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This has been the best year for Van Gogh exhibitions for decades, with a series of shows which break fresh ground. If I had to single out the most important, it would be Van Gogh in Auvers-sur-Oise: His Final Months, which opened in Amsterdam and still has a month to run in Paris, at the Musée d’Orsay (until 4 February 2024). Presenting 47 of the 74 paintings done during this short period, it provides a comprehensive view of Vincent’s art just before his untimely death.

Van Gogh’s Cypresses, at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, focussed on the artist’s period in Provence, where he lived before leaving for Auvers. It was there that cypress trees became one of his favourite motifs. The show included his most popular landscape, Starry Night(August 1889), on loan from the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Van Gogh along the Seine, presenting landscapes done during Vincent’s period in Paris, opened at the Art Institute of Chicago and then went on to Amsterdam, where it still has a few weeks to run (until 14 January 2024). It explores Van Gogh’s links with fellow avant-garde artists who painted by the Seine in the Parisian suburbs.

Other notable shows of the year included: Choosing Vincent: Portrait of a Family History (Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam); Travelling with Vincent: Van Gogh in Drenthe(Drents Museum, Assen, until 7 January 2024); Van Gogh and Still Life: From Tradition to Innovation(Sompo Museum, Tokyo, until 21 January 2024); and Vincent van Gogh: Artist and Reader (Museo delle Culture, Milan, until 28 January 2024).

Van Gogh’s Garden in front of the Debray Farm (July-August 1887)

When it comes to sales of Van Gogh works, the most expensive sold at auction this year was Garden in front of the Debray Farm (July-August 1887), which went for $23m at Sotheby’s on 16 May. This was painted in Paris, at the top of the Montmartre hill. The price may appear relatively modest compared with Orchard with Cypresess (April 1888), which had sold for $117m in 2022, but that work was painted a year later when Van Gogh was in Provence and was at the height of his powers.

Two other paintings came up for auction this year, both earlier works done in the Dutch village of Nuenen, where Vincent had been staying with his parents. Weaver facing right (February 1884) sold for $5,495,000 and Head of a Woman (Gordina de Groot) (March-April 1885) for £4,842,000.

Four early Van Gogh drawings (1882-85) fetched lesser sums: Peasant Woman by the Wash Tub($1,455,000), Orphan man with a Top Hat($529,000), Head of a Fisherman ($508,000) and Young Girl with a Loaf of Bread ($504,000). Three versions of the etched Portrait of Dr Paul Gachet (June 1890) were also sold.

Van Gogh’s Old Man drinking Coffee (November 1882)

But what ended up being the most surprising sale of the year was the very rare lithograph of Old Man drinking Coffee (November 1882). It was sold on 10 May at the Leiden-based Burgersdijk & Niermans auction house, where it went for €275,000. In an act of extraordinary generosity the print with minor watercolour additions was bought by Monique Hageman, a research assistant at the Van Gogh Museum. Hageman has given it on long-term loan to the Van Gogh Museum, where it has just gone on temporary display, and it will eventually become a bequest.

The other uplifting news of the year was the recovery of a stolen Van Gogh, The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring(March 1884), which had been seized when it was on loan from the Groninger Museum to the Singer Laren museum to the east of Amsterdam. It had been taken in Laren during a smash-and-grab raid in 2020. The recovery operation was organised by the Dutch private art detective Arthur Brand.

Arthur Brand with The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring, just minutes after its recovery on 11 September 2023

Last year two important Van Gogh buildings in the Netherlands reopened after renovations. These were the inn where the artist lodged in Nieuw Amsterdam (in Drenthe) and the visitor centre/museum opposite the parsonage of the artist’s father in Nuenen.

Among the notable books on Van Gogh published this year was Christopher Lloyd’s The Drawings of Vincent van Gogh. But nowadays so much of the important new research on the artist is published in exhibition catalogues, which makes this year’s bumper crop of shows particularly welcome.

Other Van Gogh news:

Van Gogh’s Beach at Scheveningen in Calm Weather (August 1882)

The American television producer Dick Wolf has just donated 200 works to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. These include Van Gogh’s Beach at Scheveningen in Calm Weather (August 1882), which is one of the artist’s earliest oil paintings. It will be joining what is the finest museum collection of Van Gogh’s work outside the Netherlands and France.

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