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Van Gogh’s Wheatfield (June 1888), which is among the artist’s finest Arles landscapes, has just gone on display at the Rijksmuseum. It is one of three pictures which have arrived on long-term loan from the P. & N. de Boer Foundation, which was set up by a family that has run an Amsterdam art dealership for just over a century.

In Wheatfield, the composition is dominated by the varied colours of the crop immediately before the harvest. The lively brushwork of the golden wheat is set against a complementary blue sky and the narrow band of the hills of Les Alpilles on the horizon. As Van Gogh advised his artist friend Emile Bernard when he was finishing the picture: “If you do blue, then do yellow and orange as well.”

Confirmation that the picture was painted outdoors is a smudge at the very bottom of the canvas. Van Gogh probably caught the wet canvas on his sleeve while carrying it, smearing the paint.

Van Gogh’s View of Amsterdam from Central Station (October 1885)

View of Amsterdam from Central Station (October 1885) is the most personal of the three loans, in terms of what it reveals about the artist’s life. Van Gogh had travelled to Amsterdam from his parents’ village of Nuenen, in the south of the Netherlands, specifically to visit the Rijksmuseum, which had opened only three months earlier.

He stayed in Amsterdam for three days and on 7 October 1885 he went to the railway station, to await the arrival of his friend Anton Kerssemakers, who was travelling separately from Eindhoven. In a letter to his brother Theo, Vincent explained that he had painted the view from the waiting room, working by a window.

The picture was completed in only an hour. “It’s enjoyable to put something down in a rush,” Vincent added. He modestly described the painting as just “an impression”—perhaps a nod to the recently established Impressionist movement.

Kerssemakers later recalled that on arriving, he immediately spotted his friend by the window: “I saw quite a crowd of people of all sorts, railway guards, workmen, travellers… gathered near the front windows of the waiting room, and there he was sitting, surrounded by this mob, in all tranquility, dressed in his shaggy Ulster [overcoat] and his inevitable fur cap… without paying the slightest attention to the loud disrespectful observations and critical remarks of the esteemed public.”

Van Gogh quickly packed up his painting gear, setting off with Kerssemakers for the Rijksmuseum. In a letter to his brother Theo, he discussed his visit, mentioning that Rembrandt’s The Night Watch (1642) was the first work he saw. The painting still hangs in the same position at the centre of the museum’s Gallery of Honour—where it remains the collection’s most famous work.

View of Amsterdam from Central Station depicts two bridges over the Singel canal, with the dome of the Koepelkerk (the cupola church is now part of the Renaissance Hotel) in the middle distance. Although “Central Station” appears in the picture’s traditional title, Amsterdam’s grand station was only completed in 1889 and during Van Gogh’s visit trains stopped at a temporary building on the adjacent Westerdok.

Vincent told his brother that the painting, along with another townscape, was “quite badly damaged”. He explained: “They got wet on the journey; then the little panels warped when they dried, and dust etc got into them.” The Singel scene must have been restored at some point in the 20th century, since the small panel is now in quite reasonable condition.

Van Gogh’s Riverbank with Trees (spring 1887)

The third De Boer painting on loan to the Rijksmuseum is Riverbank with Trees (spring 1887). It depicts a scene beside the Seine on the outskirts of Paris, probably on the northern side of the Ile des Ravageurs. Two apartment buildings in Asnières are visible in the background. Vincent gave this picture to his sister Lies.

Installation view of the three De Boer loans, surrounding the Rijksmuseum’s Van Gogh Self-portrait (spring 1887)

The De Boer loan to the Rijksmuseum adds significantly to its Van Gogh display (but it is completely dwarfed by the huge collection of the adjacent Van Gogh Museum). Although the Rijksmuseum has five Van Gogh drawings, it owns only two paintings. There is an important Self-portrait (spring 1887), which forms the centrepiece of the new display (in room 1.18). It also has an early landscape, Farming Village at Twilight (1884), but this is on long-term loan to the Noordbrabants Museum in ’s-Hertogenbosch.

Rijksmuseum curator Mayken Jonkman says that with the De Boer paintings done in Amsterdam, Paris and Arles “we can now show Van Gogh’s artistic development for the first time.”

Most of the De Boer Foundation’s substantial collection of paintings, mainly 17th century Dutch works, normally hang in the family’s gallery in a grand house in Amsterdam’s Herengracht. The foundation was set up by the founder Pieter de Boer (1894-1974), a decade before his death, and it is also named in memory of his wife Nellie.

The foundation also owns five Van Gogh works on paper, although these are not part of the loan: Digger (September 1881), Worn Out (September-October 1881), Scheveningen Woman sewing (December 1881), Sower (December 1882) and Moulin de Blute-Fin (spring 1886).

Niels de Boer, the great-nephew of the gallery’s founder, tells us that the foundation’s Van Gogh paintings have frequently been lent to exhibitions, so they could do “with some rest” by remaining in the same place. The loan is for a few years, “with the option of a prolongation”.

Niels adds that the Rijksmuseum is the most appropriate temporary home, since View of Amsterdam from Central Station is returning there for the first time since the day it was painted, “with a marvellous story to tell”.

Presumably Van Gogh carried the picture when he walked with Kerssemakers from the station to the museum, depositing it in its cloak or luggage room. The two men then ascended the stairs to view The Night Watch. Van Gogh would be delighted to know that his little townscape has returned, this time to be honoured with a space on the wall of the greatest museum in the Netherlands.

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