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First Steps, after Millet

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

Date:
1890
Medium:
Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
28 1/2 x 35 7/8 in. (72.4 x 91.1 cm)
Classification:
Paintings
Credit Line:
Gift of George N. and Helen M. Richard, 1964
Accession Number:
64.165.2
  • Gallery Label

    In fall and winter 1889–90, while a voluntary patient at the asylum in Saint-Rémy, Van Gogh painted twenty-one copies after Millet, an artist he greatly admired. He considered his copies "translations" akin to a musician's interpretation of a composer's work. He let the black-and-white images—whether prints, reproductions, or, as here, a photograph that his brother, Theo, had sent—pose "as a subject," then he would "improvise color on it." For this work of January 1890, Van Gogh squared-up a photograph of Millet's First Steps and transferred it to the canvas.

  • Provenance

    the artist's brother, Theo van Gogh, Paris (1890–d. 1891; sent to him by the artist on April 29, 1890); his widow, Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, Amsterdam (1891–1905; sold in October with six other works for fl. 4,731.60 to Osthaus); Karl Ernst Osthaus, Hagen (1905–at least 1917); [Alfred Flechtheim, Düsseldorf]; W. Russ Young, Serrières (until 1924; sold to Vallotton on December 31); [Galerie Paul Vallotton, Lausanne, 1924–26; sold to Oppenheimer on July 31, 1926]; Julius Oppenheimer, New York (1926–d. 1937); his son, Frank Oppenheimer, San Francisco (1937–at least 1949; sold to Dalzell Hatfield); [Dalzell Hatfield Galleries, Los Angeles, until 1955; sold to Richard]; Mr. and Mrs. George N. Richard, New York (1955–64)

  • Exhibition History

    Rotterdam. Kunstzalen Oldenzeel. "Vincent van Gogh," March 1896, no. 19 [see La Faille 1970].

    Amsterdam. Stedelijk Museum. "Tentoonstelling van Schilderijen en Teekeningen door Vincent van Gogh," July–August 1905, no. 173.

    Hagen, Germany. Museum Folkwang. September–October 1905, no. ? [see Stolwijk and Veenenbos 2002].

    Hagen, Germany. Museum Folkwang. "Moderne Kunst: Plastik, Malerei, Graphik," July 1912, no. 133 (as "Der erste Schritt").

    Kunsthaus Zürich. "Vincent van Gogh," July 3–August 10, 1924, no. 63 (as "Der erste Schritt, nach Millet"; marked for sale for Fr 35,000).

    New York. Museum of Modern Art. "First Loan Exhibition: Cézanne, Gauguin, Seurat, van Gogh," November 8–December 7, 1929, no. 88 (lent by Julius Oppenheimer, New York).

    Art Institute of Chicago. "A Century of Progress," June 1–November 1, 1933, no. 378 (lent by Mr. Julius Oppenheimer, New York).

    San Francisco Museum of Art. "Contemporary Art: Paintings, Watercolors and Sculpture owned in the San Francisco Bay Region," January 18–February 5, 1940, no. 9 (lent anonymously).

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Van Gogh: Paintings and Drawings," October 21, 1949–January 15, 1950, no. 127 (lent anonymously).

    Art Institute of Chicago. "Van Gogh: Paintings and Drawings," February 1–April 15, 1950, no. 127 (lent anonymously).

    Tokyo. National Museum of Western Art. "Vincent van Gogh," October 12–December 8, 1985, no. 85.

    Nagoya City Museum. "Vincent van Gogh," December 21, 1985–February 2, 1986, no. 85.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Van Gogh in Saint-Rémy and Auvers," November 25, 1986–March 22, 1987, no. 46.

    Yokohama Museum of Art. "Treasures from The Metropolitan Museum of Art: French Art from the Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century," March 25–June 4, 1989, no. 99.

    Essen. Museum Folkwang. "Vincent van Gogh and the Modern Movement: 1890–1914," August 11–November 4, 1990, no. 51.

    Amsterdam. Van Gogh Museum. "Vincent van Gogh and the Modern Movement: 1890–1914," November 16, 1990–February 18, 1991, no. 51.

    Melbourne. National Gallery of Victoria. "Van Gogh: His Sources, Genius and Influence," November 19, 1993–January 16, 1994, no. 49.

    Brisbane. Queensland Art Gallery. "Van Gogh: His Sources, Genius and Influence," January 22–March 13, 1994, no. 49.

    Kunsthalle Bremen. "Van Gogh: 'Fields'. The 'Field with Poppies' and the Artists' Dispute," October 19, 2002–January 26, 2003, no. 31.

    Toledo Museum of Art. "Van Gogh: Fields," February 23–May 18, 2003, no. 16.

