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Still Life with Bible

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Details
Oil on canvas
65.7 x 78.5 cm.
Nuenen: October, 1885
F 117, JH 946

Amsterdam: Van Gogh Museum

History
Provenance
Exhibitions

Analysis
See below

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In late October 1885 Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo:

I’m sending you a still life of an open, hence an off-white Bible, bound in leather, against a black background with a yellow-brown foreground, with an additional note of lemon yellow.

I painted this in one go, in a single day.

Letter 429

It's arguable that the works of Van Gogh are lacking in symbolic import. A cypress tree is just a cypress tree (albeit one brilliantly rendered), a bird's nest is just a bird's nest--just as Sigmund Freud once said "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." Having said that, Still Life with Bible is one of the rare exceptions in Van Gogh's oeuvre where the symbolic meaning is quite forceful.

Van Gogh painted this work in October, 1885. The Bible belonged to his father who was a a pastor of the Dutch Reformed Church in the Netherlands. Van Gogh and his father had a turbulent relationship up until his father's death at the end of March, 1885. For Van Gogh the Bible represented everything he saw in his father: blind devotion to religion and faith, forever trapped in an antiquated mindset. The Bible is open to Isaiah 53 which describes a servant of God as "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief . . . he was despised and we esteemed him not." This individual is often perceived as a Christ-like figure and Van Gogh, despite his ambivalent feelings about religion, did have respect for the ideals of Jesus Christ. One could also interpret this outcast figure as how Van Gogh perceived himself, particularly in the eyes of his parents. In 1883 Van Gogh would write to Theo:

I feel what Father and Mother think of me instinctively (I do not say intelligently).

They feel the same dread of taking me in the house as they would about taking in a big, rough dog. He would run into the room with wet paws--and he is so rough. He will be in everybody's way. And he barks so loud. In short, he is a foul beast.

All right--but the beast has a human history, and though only a dog, he has a human soul, and even a very sensitive one, that makes him feel what people think of him, which an ordinary dog cannot do.

And I, admitting that I am a kind of dog, leave them alone.

(Letter 346)

In front of the Bible is a copy of Emile Zola's La joie de vivre. Van Gogh was a great admirer of Zola's literary works and would write to his sister Willemina:

On the contrary, if one wants truth, life as it is, De Goncourt, for example, in Germinie Lacerteux, La fille Elisa, Zola in La joie de vivre and L’assommoir and so many other masterpieces paint life as we feel it ourselves and thus satisfy that need which we have, that people tell us the truth.

(Letter W1).

In Zola's book it can be argued that Van Gogh was depicting the antithesis of his father's Bible. A fresh and modern way of perceiving the world realistically, rather than the Bible which Van Gogh felt caused "despair and indignation" (Letter B8). To Van Gogh the Bible was looking backward while modern works by Zola and other writers he admired looked forward in inventive, new ways.

Another symbolic inclusion in this painting is the candlestick with the extinguished candle. This is generally perceived to represent Van Gogh's father who had died several months earlier. To Van Gogh the candle's flame was snuffed out and would no longer illuminate the Bible--a book he would describe to Emile Bernard as feeling no love (Letter B9).


About this Bible

It was generally believed that this was Van Gogh's father's family Bible, but later research revealed that this wasn't the case. This specific Bible is an 1882 reprint of a States Bible edition of 1712. Researchers at the Van Gogh Museum determined that this Bible wasn't the family Bible at all and served no specific function in the Van Gogh household. Furthermore the Bible wasn't a lectern Bible either, but was more likely a gift to Reverend Van Gogh. (see below Van Tilbourg, p. 218).

The Bible survives to this day and is part of the collection of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.


References

1. Evert van Uitert and Johannes van der Wolk, Vincent van Gogh: Paintings (Arnoldo Mondadori Arte, 1990), p. 54.

2. Louis Van Tilborgh, Marije Vellekoop, Rachel Esner, and Michael Hoyle (eds.), Vincent van Gogh: Paintings, Volume 1 (V+K Publishing, 1999), pp. 218-25.


Provenance

Owner City Country Date acquired Comments
Theo van Gogh Paris France 1890-91  
Johanna van Gogh-Bonger Amsterdam Netherlands 1891-1925  
V.W. van Gogh Laren Netherlands 1925-62 On loan to the Stedelijk Museum 1931-62.
Van Gogh Foundation Amsterdam Netherlands 1962 On loan to the Stedelijk Museum 1962-73.
Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam Netherlands 1973 On permanent loan from the Vincent van Gogh Foundation.


