Van Gogh’s Overlooked Journey to Fame in America

Vincent van Gogh is an artist who is well known today, but during his lifetime, he was largely overlooked.  It wasn’t until 1913 that his work was exhibited in the United States, at the Armory Show in New York City, Chicago, and Boston.  However, none of his works sold at this exhibition, likely due to their high prices compared to those of more well-known artists like Monet and Cézanne.  Despite this, Van Gogh’s sister-in-law, Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, refused to lower the prices, as Europe was starting to show interest in his work.

Interestingly, it wasn’t the East Coast elite collectors and institutions that first embraced Van Gogh in the United States.  Instead, it was the Midwest where his work found its greatest following.  In 1922, the Detroit Institute of Arts became the first public museum to acquire and display a Van Gogh piece, a Self-Portrait With Straw Hat, as part of its permanent collection.  Other Midwest museums soon followed, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, and the St. Louis Art Museum.

Currently, American-held Van Goghs are on loan to the Detroit Institute of Arts for the “Van Gogh in America” exhibition, which focuses on the artist’s reception in the United States.  According to Jill Shaw, the exhibition’s curator, the show will offer a more comprehensive view of Van Gogh’s work than just his “greatest hits,” and will highlight the fact that there is more to Van Gogh than just his signature swirly, thick brushstrokes.

The exhibition will be on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts through January 22, 2023.