    Martigny. Fondation Pierre Gianadda. "The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Chefs-d'œuvre de la peinture européenne," June 23–November 12, 2006, no. 49.

    Barcelona. Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya. "Grandes maestros de la pintura europea de The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nueva York: De El Greco a Cézanne," December 1, 2006–March 4, 2007, no. 41.

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

    Vienna. Albertina. "Van Gogh: Heartfelt Lines," September 5–December 8, 2008, no. 126 (as "First Steps").

    Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. "Earth, Sea, and Sky: Nature in Western Art; Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," October 6, 2012–January 4, 2013, no. 36.

    Beijing. National Museum of China. "Earth, Sea, and Sky: Nature in Western Art; Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," February 8–May 9, 2013, no. 36.

  • References

    Vincent van Gogh. Letter to his brother Theo. [on or about October 25, 1889] [Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, inv. no. b659 V/1962; pub. in Van Gogh Letters 1958, letter no. 611; Van Gogh Letters 2009, letter no. 815], thanks Theo for the Millet reproductions, which arrived the previous evening, mentioning that "it might be interesting to try to do Millet's drawings as paintings"; remarks "How beautiful the Millet is, A Child's first steps!".

    Vincent van Gogh. Letter to his brother Theo. [February 1, 1890] [Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, inv. no. b674 V/1962; pub. in Van Gogh Letters 1958, letter no. 625; Van Gogh Letters 2009, letter no. 850], mentions that he will send to Theo five or six finished canvases after Millet, including this work.

    Vincent van Gogh. Letter to his brother Theo. [on or about January 13, 1890] [Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, inv. nos. b672 a-b V/1962; pub. in Van Gogh Letters 1958, letter no. 623; Van Gogh Letters 2009, letter no. 839]

    , writes that he will begin copying Millet's "First steps" that week, and that it will form a series along with five other copies after Millet.

    Vincent van Gogh. Letter to his brother Theo. [April 29, 1890] [Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, inv. no. b678 V/1962; pub. in Van Gogh Letters 1958, letter no. 629; Van Gogh Letters 2009, letter no. 863], mentions that he is sending Theo "canvases after Millet," probably including this work.

    Is[raël]. Querido. Op de Hoogte 2 (August 1905), ill. p. 480, [see Ref. La Faille 1928].

    Kurt Pfister. Vincent van Gogh. Potsdam, 1922, pl. 43.

    J.-B. de La Faille. L'Oeuvre de Vincent van Gogh: Catalogue Raisonné. Paris, 1928, vol. 1, p. 190, no. 668; vol. 2, pl. 181.

    R. H. Wile[n]ski. French Painting. Boston, 1931, p. 296.

    W. Scherjon. Catalogue des tableaux par Vincent van Gogh décrits dans ses lettres. Périodes: St. Rémy et Auvers sur Oise. Utrecht, 1932, p. 98, no. 93, ill.

    W. Scherjon and Jos. De Gruyter. Vincent van Gogh's Great Period: Arles, St. Rémy and Auvers sur Oise (complete catalogue). Amsterdam, 1937, p. 288, Saint-Rémy no. 93, ill.

    J.-B. de La Faille. Vincent van Gogh. London, [1939], pp. 472, 569, 575, 588, no. 685, ill.

    Meyer Schapiro. Vincent van Gogh. New York, 1950, p. 25, calls it "The First Step".

    Vincent van Gogh. The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh with Reproductions of All the Drawings in the Correspondence. Greenwich, Conn., 1958, vol. 3, pp. 224–25, under letter no. 611, p. 248, under letter no. 623, p. 253, under letter no. 625, p. 260, under letter no. 629 (probably this work).

    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. 190–91, ill., discuss exactly which Millet drawing Van Gogh may have copied, suggesting one which belonged in 1911 to Moulton and Ricketts, Chicago (now Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, Laurel, Mississippi), and one formerly in the collection of Georges Petit, Paris, illustrated on page 345 of Alfred Sensier's 1881 book on Millet, of which Van Gogh is known to have owned a copy [see Notes].

    Jean Leymarie. Van Gogh. [1st ed., 1968]. New York, 1977, pp. 147, 210, ill. p. 167, erroneously as still in the collection of George N. Richard; states that Van Gogh painted it for Theo and his wife, as a pendant to "The Vigil" (F647, as "Night: The Watch"; Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam), another copy he had made after Millet.

    J.-B. de La Faille. The Works of Vincent van Gogh: His Paintings and Drawings. Amsterdam, 1970, pp. 262–63, 637, no. 668, ill., believes that Van Gogh probably copied it from the Millet drawing formerly in the collection of Georges Petit, and illustrated in Sensier's book of 1881 on Millet [see Notes].

    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. 226, no. 760, ill. p. 224, as "Due contadini con una bambina (I primi passi)"; states that it was copied after the Millet drawing once in the collection of Petit [see Notes].