Exhibitions

Year City Country Venue Exhibition Name Start Date End Date No.
1905 Amsterdam Netherlands Stedelijk Museum Tentoonstelling Vincent van Gogh 15 July 1905 1 August 1905 14
1905 Utrecht Netherlands Vereeniging 'Voor de Kunst' Tentoonstelling van schilderijen door Vincent van Gogh 10 September 1905 1 October 1905 6
1911 Amsterdam Netherlands Larensche Kunsthandel Tentoonstelling van schilderijen, aquarellen en teekeningen van Vincent van Gogh 16 June 1911  
3
1913 The Hague Netherlands Gebouw Lange Voorhout Werken van Vincent van Gogh 1 July 1913 1 September 1913 12
1920 New York United States Montross Gallery Vincent van Gogh Exhibition 23 October 1920  
36
1924 Basel Switzerland Kunsthalle Basel Vincent van Gogh 27 March 1924 4 May 1924 2
1924 Zurich Switzerland Kunsthaus Zurich Vincent van Gogh 3 July 1924 10 August 1924 10
1924 Stuttgart Germany Württembergischer Kunstverein Ausstellung Vincent van Gogh 1853-1890 12 October 1924 30 November 1924 3
1925 Paris (1) France Galerie Marcel Bernheim Exposition rétrospective d'oeuvres de Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) 5 January 1925 24 January 1925 1
1925 The Hague Netherlands Pulchri Studio Vincent van Gogh  
 
---
1926 Amsterdam Netherlands Stedelijk Museum Vincent van Gogh tentoonstelling ter gelegenheid van het Internationale Jeugdfeest der S.J.I. 15 May 1926 15 June 1926 3
1926 The Hague Netherlands Gemeentemuseum voor moderne kunst Nederlandsche stillevens uit vijf eeuwen 27 February 1926 31 March 1926 117
1926-27 London United Kingdom Leicester Galleries Vincent van Gogh Exhibition 26 November 1926 6 January 1927 35
1928 Frankfurt Germany Galerie Goldschmidt Vincent van Gogh. Gemälde 15 March 1928 15 April 1928 3
1928 Vienna Austria Neue Galerie Vincent van Gogh. Gemälde  
 
3
1928 Hanover Germany Kestner-Gessellschaft Vincent van Gogh. Fünfunddreißig unbekannte Gemälde aus Privatbesitz 3 April 1928 25 April 1928 ---
1928 Munich Germany Graphisches Kabinett Vincent van Gogh. Fünfunddreißig Unbekannte Gemälde aus Privatbesitz 5 May 1928  
---
1928 Berlin Germany Paul Cassirer Vincent van Gogh. Gemälde 15 January 1928 1 March 1928 6
1928-29 Leipzig Germany Museum der bildenden Künste Vincent van Gogh. Fünfunddreißig Unbekannte Gemälde aus Privatbesitz 24 February 1929 31 March 1929 ---
1929 Utrecht Netherlands Vereeniging Voor de Kunst Tentoonstelling van schilderijen door Vincent van Gogh 1 May 1929 5 June 1929 6
1931 Amsterdam Netherlands Stedelijk Museum Vincent van Gogh. Werken uit de verzameling van Ir. V.W. van Gogh, in bruikleen afgestaan aan de gemeente Amsterdam 7 February 1931 7 March 1931 18
1937 Oslo Norway Kunstnernes Hus Vincent van Gogh. Malerier Tegninger, Akvaareller 3 December 1937 24 December 1937 3
1938 Copenhagen Denmark Charlottenborg Vincent van Gogh. Malerier Tegninger, Akvaareller  
 
