Boijmans’ Van Gogh presented at TEFAF

Latest technology used to gain insights into a key work

Research into the famous Van Gogh painting, Poplars near Nuenen, is on view in the main hall at TEFAF in Maastricht. The next step is the meticulous restoration.

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Vincent van Gogh’s Poplars near Nuenen (1885) has travelled from Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen to the European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht, where it can be viewed from today prior to its forthcoming restoration. Thanks to a generous grant from the TEFAF Museum Restoration Fund, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen is now conducting extensive material-technical research using advanced technologies to determine the most suitable restoration methods. The results will provide important clues about this work, which occupies a key position in Van Gogh’s oeuvre. The museum is working together with specialists from the Cultural Heritage Agency and the Van Gogh Museum. The restoration is being led by conservator Erika Smeenk-Metz, who will discuss the research and restoration at TEFAF on Saturday 25 June with Sandra Kisters, head of collections and research at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, and Simone Stuntz of the International Council of Museums.  



Erika Smeenk-Metz will concentrate on stabilising the paint surface and may possibly remove the varnish. We have known for many years that this painting has a fragile paint surface due to the fact that Van Gogh painted the image over an earlier painting, which had not dried sufficiently. There is an adhesion problem between the two layers of paint, causing the paint to loosen. Previous restoration interventions have also caused the underlying paint to show through the craquelure. To investigate this, we have used advanced technology called optical coherence tomography, a method comparable to ultrasound, to determine whether the varnish can be removed without affecting the underlying paint layers.


Investigation in full swing

The research into Poplars near Nuenen is also a quest for new information about Van Gogh’s working methods and studio practice during his years in Nuenen, near Eindhoven. Among other things, the restoration team is curious to find technical evidence that Van Gogh applied the lighter touches in the trees and in the sky later in Paris. If this can be proved, it will mean that the painting is a key work that connects the artist’s Dutch and French periods. A letter from 1903 from collector Andries Bonger states that the painting in question certainly travelled with the artist from the Netherlands to Paris. The search for technical proof that Van Gogh applied the lighter touches in the trees and in the sky in Paris is being done on the basis of paint samples and macro X-ray fluorescence, which uses X-rays to analyse the chemical composition of paint. Both the paint samples and macro-XRF should provide information about the pigments used. It will be interesting, for example, to detect the presence of cadmium yellow, a pigment we know the artist used in Paris.


Hidden underpainting

The research team has used X-rays and infrared imaging to get a better picture of the underpainting, which clearly shows the Old Tower at Nuenen, painted by Van Gogh in 1884. Van Gogh painted the current scene with the Church of Saint Clement in the distance over the original painting in 1885. The tower’s spire was removed in 1885, which allows the underpainting to be dated to before that date. The question is also whether Van Gogh has applied a layer of varnish between the two scenes.


TEFAF Museum Restoration Fund

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen has been awarded a Museum Restoration Fund prize by the European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) to restore Vincent van Gogh’s Poplars near Nuenen (1885). The generous prize of €25,000 will enable the museum to conduct research into the painting and to carry out a thorough restoration of the painting. This is the tenth time that TEFAF has awarded the prize, marking an important anniversary for the fair, which takes place in Maastricht this year from 24 to 30 June. On the occasion of the anniversary of the Museum Restoration Fund, Poplars near Nuenen is being shown at the fair prior to the restoration.

About Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

The world-renowned art collection of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen has over the span of 170 years expanded to more than 151,000 artefacts, which includes some 63,000 paintings, photos, films, pre-industrial design and design objects, contemporary art installations and sculptures, as well as 88,000 prints and drawings.

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