    Charles Scott Chetham Harvard University. The Role of Vincent van Gogh's Copies in the Development of His Art. New York, 1976, p. 190, fig. 42.

    Jan Hulsker. The Complete Van Gogh: Paintings, Drawings, Sketches. [1st ed., Amsterdam, 1977]. New York, 1980, pp. 432–33, no. 1883, ill.

    Griselda F. S. Pollock. "Vincent van Gogh and Dutch Art." PhD diss., Courtauld Institute of Art, 1980, vol. 1, pt. 3, p. 610 n. 93.

    Paul Vogt. Museum Folkwang Essen: Die Geschichte einer Sammlung junger Kunst im Ruhrgebiet. Cologne, 1983, pp. 16, 18, states that Osthaus was offered the picture by Cassirer sometime before 1905, and turned it down, and that he was offered it again at a lower price in October 1905 by Van Gogh-Bonger and bought it.

    Haruo Arikawa in Vincent van Gogh. Exh. cat., National Museum of Western Art. Tokyo, 1985, pp. 82, 84, 86, 202–3, 233–34, 236, 266, no. 85, ill. (color), calls the Millet drawing now in the Cleveland Museum of Art the original of this copy by Van Gogh [see Notes].

    Ronald Pickvance The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Van Gogh in Saint-Rémy and Auvers. New York, 1986, pp. 18, 172–74, no. 46, ill. (color), states that it was included in the batch of works sent to Theo from Saint-Rémy on April 29, 1890; illustrates the photograph (fig.39; Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam) of the Millet drawing Theo sent his brother, squared for transfer by Vincent.

    Walter Feilchenfeldt. Vincent van Gogh & Paul Cassirer, Berlin: The Reception of Van Gogh in Germany from 1901 to 1914. Zwolle, The Netherlands, 1988, pp. 14–15, 20, 22, 111, 145, 149, 156–57, ill., dates the offering by Cassirer to Osthaus to February 1902 [see Ref. Vogt 1983]; states that Van Gogh-Bonger sold it to Osthaus in February 1906 [but see Ref. Dorn 1990 and correspondence in archive file].

    Hans Bronkhorst. Vincent van Gogh. New York, [1990], pp. 160–63, ill. (color).

    Roland Dorn in Vincent van Gogh and the Modern Movement: 1890–1914. Exh. cat., Museum Folkwang, Essen. Freren, Germany, 1990, pp. 160, 163, 165, 167, no. 51, ill. (color), states that Van Gogh-Bonger sold this work to Osthaus in 1905.

    Magdalena M. Moeller in Vincent van Gogh and the Modern Movement: 1890–1914. Exh. cat., Museum Folkwang, Essen. Freren, Germany, 1990, p. 316.

    Peter Denham in Van Gogh: His Sources, Genius and Influence. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Sydney, 1993, p. 104, no. 49, ill. in color, dust jacket and p. 105 (overall and details).

    Jan Hulsker. Vincent van Gogh: A Guide to His Work and Letters. Amsterdam, 1993, pp. 42, 57, 76, dates letter no. 623 to about January 12–15, 1890, lists the works mentioned in both letters, and corrects a passage of the French to English translation [see Refs. Gogh 1889 and 1890].

    Roger Benjamin. "Performing the Masters: Van Gogh's Copies." Van Gogh: The Songlines of Legend. Melbourne, [1994], p. 26, discusses this picture within the context of van Gogh's other copies after Millet, painted around the same time.

    Matthias Arnold. Vincent van Gogh: Werk und Wirkung. Munich, 1995, pp. 228–29, 232.

    Cornelia Homburg. The Copy Turns Original: Vincent van Gogh and a New Approach to Traditional Art Practice. Amsterdam, 1996, pp. 88–89, 143 n. 277, fig. 38.

    Jan Hulsker. The New Complete Van Gogh: Paintings, Drawings, Sketches. rev. ed. Amsterdam, 1996, pp. 432, 434, 496, no. 1883, ill. p. 433.

    Carol Zemel. Van Gogh's Progress. Berkeley, 1997, p. 17.

    Naomi Margolis Maurer. The Pursuit of Spiritual Wisdom: The Thought and Art of Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin. Madison, N.J., 1998, p. 99, fig. 175 (color).

    Louis van Tilborgh in Millet/Van Gogh. Exh. cat., Musée d'Orsay. Paris, 1998, pp. 121–22, 152–53, 156–58 n. 43, pp. 170, 175, no. 81, ill. (color).

    Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov. Van Gogh in Provence and Auvers. [New York], 1999, ill. p. 214 (color).

    Ronald Pickvance. Van Gogh. Exh. cat., Fondation Pierre Gianadda. Martigny, 2000, pp. 48, 103.

