Denison artwork connected to Van Gogh

Denison Museum
September 24, 2020

Research on iconic painter Vincent Van Gogh has uncovered a link to a well-known work in the Denison Museum collection, “Brittany Girl,” by 19th-century French Naturalist painter Jules Breton.

A new book, “Van Gogh and the Artists He Loved,” will feature a chapter on Van Gogh’s appreciation of peasant paintings, including “Brittany Girl.” Van Gogh admired Breton’s work, even traveling to his home to meet him, only to turn away at the front gate.

Columbus Museum of Art (CMA) curator Steven Naifeh is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Jackson Pollock: An American Saga” and “Van Gogh: The Life.” He spent ten years researching and writing about the life of the legendary Dutch artist with co-author Gregory White Smith. Naifeh discussed his work at a CMA event in Fall 2020.

The painting Brittany Girl is a classic example of Breton’s peasant paintings. The young girl is spinning flax along the coast of Brittany. She is dressed in regional clothing that adds colorful touches to the composition, with all the attention centered on the figure and activity, rather than the setting. Breton traveled throughout France capturing the people and activities surrounding rural life.

Jules Adolphe Aimé Louis Breton’s (1 May 1827 – 5 July 1906) paintings are heavily influenced by the French countryside and his idyllic vision of rural life of the peasant. Breton was a writer as well as a painter and he became well known in America after his death at the 1934 the Chicago World’s Fair.

“Britany Girl” was a gift by Edmund G. Burke, who put the call out for an ‘Art Treasure Room’ for Denison in the 1940s and later the gift for Burke Hall to found a gallery to hold the expanding collection. The work was acquired by the William Henry Vanderbilt in 1879 and later by Mr. Burke in 1945 through the Cornelius Vanderbilt estate sale in 1945.

The painting has toured around the world, throughout the USA, France, and Ireland.

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