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Irises

Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, Zundert 1853–1890 Auvers-sur-Oise)

Date:
1890
Medium:
Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
29 x 36 1/4 in. (73.7 x 92.1 cm)
Classification:
Paintings
Credit Line:
Gift of Adele R. Levy, 1958
Accession Number:
58.187
  • Gallery Label

    In May 1890, just before his release from the asylum at Saint-Rémy, Van Gogh painted four bouquets of spring flowers: two of roses, and two of irises, in contrasting formats and color schemes. Owing to his use of a fugitive red pigment, the "harmonious and soft" effect that he had sought in the Museum’s painting of Irises has been altered by the fading of the once pink background to almost white. Another still life from this series, Roses (1993.400.5), is on view in the adjacent gallery. Both were owned by the artist’s mother, who kept them until her death in 1907.

  • Provenance

    the artist's mother, Anna van Gogh-Carbentus, Leiden (until d. 1907; her estate, 1907–8; sold by her daughter-in-law, Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, with two other paintings for fl. 8,150 to Cassirer); [Paul Cassirer, Berlin, 1908; sold in March for DM 9,000 to Mendelssohn]; Robert von Mendelssohn, Berlin (1908–d. 1917); his widow, Giulietta von Mendelssohn, Grunewald, Berlin (1917–no later than 1935); their son, Francesco von Mendelssohn, and/or their daughter, Eleanora von Mendelssohn, both Berlin, then from 1933 and 1935, respectively, New York (by 1935–39; sold by her in June 1939 to Rosenberg); [Paul Rosenberg, New York, 1939–42; sold in April 1942 to Levy]; Adele R. (Mrs. David M.) Levy, New York (1942–58; life interest, 1958–d. 1960)

  • Exhibition History

    Brussels. Les XX. "Huitième exposition annuelle des XX," February 1891, no. 4 (as "Bouquet d'Iris," possibly this picture).

    Paris. Bernheim-Jeune. "Cent tableaux de Vincent van Gogh," January 6–February 1, 1908, no. 85 [see Feilchenfeldt 1988].

    Berlin. Paul Cassirer. "VII. Ausstellung," March 5–22, 1908, no. 20 [see Feilchenfeldt 1988].

    Berlin. Paul Cassirer. "Erste Ausstellung," October–November 1912, no. 78 (as "Blaue Iris," possibly this picture) [see Feilchenfeldt 1988].

    Berlin. Kronprinzenpalais, Nationalgalerie. "Van Gogh—Matisse," 1921, no. ? [see La Faille 1970].

    Berliner Künstlerhaus. "Erste Sonderausstellung in Berlin," January 9–mid-February 1927, no. 114 (as "Iris im Krug").

    Berlin. Galerie Matthiesen. "Ausstellung das Stilleben in der Deutschen und Französischen Malerei von 1850 bis zur Gegenwart," mid-February–mid-March, 1927, no. 120 (as "Iris," lent by M., Berlin).

    Paris. Bernheim-Jeune. "Vincent van Gogh: l'époque française," June 20–July 2, 1927, no catalogue [see La Faille 1970 and correspondence in archive file].

    Berlin. Paul Cassirer. "Vincent van Gogh: Gemälde," January 15–March 1, 1928, no. 70 (as "Iris," lent by a private collector, Berlin-Grunewald) [Bailey 2006 states that lender was Giulietta von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy].

    Frankfurt. Städelsches Kunstinstitut. "Vom Abbild zum Sinnbild," June 3–July 3, 1931, no. 73 (as "Iris," lent by a private collector).

    New York. Wildenstein. "The Art and Life of Vincent van Gogh," October 6–November 7, 1943, no. 57 (lent by Mrs. David M. Levy).

    New York. Museum of Modern Art. "Paintings from New York Private Collections," July 2–September 22, 1946, unnumbered cat. (as "Purple Iris," lent by Dr. and Mrs. David M. Levy).

    New York. Paul Rosenberg. "The 19th Century Heritage," March 7–April 1, 1950, no. 10 (lent by Dr. and Mrs. David M. Levy).

    New York. Wildenstein. "Van Gogh," March 24–April 30, 1955, no. 68 (as "Still Life: Irises").

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Impressionist and Modern Paintings from Private Collections: Summer Loan Exhibition," July 11–end of summer, 1957, no catalogue (lent by D.M. Levy [David M. Levy], according to internal MMA checklist).