    Pierre Cabanne. Van Gogh. Paris, 2002, pp. 174–75, ill. (color), erroneously states that MoMA owns it.

    Dorothee Hansen in Van Gogh: "Fields". The "Field with Poppies" and the Artists' Dispute. Exh. cat., Kunsthalle Bremen. Ostfildern-Ruit, Germany, 2002, pp. 106–7, 195, no. 31, ill. (color), gives incorrect date of 1889 on p. 195, and correct date of January 1890 on p. 106; lists the painting as being sold to the Museum Folkwang, Hagen in 1905 for 2,400 marks.

    Bettina Heil in "An 'Invasion of French Art'?: Acquisitions at German Museums from 1900 to 1914, The Museum Folkwang in Hagen." Van Gogh: "Fields". The "Field with Poppies" and the Artists' Dispute. Exh. cat., Kunsthalle Bremen. Ostfildern-Ruit, Germany, 2002, p. 217, lists the painting as acquired by the Museum Folkwang in Hagen under the auspices of Karl Ernst Osthaus for 2,400 marks in 1905.

    Alfred Nemeczek. "Das Mohnfeld der Ehre." Art 10 (October 2002), p. 45, ill. p. 43 (color).

    Chris Stolwijk and Han Veenenbos. The Account Book of Theo van Gogh and Jo van Gogh-Bonger. Amsterdam, 2002, pp. 50, 146, 184, ill., identify it as one of seven works sold by Van Gogh-Bonger to Karl Ernst Osthaus, Hagen, for which she recorded payment of 4,731.60 guilders in February 1906; note that these works were included in an exhibition at the Museum Folkwang, Hagen (now Essen) in September–October 1905.

    Dorothee Hansen in Dorothee Hansen et al. Van Gogh: Fields. Exh. cat., Toledo Museum of Art. Toledo, 2003, pp. 15, 70–71, ill. (color).

    Walter Feilchenfeldt. By Appointment Only: Cézanne, Van Gogh and Some Secrets of Art Dealing. English ed. London, 2006, p. 58, notes that Johanna van Gogh-Bonger sold it to Osthaus in 1905, along with three other paintings and three drawings.

    Kathryn Calley Galitz in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Chefs-d'œuvre de la peinture européenne. Exh. cat., Fondation Pierre Gianadda. Martigny, 2006, pp. 250–52, no. 49, ill. (color) [Catalan ed., Barcelona, 2006, pp. 136–37, no. 41, ill. (color)], comments that this picture "likely resonated with Theo [van Gogh], whose son, Vincent Willem, was born earlier that year"; observes that its soft green palette differentiates this picture from others done in Saint Rémy and prefigures Van Gogh's last landscapes from Auvers-sur-Oise.

    Stefan Koldehoff in Van Gogh and Expressionism. Exh. cat., Neue Galerie New York. Ostfildern, 2007, p. 171, states that Karl-Ernst Osthaus, Hagen, purchased it in February 1906 from Johanna van Gogh-Bonger together with six other van Gogh pictures, for 4,731.60 guilders [see Ref. Stolwijk and Veenenbos 2002].

    Heinz Widauer in Van Gogh: Heartfelt Lines. Exh. cat., Albertina, Vienna. Cologne, 2008, pp. 110, 402, no. 126, ill. pp. 109, 403 (color), calls it "First Steps".

    Vincent van Gogh. Vincent van Gogh—The Letters. London, 2009, vol. 5, pp. 127–8, under letter no. 815, pp. 184–85, fig. 20 (color), under letter no. 839, p. 195, fig. 9 (color), under letter no. 850, p. 213, under letter no. 863, state that Van Gogh probably included all but two of his copies after Millet, including this work, in the consignment sent to Theo on April 29, 1890.

    Asher Ethan Miller. "The Path of Nature: French Paintings from the Wheelock Whitney Collection, 1785–1850." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 70 (Winter 2013), p. 27, fig. 29 (color).



  • Notes

    In October 1889 Theo van Gogh sent his brother Vincent, at Saint-Rémy, a group of reproductions of works by Jean-François Millet, including a photograph of the drawing from which this painting was copied. The photograph, squared by Van Gogh when he decided to copy it in January 1890, is now in the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. The Millet drawing itself is now in the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, Laurel, Mississippi. Millet made at least two other versions of this composition, one now in the Cleveland Museum of Art and one formerly in the collection of Georges Petit, Paris (ill. in "La Vie et l'oeuvre de J.-F. Millet," by Alfred Sensier, Paris, 1881, p. 345 [according to Ref. Sterling and Salinger 1967, Van Gogh is known to have owned a copy of this book]). A drawing by Millet of this subject with a different setting was sold at Christie's, London, on November 27, 1992, lot 17.

  • See also
436526

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