ‘The National Gallery of Scotland‘, says:

‘Any exhibition of van Gogh’s work is an exciting event. This promises to be a particularly rewarding show for a Scottish audience, as Scots played a crucial role in opening British eyes to the wonders of Vincent’s work.’

The story begins with Glasgow dealer Mr.Alexander Reid who, as a young trainee dealer in Paris, was a colleague of Vincent’s brother and in the mid-1880s shared a flat with the two van Goghs. They were all broke, but one day Mr.Reid had enough money to buy some apples for Vincent to paint. In return, that evening van Gogh gave him the finished picture. But, when Mr.Reid got back to Glasgow, his father sold it for 5 GBP, horrified that his son was dealing in such ‘atrocities’.

Those ‘apples’ are now among the stars of this show. Mr.Reid also brought home his own portrait, painted by his friend, but his father sold that for 5 GBP, too. Little did he know, but he must have made two of the poorest deals in history, as the top price paid for a van Gogh stands at 82.5 million USD (45 million GBP).

Vincent painted Mr.Reid twice. The two men were so similar physically that they could have been taken for twins; indeed for a long time one of these portraits was thought to be a self-portrait by the artist. The picture recognised as Mr.Reid is now one of the treasures of Kelvingrove, and another star here.

Other pioneering Scottish collectors were Mr.William Boyd, managing director of Mr.James Keiller’s jam factory in Dundee; Mr.William Cargill, who lived as a recluse in Bridge of Weir, where he kept pictures under the bed; and, more tenuously, Ms.Evelyn Fleming, widow of the Dundee born banker Mr.Robert Fleming and mother of Mr.Ian Fleming, the creator of ‘James Bond’.

[Picture of A Wheatfield With Cypresses]Gradually, van Gogh’s prices rose. The star picture in this exhibition is the magnificent, flaming ‘Wheatfield with Cypresses’, from ‘The National Gallery in London’. It was bought for 3 300 GBP in 1923, no mean sum when you consider that a person could buy a house for 300 GBP and a car for 30 GBP then. That kind of price was enough to attract the forger, and the last picture at the exhibition is a forgery of a vase of flowers by an unknown artist. It is easy to spot now, but it would not have been so easy then as van Gogh’s work was hard to see. Really, it is a compliment, too. It meant that his reputation was established and since then it has never waned.

The last time there was a van Gogh exhibition in Glasgow — in 1948, — there were queues round the block. I am sure that will happen again.

Van Gogh and Britain Pioneer Collectors: ‘Dean Gallery’, Edinburgh, 2006-07-07/2006-09-24.



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