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Paintings from Private Collections: Summer Loan Exhibition," July 1–September 1, 1958, no. 71.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Paintings from Private Collections: Summer Loan Exhibition," July 7–September 7, 1959, no. 55.

    New York. Museum of Modern Art. "The Mrs. Adele R. Levy Collection: A Memorial Exhibition," June 9–July 16, 1961, unnumbered cat. (p. 21).

    Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. "Masterpieces of Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 16–November 1, 1970, unnumbered cat. (p. 90).

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Fifty Centuries," November 15, 1970–February 15, 1971, no. 386.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Van Gogh as Critic and Self-Critic," October 30, 1973–January 6, 1974, no. 3.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Van Gogh in Saint-Rémy and Auvers," November 25, 1986–March 22, 1987, no. 52.

    Leningrad [St. Petersburg]. State Hermitage Museum. "From Delacroix to Matisse," March 15–May 10, 1988, no. 43.

    Moscow. Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts. "From Delacroix to Matisse," June 10–July 30, 1988, no. 43.

    Ottawa. National Gallery of Canada. "Van Gogh's Irises: Masterpiece in Focus," June 11–September 19, 1999, unnumbered cat.

    Budapest. Museum of Fine Arts. "Van Gogh in Budapest," December 1, 2006–March 20, 2007, no. 70 (as "'Iris' — Vase with Blue Irises").

    Berlin. Neue Nationalgalerie. "Französische Meisterwerke des 19.Jahrhunderts aus dem Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York," June 1–October 7, 2007, unnumbered cat.

  • References

    Vincent van Gogh. Letter to his sister Willemien. [June 5, 1890] [Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, inv. no. b722 V/1962; pub. in Van Gogh Letters 1958, letter no. W22 (as first half of June 1890); Van Gogh Letters 2009, letter no. 879]

    , writes that "in the last few days at St-Rémy I worked like a man in a frenzy, especially on bouquets of flowers. Roses and violet Irises".

    Vincent van Gogh. Draft of a letter to his brother Theo and sister-in-law Jo van Gogh-Bonger. [May 24, 1890] [Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, inv. no. b696 V/1962; pub. in Van Gogh Letters 1958, letter no. 648; Van Gogh Letters 2009, letter no. RM20]

    , mentions canvases still in Saint-Rémy, of which there were at least eight, including this one, which demonstrate that he is "trying not to lose my touch" (thought to be a draft of Van Gogh Letters 1958, letter no. 637; Ref. Van Gogh Letters 2009, letter no. 875).

    Vincent van Gogh. Draft of a letter to his sister Willemien. [on or about May 21, 1890] [Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, inv. no. b721 V/1962; pub. in Van Gogh Letters 1958, letter no. W21 (as beginning of June 1890); Van Gogh Letters 2009, letter no. RM19]


    , writes that he worked in a frenzy on big bouquets of flowers, including violet irises, at the end of his stay at Saint-Rémy (thought to be a draft of Van Gogh Letters 1958, letter no. W22; Van Gogh Letters 2009, letter no. 879).

    Vincent van Gogh. Letter to his brother Theo. [June 24, 1890] [Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, inv. no. b692V/1962; pub. in Van Gogh Letters 1958, letter no. 644; Van Gogh Letters 2009, letter no. 891]

    , mentions that the canvases have arrived from Saint-Rémy, stating that "the Irises have dried well and I dare believe that you'll find something in them".

    Vincent van Gogh. Draft of a letter to Joseph Jacob Isaäcson. [May 25, 1890] [Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, inv. no. b663 V/1962; pub. in Van Gogh Letters 1958, letter no. 614a; Van Gogh Letters 2009, letter no. RM21], states that he has painted "a very large bouquet of Irises against [....] pink background" since their "last correspondence".

    Vincent van Gogh. Letter to his brother Theo. [May 11, 1890] [Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, inv. no. b680 V/1962; pub. in Van Gogh Letters 1958, letter no. 633; Van Gogh Letters 2009, letter no. 870]

    , describes two paintings of irises on which he is currently working, one with a yellow background (F678; Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam) and one "against a pink background in which the effect is harmonious and soft through the combination of greens, pinks, and violets" (this picture).