5
1946 Liège Belgium Musée des Beaux-Arts Vincent van Gogh 12 October 1946 3 November 1946 31
1946 Malmö Sweden Malmö Museum Vincent van Gogh. Utställning Anordnad till Förmän för Svenska Hollandshjälpen 29 May 1946 16 June 1946 17
1946 Brussels Belgium Palais des Beaux-Arts Vincent van Gogh 9 November 1946 19 December 1946 31
1946 Copenhagen Denmark Charlottenborg Vincent van Gogh 22 June 1946 14 July 1946 16
1946 Stockholm Sweden Nationalmuseum Vincent van Gogh. Utställning Anordnad till Förmän för Svenska Hollandshjälpen 8 March 1946 28 April 1946 17
1946 Heerlen Netherlands Raadhuis Vincent van Gogh 8 February 1946 24 February 1946 18
1946 Maastricht Netherlands Bonnefanten Vincent van Gogh 12 January 1946 28 January 1946 18
1946 Gothenburg Sweden Göteborgs Konstmuseum Vincent van Gogh. Utställning Anordnad till Förmän för Svenska Hollandshjälpen 3 May 1946 26 May 1946 17
1946-47 Mons Belgium Musée des Beaux-Arts Vincent van Gogh 27 December 1946  
31
1947 Geneva Switzerland Musée Rath 172 oeuvres de Vincent van Gogh 22 March 1947 20 April 1947 31
1947 Groningen (1) Netherlands Museum van Oudheden Vincent van Gogh 18 October 1947 16 November 1947 14
1947 Paris (1) France Musée de l'Orangerie Vincent van Gogh 24 January 1947 15 March 1947 31
1947-48 London United Kingdom Tate Gallery Vincent van Gogh 1853-1890 10 December 1947 14 January 1948 9
1948 Birmingham United Kingdom City Art Gallery Vincent van Gogh 1853-1890 24 January 1948 14 February 1948 9
1948 Glasgow Scotland Art Gallery Vincent van Gogh 1853-1890 21 February 1948 14 March 1948 9
1948 Bergen Norway Kunstforening Vincent van Gogh, Malerier Tegninger 23 March 1948 18 April 1948 4
1948 Oslo Norway Kunstnernes Hus Vincent van Gogh, Malerier Tegninger 24 April 1948 15 May 1948 4
1948-49 The Hague Netherlands Haags Gemeentemuseum Vincent van Gogh. Collectie Ir. V.W. van Gogh 12 October 1948 10 January 1949 27
1949 Middelburg Netherlands Kunstmuseum Van Gogh tentoonstelling 9 April 1949 1 May 1949 6
1949-50 New York United States Metropolitan Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh Paintings and Drawings. A Special Loan Exhibition 21 October 1949 15 January 1950 10
1950 Chicago United States Art Institute of Chicago Vincent van Gogh Paintings and Drawings. A Special Loan Exhibition 1 February 1950 16 April 1950 10
1950 Hilversum Netherlands Raadhuis Tentoonstelling Vincent van Gogh 7 October 1950 5 November 1950 5
1951 Saint-Rémy France Hotel de Sade Vincent van Gogh en Provence 5 May 1951 27 May 1951 3
1951 Lyons France Musée de Lyon Vincent van Gogh 5 February 1951 27 March 1951 4
1951 Grenoble France Musée de Grenoble Vincent van Gogh 30 March 1951 2 May 1951 4
1951 Nijmegen Netherlands Waaggebouw Tentoonstelling schilderijen van Vincent van Gogh 3 November 1951 27 November 1951 3
1951 Arles France Musée Réattu Vincent van Gogh en Provence 5 May 1951 27 May 1951 4
1951-52 Alkmaar Netherlands Stedelijk Museum Tentoonstelling schilderijen van Vincent van Gogh 1 December 1951 1 January 1952 3
1952 Enschede Netherlands Rijksmuseum Twenthe Vincent van Gogh 20 February 1952 16 March 1952 7
1952 Eindhoven Netherlands Stedelijk Van Abbe Museum Vincent van Gogh 22 March 1952 4 May 1952 9
1953 Otterlo Netherlands Kröller-Müller Museum Eeuwfeest Vincent van Gogh 1853-1953 24 May 1953 19 July 1953 26
1953 Amsterdam Netherlands Stedelijk Museum Eeuwfeest Vincent van Gogh 23 July 1953 20 September 1953 26
1953 Saint Louis United States City Art Museum of Saint Louis Vincent van Gogh 1853-1890 17 October 1953 13 December 1953 33
1953 The Hague Netherlands Haags Gemeentemuseum Vincent van Gogh 1853-1953 30 March 1953 17 May 1953 40
1954 Philadelphia United States Philadelphia Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh 1853-1890 2 January 1954 28 February 1954 33
1954 Toledo United States Toledo Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh 1853-1890 7 March 1953 30 April 1953 33
1954 Zurich Switzerland Kunsthaus Zurich Vincent van Gogh 9 October 1954 21 November 1954 3
1954-55 Bern Switzerland Kunstmuseum Bern Vincent van Gogh 27 November 1954 30 January 1955 9
1955 Liverpool United Kingdom Walker Art Gallery Vincent van Gogh. Paintings and Drawings, Mainly from the Collection of Ir. V.W. van Gogh 29 October 1955 10 December 1955 6
