As evidence that the excellent collaboration between the two cultural institutions is moving forward, Van Gogh´s famous Portrait of a Peasant has been loaned by the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California, to the Frick Collection in New York until January 2013.
This initiative has remained uninterrupted since 2009, when both institutions began sharing valuable pieces for months at a time. Their cooperation includes the loans of Memling’s Portrait of a Man, Ingres’ Comtesse d’Haussonville and, now Van Gogh´s Portrait of a Peasant.
Van Gogh painted the portrait in August 1888, while living in the French city of Arles, in Provence. The picture, a portrait of local resident, Patience Escalier, belongs to a series that includes portraits of a poet, a soldier and the town’s postman. Arles, its distinct dialect, and the intense light of the South of France captivated Van Gogh, as recorded in his correspondence with brother Theo, a Parisian art dealer.
The painting, temporarily on view in the Oval Room at the Frick, was previously examined by a group of experts from the Getty Museum in LA. The Frick released the results in a video presented by Museum Curator, Susan Grace Galassi. The goal was to study the meticulous process behind the work, and to analyze a small red signature on the canvas.
Neighbors considered Van Gogh a bitter and strange man, many even thought he was a lunatic; an artist unable to control himself. However, the study conducted by the Getty lab revealed the opposite: that he was in fact very much in control of himself, his brush strokes are well defined, and his signature is detailed and precise.
The painting has not left the Norton Museum in more than 40 years, and remains untouched by the passage of time. While it is true that parts of the surface are somewhat tenuous, the vivid colors of the piece are a frank reminder of the late Van Gogh.
The Frick Museum is located at 1 East 70 Street in Manhattan, housed in the former mansion of Henry Clay Frick, a magnificent edifice built between 1913 and 1914. Renovated in 1930 for public use, it reopened its doors on December 16, 1935. Its collection is distributed throughout six galleries, and it is considered one of the largest assortments of antique paintings, sculptures and French style furniture in the United States.
The collaboration between Curator, Carol Togneri of the Norton Museum and Colin B. Bailey, Director of the Frick, has resulted in a fantastic opportunity for New Yorkers to come face to face with the commanding presence of a peasant that, albeit temporarily, presides over the Oval Room at the Frick Museum. ■