    Julius Meier-Graefe. Entwicklungsgeschichte der Modernen Kunst. Stuttgart, 1904, vol. 1, p. 119 n. 1, states that van Gogh's mother owns it.

    Julius Meier-Graefe. Vincent. Munich, 1921, vol. 1, pp. 219–20 [English ed., "Vincent van Gogh," London, 1922, vol. 2, pp. 76–77].

    Julius Meier-Graefe. "Die Franzosen in Berlin." Der Cicerone 19 (January 1927), ill. p. 51, as "Iris im Krug," in the exhibition at the Thannhauser Gallery, Berlin.

    K[arl]. Sch[effler]. "Kunstausstellungen: Berlin." Kunst und Künstler 25 (April 1927), ill. p. 270, as "Schwertlilien," exhibited at the Galerie Matthiesen, Berlin.

    J.-B. de La Faille. L'Oeuvre de Vincent van Gogh: Catalogue Raisonné. Paris, 1928, vol. 1, pp. 193–94, no. 680; vol. 2, pl. 190, as "Nature morte: les iris".

    Alfred Bader. Künstler-Tragik: Karl Stauffer, Vincent van Gogh. Basel, 1932, p. 92.

    W. Scherjon. Catalogue des tableaux par Vincent van Gogh décrits dans ses lettres. Périodes: St. Rémy et Auvers sur Oise. Utrecht, 1932, p. 112, no. 111, ill., as "Bouquet de fleurs d'iris violets (fond rose)".

    Lamberto Vitali. Vincent van Gogh. Milan, 1936, pl. 28, as "Natura morta," in the collection of Giulietta V. Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Berlin-Grunewald.

    Jean de Beucken. Vincent van Gogh: un portrait. [Brussels], n.d., p. 108.

    W. Scherjon and Jos. De Gruyter. Vincent van Gogh's Great Period: Arles, St. Rémy and Auvers sur Oise (complete catalogue). Amsterdam, 1937, p. 302, Saint-Rémy no. 111, ill.

    J.-B. de La Faille. Vincent van Gogh. London, [1939], pp. 484, 560, 583, 588, no. 701, ill.

    John Rewald. Post-Impressionism: From Van Gogh to Gauguin. 1st ed. New York, 1956, pp. 380, 394, ill. p. 383 [3rd, rev. ed., 1978, pp. 354, 368, ill. p. 355], as "Irises in a Vase," in the collection of Dr. and Mrs. David M. Levy, New York.

    Vincent van Gogh. The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh with Reproductions of All the Drawings in the Correspondence. Greenwich, Conn., 1958, vol. 3, p. 232, under letter no. 614a, p. 269, under letter no. 633, p. 288, under letter no. 644, p. 295, under letter no. 648, pp. 469–70, under letter nos. W21, W22, dates letter no. W21 to beginning of June 1890, letter no. W22 to first half of June 1890; but see changes and refinements in Van Gogh Letters 2009, letter nos. RM19, 879.

    Catalogue of Colour Reproductions of Paintings—1860 to 1961. Paris, 1961, p. 176, no. 451, ill.

    Charles Sterling and Margaretta M. Salinger. "XIX–XX Centuries." French Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 3, New York, 1967, pp. 191–92, ill.

    Jean Leymarie. Van Gogh. [1st ed., 1968]. New York, 1977, pp. 155–56, 158.

    J.-B. de La Faille. The Works of Vincent van Gogh: His Paintings and Drawings. Amsterdam, 1970, pp. 266–67, 638, no. 680, ill., as "Still Life: Vase with Irises Against a Pink Background".

    Van Gogh's "Diary": The Artist's Life in His Own Words and Art. New York, 1971, pp. 146–47, 167, ill.

    Paolo Lecaldano. "Da Arles a Auvers." L'opera pittorica completa di Van Gogh e i suoi nessi grafici. 2, repr. [1st ed., 1966]. Milan, 1971–77, p. 229, no. 794, ill. p. 227, as "Vaso con fiori (iris, con fondo rosa)".

    Matthias Arnold. "Duktus und Bildform bei Vincent van Gogh." PhD diss., Ruprecht-Karl University, Heidelberg, 1973, pp. 121, 188 nn. 215, 219, p. 192 n. 346, p. 194 n. 405.

    Jan Hulsker. The Complete Van Gogh: Paintings, Drawings, Sketches. [1st ed., Amsterdam, 1977]. New York, 1980, pp. 448, 450, 452, no. 1978, ill., as "Vase with Violet Irises against a Pink Background".

    Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov. Vincent van Gogh and the Birth of Cloisonism. Exh. cat., Art Gallery of Ontario. Toronto, 1981, p. 158.

    Ronald Pickvance The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Van Gogh in Saint-Rémy and Auvers. New York, 1986, pp. 72, 82, 185–86, 205, 210, no. 52, ill. (color), notes that the pink background has sunk so that the color contrasts Van Gogh sought are no longer evident.

    Gary Tinterow et al. "Modern Europe." The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 8, New York, 1987, ill. in color on title pages.

    Walter Feilchenfeldt. Vincent van Gogh & Paul Cassirer, Berlin: The Reception of Van Gogh in Germany from 1901 to 1914. Zwolle, The Netherlands, 1988, pp. 27, 29, 112, 146, 149, 155–56, ill., gives early provenance and exhibition history.

    Judith Bumpus. Van Gogh's Flowers. Oxford, 1989, pp. 58–59, colorpl. 31.

    Hans Bronkhorst. Vincent van Gogh. New York, [1990], p. 142.

    Roland Dorn in Vincent van Gogh and the Modern Movement: 1890–1914. Exh. cat., Museum Folkwang, Essen. Freren, Germany, 1990, p. 175 n. 2.

    Walter Feilchenfeldt in Vincent van Gogh and the Modern Movement: 1890–1914. Exh. cat., Museum Folkwang, Essen. Freren, Germany, 1990, p. 44, states that Cassirer bought it from Van Gogh's mother's estate and sold it to Robert von Mendelssohn.

    Evert van Uitert et al. Vincent van Gogh: Paintings. Exh. cat., Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh, Amsterdam. Milan, 1990, p. 254, ill.

    Joseph J. Rishel in Masterpieces of Impressionism & Post-Impressionism: The Annenberg Collection. Exh. cat., Philadelphia Museum of Art. Philadelphia, 1991, p. 111.

    Takanori Nagai in Vincent van Gogh and Japan. Exh. cat., National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto. [Tokyo?], 1992, p. 188, fig. 32.

    Jan Hulsker. Vincent van Gogh: A Guide to His Work and Letters. Amsterdam, 1993, pp. 42, 57–58, 76, dates letter no. 614a to May 25, 1890, no. W21 to about May 20, no. W22 to about June 5, and no. 644 to June 24 or 25; lists all the works mentioned in each letter, and corrects passages of the French to English translation [see Refs. 1890].

    Matthias Arnold. Vincent van Gogh: Werk und Wirkung. Munich, 1995, pp. 277, 289–90, colorpl. 142.

    Jan Hulsker. The New Complete Van Gogh: Paintings, Drawings, Sketches. rev. ed. Amsterdam, 1996, pp. 448, 450, 496, no. 1978, ill. p. 452, dates it May 5–11, 1890.

    Juleke van Lindert and Louis van Tilborgh in Vincent van Gogh and His Time: Still Lifes from the Van Gogh Museum and the H.W. Mesdag Museum. Exh. cat., Seiji Togo Memorial Yasuda Kasai Museum of Art. [Tokyo], 1996, pp. 70, 142, fig. 13a.

    Cynthia Saltzman. Portrait of Dr. Gachet: The Story of a Van Gogh Masterpiece. New York, 1998, pp. 110, 235, 280, states that Cassirer sold it for DM 9,000 in March 1908.

    Colin B. Bailey and John Collins. Van Gogh's Irises: Masterpiece in Focus. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Canada. Ottawa, 1999, pp. 18–19, 23, ill. pp. 20 and 23 (both in color).

    Debra N. Mancoff. Van Gogh: Fields and Flowers. San Francisco, 1999, p. 57, ill. (color).

    Jean-Paul Rioux in Anne Distel and Susan Alyson Stein. Cézanne to Van Gogh: The Collection of Doctor Gachet. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1999, p. 107, mentions it during a discussion of the discoloration of various pigments used by Van Gogh.

    Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov. Van Gogh in Provence and Auvers. [New York], 1999, p. 259, ill. p. 224 (color).

    Andrea Kirsh and Rustin S. Levenson. Seeing Through Paintings: Physical Examination in Art Historical Studies. New Haven, 2000, pp. 164–65, fig. 171 (color).