1955 New York (2) United States Wildenstein and Co. Vincent van Gogh Loan Exhibition 24 March 1955 30 April 1955 7
1955 Amsterdam (1) Netherlands Stedelijk Museum Vincent van Gogh 24 June 1955  
31
1955-56 Manchester United Kingdom Manchester City Art Gallery Vincent van Gogh. Paintings and Drawings, Mainly from the Collection of Ir. V.W. van Gogh 17 December 1955 4 February 1956 6
1956 Newcastle-upon-Tyne United Kingdom Laing Art Gallery Vincent van Gogh. Paintings and Drawings, Mainly from the Collection of Ir. V.W. van Gogh 11 February 1956 24 March 1956 6
1956 Leeuwarden Netherlands Friesch Museum Vincent van Gogh uit de Collectie Ir. V.W. van Gogh, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam 14 April 1956 13 May 1956 9
1957 Breda Netherlands De Beyerd Vincent van Gogh 2 February 1957 24 February 1957 27
1957 Leiden Netherlands Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal Vincent van Gogh 9 November 1957 16 December 1957 6
1957-58 Schiedam Netherlands Stedelijk Museum Vincent van Gogh 21 December 1957 27 January 1958 6
1958 Mons Belgium Musée des Beaux-Arts Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). Son Art et Ses Amis 22 March 1958 5 May 1958 5
1958 San Francisco United States M.H. de Young Memorial Museum Vincent van Gogh. Paintings and Drawings 6 October 1958 30 November 1958 11
1958-59 Los Angeles United States Los Angeles County Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh. Paintings and Drawings 10 December 1958 18 January 1959 11
1959 Portland United States Portland Art Museum Vincent van Gogh. Paintings and Drawings 28 January 1959 1 March 1959 11
1959 Seattle United States Seattle Art Museum Vincent van Gogh. Paintings and Drawings 7 March 1959 19 April 1959 11
1960 Montreal Canada Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Canada Collects: European Painting 1860-1960 6 October 1960 6 November 1960 17
1960 Ottawa Canada National Gallery of Canada Canada Collects: European Painting 1860-1960 17 November 1960 18 December 1960 17
1960 Amsterdam Netherlands Stedelijk Museum 3 ages, leeftijden, alter 30 June 1960 19 September 1960 12
1960-61 Winnipeg Canada Winnipeg Art Gallery Vincent van Gogh. Paintings-Drawings 29 December 1960 31 January 1961 17
1961 Toronto Canada Art Gallery of Toronto Vincent van Gogh. Paintings-Drawings 10 February 1961 12 March 1961 17
1961 Baltimore United States Baltimore Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh. Paintings, Watercolours and Drawings 18 October 1961 26 November 1961 8
1961-62 Cleveland United States Cleveland Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh. Paintings, Watercolours and Drawings 5 December 1961 14 January 1962 8
1962 Buffalo United States Albright Art Gallery Vincent van Gogh. Paintings, Watercolours and Drawings 30 January 1962 11 March 1962 8
1962 Boston United States Museum of Fine Arts Vincent van Gogh. Paintings, Watercolours and Drawings 22 March 1962 29 April 1962 8
1962 Pittsburgh United States Carnegie Institute Vincent van Gogh. Paintings, Watercolours and Drawings 18 October 1962 4 November 1962 8
1962-63 Detroit United States Detroit Institute of Arts Vincent van Gogh. Paintings, Watercolours and Drawings 11 December 1962 29 January 1963 8
1963 Kansas City United States William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art, Mary Atkins Museum of Fine Arts Vincent van Gogh. Paintings, Watercolours and Drawings 7 February 1963 26 March 1963 8
1963 Humlebaek Denmark Louisiana Vincent van Gogh. Malerier og Tegninger 24 October 1963 15 December 1963 8
1964 Washington, D.C. United States Washington Gallery of Modern Art Vincent van Gogh. Paintings, Watercolours and Drawings 2 February 1964 19 March 1964 8
1964 New York (4) United States Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum Vincent van Gogh. Paintings, Watercolours and Drawings 2 April 1964 28 June 1964 8
1965 Ghent Belgium Museum voor Schone Kunsten Vincent van Gogh. Schilderijen, Aquarellen, Tekeningen 19 February 1965 21 March 1965 5
1965 Stockholm Sweden Moderna Museet Vincent van Gogh. Mälningar, Akvareller, Teckningar 23 October 1965 19 December 1965 9
