Vincent van Gogh painted Poplars near Nuenen in 1885. Almost 150 years later, the work needs to be restored because the paint layers are very unstable. This is partly because Van Gogh painted the work over another painting that had not yet dried properly. The restoration will be led by conservator Erika Smeenk-Metz and will focus on stabilising the paint surface and possibly removing the varnish.
Members of the public can follow the research and restoration at the painting restoration studio in Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen. Filmmaker Gerrit Schreurs is making a short documentary about the process, which will be shown on the screens at the studio and on the website in early 2023.
Poplars near Nuenen is painted over an earlier painting of the Old Tower at Nuenen, probably from 1884. Van Gogh painted the current scene with the Church of Saint Clement in the distance over the original painting in 1885. We have known for many years that this painting has a fragile paint surface. 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. Thanks to a generous grant from the TEFAF Museum Restoration Fund, the museum can now conduct extensive material research to determine how best to conserve the painting.
Conservator Erika Smeenk-Metz will concentrate on stabilising the fragile paint surface and may possibly remove the varnish, which would improve the aesthetics of the painting. The museum is working together with specialists from the Cultural Heritage Agency and the Van Gogh Museum. A technology called optical coherence tomography will be used to determine whether the varnish can be removed without affecting the underlying paint layers. X-ray and infrared images will provide a better picture of the underpainting, which shows the Old Tower at Nuenen. The tower’s spire was removed in 1885, which allows the underpainting to be dated to before that date. Paint samples and macro X-ray fluorescence scanning should provide information about the pigments used and allow us to determine whether Van Gogh applied a layer of varnish between the two scenes. The team is also 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.
First Van Gogh painting in a public collection
Poplars near Nuenen was the first painting by Vincent van Gogh to enter a public collection, when it was gifted by twenty-six friends of the museum in 1903. The museum had already acquired a drawing by Van Gogh in 1899. The painting came from the estate of Vincent’s brother, Theo van Gogh, and was acquired for the museum from his widow, Jo van Gogh-Bonger, who worked hard to promote Vincent’s work and who edited the first edition of his letters in 1914.See here
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. Poplars near Nuenen will be displayed at the fair prior to the major restoration along with the findings from the preliminary investigation. It is the first time that TEFAF is presenting a artwork supported by the Museum Restoration Fund at the fair prior to restoration.
The TEFAF Museum Restoration Fund was established in 2012 to support and promote the professional restoration and related scientific research of important museum artworks. The fund champions art in all its forms, and applications for its grants are open to museums from around the world for works of art from any period. A maximum of 50,000 euros is awarded for projects each year. The committee of independent experts usually selects two winners to receive 25,000 euros each to support their restoration project.More information