    Ronald Pickvance. Van Gogh. Exh. cat., Fondation Pierre Gianadda. Martigny, 2000, pp. 54, 59, 63, 108, 112, 115.

    David Grossvogel. Behind the Van Gogh Forgeries: A Memoir. San Jose, Calif., 2001, p. 134.

    Chris Stolwijk and Han Veenenbos. The Account Book of Theo van Gogh and Jo van Gogh-Bonger. Amsterdam, 2002, pp. 148, 184, ill., identify it as one of three paintings sold by Van Gogh-Bonger for 8,150 guilders to Paul Cassirer in 1908, noting that Van Gogh-Bonger recorded only one of these works ("Garden"; F814; private collection) in her account book, since the other two (this work and "Vase of Roses"; F682; MMA, 1993.400.5) came from the estate of her mother-in-law, Anna Van Gogh-Carbentus, who had died in 1907.

    Teio Meedendorp in The Paintings of Vincent van Gogh in the Collection of the Kröller-Müller Museum. Otterlo, 2003, p. 291.

    Martin Bailey in Van Gogh and Britain: Pioneer Collectors. Exh. cat., Compton Verney, Warwickshire. Edinburgh, 2006, pp. 110, 141 n. 30, states that the lender to Exh. Berlin 1928 was Giulietta von Mendelssohn–Bartholdy, Berlin; ties the painting to Valerie Alport ca. 1929 based on a reference in the autobiographical novel "The Temple," by Stephen Spender, but then argues that Alport owned a different Van Gogh.

    Walter Feilchenfeldt. By Appointment Only: Cézanne, Van Gogh and Some Secrets of Art Dealing. English ed. London, 2006, p. 64, states that Johanna van Gogh-Bonger sold it to Cassirer in 1908, who in turn sold it to von Mendelssohn.

    Zsuzsa Gonda in Van Gogh in Budapest. Exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts. Budapest, 2006, pp. 358–59, 551, no. 70, ill. (color).

    Laura Ann Coyle. "The Still-Life Paintings of Vincent van Gogh and Their Context." PhD diss., Princeton University, September 2007, pp. 476–79, fig. 7.14, the figure is identified as 7.14 in the text, but misnumbered as 7.12 in the illustration section.

    Susan Alyson Stein in Masterpieces of European Painting, 1800–1920, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, pp. 174, 259–60, no. 162, ill. (color and black and white).

    Gary Tinterow in The Masterpieces of French Painting from The Metropolitan Museum of Art: 1800–1920. Exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. New York, 2007, p. 11.

    Masterpieces of European Painting, 1800–1920, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, p. xix.

    Marije Vellekoop, and Roelie Zwikker, with the assistance of Monique Hageman. "Arles, Saint-Rémy & Auvers-sur-Oise, 1888–90." Vincent van Gogh, Drawings. 4, Zwolle, The Netherlands, 2007, part 2, p. 419.

    Susan Alyson Stein in Masterpieces of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism: The Annenberg Collection. 4th rev. ed. [1st ed., 1989]. New York, 2009, p. 233, fig. 170 (color).

    Vincent van Gogh. Vincent van Gogh—The Letters. London, 2009, vol. 5, pp. 232, 235, fig. 3 (color), under letter no. 870, pp. 250, 254, fig. 9 (color), under letter no. 879, p. 268, fig. 1 (color), under letter no. 891, p. 317, fig. 1 (color), under letter no. RM19, p. 319, fig. 8 (color), under letter no. RM20, pp. 320–21, fig. 13 (color), under letter no. RM21, identify letter no. RM19 as a draft of letter no. 879, letter no. RM20 as a draft of letter no. 875, and letter no. RM21 as a draft of an unlocated letter.



  • Notes

    Van Gogh painted this picture at Saint-Rémy in May 1890. A second still life of irises (F678; Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam), against a yellow background, and in a vertical rather than horizontal format, dates from the same period.

    Eugène Druet photograph, pl. 72, no. 24/30–438 ["15" added to end of number in white pen], ca. 1900–1910 (Collection Le fonds Druet-Vizzavona, Médiathèque de l'architecture et du patrimoine, Fort de Saint-Cyr, Montigny-le-Bretonneux, France). Probably shot during Exh. Paris 1908.

  • See also
436528

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