As of today, the painting entitled Watermill at Kollen by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) can be viewed at Het Noordbrabants Museum
in Den Bosch. Exactly one month ago, the museum purchased the painting at the Impressionist & Modern Art Sale at Sotheby's in New York for almost 3 million Euros (a hammer price of 2.6 million dollars). Van Gogh painted the watermill in May of 1884 during his 2-year stay in Nuenen. To celebrate the acquisition, Het Noordbrabants Museum will be opening its doors for free to the public on Saturday 16th December from 11am until 5pm. Also on this day, the Collse Watermolen (the watermill at Kollen) in Eindhoven will be free for visitors to enter between 9.30am and 12.30pm, as will the Vincentre in Neunen between 10am and 10pm.
This is Het Noordbrabants Museum's most important acquisition to date and reflects the museum's aim of offering a representative overview of Van Gogh's Brabant period by means of original works by the artist. The Watermill at Kollen was purchased with financial support from the Province of Noord-Brabant, the Mondriaan Fund, the Rembrandt Association (in part thanks to its Alida Fund and Jheronimus Fund), along with a 1999 bequest to the museum from Mrs Henriëtte M.J. van Oppenraaij.
Van Gogh's fascination with Brabant watermills
From December 1883 Vincent van Gogh lived for almost two years in Nuenen; first with his parents, and later elsewhere in the village. While in Nuenen he focussed on painting more than he had previously. He often chose to portray people at work, for instance weavers, and nature, as in the painting of the watermill at Kollen just purchased by the museum.
Although Van Gogh did not include any figures in this landscape, with its turning sails the watermill symbolizes working life. The flowing stream and the reflections of the structures in the water presented artistic challenges. Van Gogh wrote about the painting to his friend, the painter Anthon van Rappard. He had visited Vincent for ten days in May 1884 and they had worked together on various subjects in the vicinity:
‘Since you left I've been working on a Watermill – the one I asked about in that little inn at the station, where we sat talking with that man whom I told you seemed to suffer from a chronic shortage of small change in his pocket. It's the same sort of thing as the two other water mills that we visited together, but with two red roofs, and which one views square on from the front – with poplars around it. It will be magnificent in the autumn.'
The Kollen watermill was located near the former Nuenen-Tongelre station. With 'the two other watermills' Van Gogh was probably referring to the watermills of Opwetten and Hooidonk, hamlets in the vicinity of Nuenen. Nowadays the actual Kollen watermill that Van Gogh painted in May 1884 is located in the municipality of Eindhoven. It was restored in 1975 and is a listed building.
Van Gogh Monuments
The acquisition of this painting by Het Noordbrabants Museum took place at a remarkable moment. Two weeks earlier, on 30 October 2017, the Province of Noord-Brabant, nine Brabant municipalities, and several Brabant cultural organizations signed a covenant stating their intention of protecting 39 selected valuable cultural heritage monuments related to Vincent van Gogh. The watermill at Kollen is one of these designated Van Gogh Monuments.
Its importance to Noord-Brabant
In the past years Van Gogh has become an ever-greater icon for Brabant. Since 2008 the Province of Noord-Brabant, Van Gogh Brabant, VisitBrabant, and Het Noordbrabants Museum have been working closely to promote this Brabant artist in the region where he was born and where his artistry came to fruition. In 'Van Gogh Brabant', five cultural heritage institutions in Brabant (Van Gogh Village in Nuenen, Vincent's Drawing Classroom in Tilburg, the Van Gogh Church in Etten-Leur, the Vincent van Gogh House in Zundert, and Het Noordbrabants Museum in ’s-Hertogenbosch) have joined forces to preserve and share Van Gogh's cultural legacy in Brabant. There is increasing collaboration with 'Van Gogh Europe', a joint Dutch, Belgian, and French venture aiming to preserve and collectively promote Van Gogh's heritage.
Great attention for Van Gogh in Het Noordbrabants Museum
Het Noordbrabants Museum is the only museum in the southern part of the Netherlands to exhibit original works by Vincent van Gogh. Nine works are on view in Het Verhaal van Brabant (The story of Brabant), in a pavilion devoted to Van Gogh and his Brabant period. Along with the painting Peasant woman digging and the watercolour The garden of the vicarage at Nuenen (both owned by the museum), two permanent loans from the Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed (Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands) and several works on temporary loan from the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum, and a private collection are on display. The Watermill at Kollen will join them in a few weeks.
Van Gogh exhibitions
Since it reopened in 2013 Het Noordbrabants Museum has been devoting special attention to the world famous Brabant artist in its programming of rotating exhibitions. For instance, the museum recently conducted research on the works in its own collection, the results of which have been presented since this summer in Van Gogh doorgelicht (Van Gogh investigated). Also currently on view is Loving Vincent, featuring the genesis of the animated film of the same name (through 28 January 2018). Moreover, a show exploring Van Gogh's relations with his family, friends, models, and fellow artists is being prepared. Titled Van Gogh’s Intimate Circle this international exhibition will be on view in Het Noordbrabants Museum from 21 September 2019 through 12 January 2020.