1965 Charleroi Belgium Palais des Beaux-Arts Vincent van Gogh. Schilderijen, Aquarellen, Tekeningen 19 January 1965 28 March 1965 5
1965-66 Gothenburg Sweden Göteborgs Konstmuseum Vincent van Gogh. Mälningar, Akvareller, Teckningar 30 December 1965 20 February 1966 ---
1967 Wolfsburg Germany Stadhalle Wolfsburg Vincent van Gogh. Gemälde, Aquarelle, Zeichnungen 18 February 1967 2 April 1967 13
1968-69 London United Kingdom Hayward Gallery Vincent van Gogh. Paintings and Drawings of the Vincent van Gogh Foundation Amsterdam 23 October 1968 12 January 1969 53
1969 Los Angeles United States Los Angeles County Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh. Paintings and Drawings 14 October 1969 1 December 1969 8
1969-70 Saint Louis United States City Art Museum of Saint Louis Vincent van Gogh. Paintings and Drawings 20 December 1969 1 February 1970 8
1970 Philadelphia United States Philadelphia Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh. Paintings and Drawings 28 February 1970 5 April 1970 8
1970 Columbus (1) United States Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts Vincent van Gogh. Paintings and Drawings 5 March 1970 5 April 1970 8
1970 Baltimore United States Baltimore Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh. Paintings and Drawings 11 October 1970 29 November 1970 8
1970-71 San Francisco United States M.H. de Young Memorial Museum Vincent van Gogh. Paintings and Drawings 11 December 1970 31 January 1971 8
1971 Brooklyn United States Brooklyn Museum Vincent van Gogh. Paintings and Drawings 14 February 1971 4 April 1971 8
1971-72 Paris (1) France Orangerie des Tuileries Vincent van Gogh. Collection du Musée National Vincent van Gogh à Amsterdam 21 December 1971 10 April 1972 8
1972-73 Strasbourg France Musée d'Art Moderne Vincent van Gogh. Collection du Musée National Vincent van Gogh à Amsterdam 22 October 1972 15 January 1973 3
1973 Bern Switzerland Kunstmuseum Bern Vincent van Gogh. Collection du Musée National Vincent van Gogh à Amsterdam 25 January 1973 15 April 1973 3
1980-81 Amsterdam Netherlands Van Gogh Museum Vincent van Gogh in zijn Hollandse jaren (Vincent van Gogh in His Dutch Years) 13 December 1980 22 March 1981 128
1983-84 Hamburg Germany Hamburger Kunsthalle Luther und die Folgen für die Kunst 11 November 1983 8 January 1984 443
1984 Nuenen Netherlands Gemeentehuis Een Brabantse Van Gogh ervaring 6 October 1984 20 October 1984 ---
1985 Tokyo Japan National Museum of Western Art Vincent van Gogh 12 October 1985 8 December 1985 55
1985-86 Nagoya Japan Nagoya City Museum Vincent van Gogh 21 December 1985 2 February 1986 55
1986 Osaka Japan National Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh from Dutch Collections. Religion, Humanity, Nature 21 February 1986 31 March 1986 36
1990 Amsterdam Netherlands Van Gogh Museum Vincent van Gogh. Schilderijen 30 March 1990 29 July 1990 10
1996 Tokyo Japan Seiji Togo Memorial Yasuda Kasai Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh and his Time. Still Lifes from the Vincent van Gogh Museum and the H.W. Mesdag Museum 12 September 1996 11 November 1996 4
1998-99 Amsterdam Netherlands Rijksmuseum Van Gogh te Gast in het Rijksmuseum. Meesterwerken van het Van Gogh Museum 19 September 1998 2 May 1999 ---
2001-02 Chicago United States Art Institute of Chicago Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Studio of the South 22 September 2001 13 January 2002  
2002 Sapporo Japan Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art Vincent & Theo van Gogh 5 July 2002 25 August 2002 20
2002 Kobe Japan Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art Vincent & Theo van Gogh 7 September 2002 4 November 2002 20
2005 Tokyo Japan National Museum of Modern Art Van Gogh in Context 23 March 2005 22 May 2005  
2005 Osaka Japan National Museum of Modern Art Van Gogh in Context 31 May 2005 18 July 2005  
2005 Nagoya Japan Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art Van Gogh in Context 26 July 2005 25 September 2005  
2010 London United Kingdom Royal Academy of Arts The Real Van Gogh: The Artist and His Letters 23 January 2010 18 April 2010 122


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