Van Gogh’s Inner Circle: Friends, Family, Models

Vincent van Gogh’s relationships centre stage in an exhibition at Het Noordbrabants Museum from 21 September 2019 to 12 January 2020

Vincent van Gogh L’Arlésienne (Madame Ginoux), February 1890 Oil on canvas, 60 x 50 cm Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Rome. By permission of Ministero per I Beni e delle Attività Culturali


Het Noordbrabants Museum presents Van Gogh’s Inner Circle: Friends, Family, Models. The exhibition sheds light on the people who played an important role in both the life and work of Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). With some 90 paintings, drawings, letters and documents, the visitor receives a thorough introduction to this ‘inner circle’. With this exhibition, the museum challenges the accepted image of the tormented, solitary artist and shows that, despite his often-difficult relationships, Van Gogh was highly valued by his friends and family as a person and as an artist. Van Gogh’s Inner Circle is curated by Sjraar van Heugten, former Head of Collections at the Van Gogh Museum and independent curator.

The person behind the artist

Vincent van Gogh was a passionate man, who sometimes had complex relationships with his family, friends and fellow artists. In some cases, these relationships were close and enduring, but some also ended in estrangement, due to his forthright character. In the exhibition, the most important people in Van Gogh’s life appear in roughly chronological order, from his years in Brabant and The Hague, through the periods in Paris and the south of France, until his death in Auvers-sur-Oise on 29 July 1890. His immediate and extended family circle, his friendships with artists such as Anthon van Rappard, Anton Mauve, Emile Bernard, Paul Gauguin, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Paul Signac, but also his love affairs are examined. The visitor learns more about the artist through drawings and paintings of those in his inner circle as well as through often very personal documents – letters, sketchbooks – and thus gains insight into the person behind the artist.

Works on loan never previously exhibited and masterpieces

The works on loan hail from Dutch collections, including the Van Gogh Museum and the Kröller-Müller Museum, supplemented by several special loans from abroad. The exhibition also includes work and documents owned by private collectors. Furthermore, it brings together many rare documents, the existence of which is virtually unknown to the general public: a sketchbook for Matthijs Maris, never previously shown sketchbooks by Van Gogh for Betsy Tersteeg, daughter of the art dealer H.G. Tersteeg in The Hague, but also a privately owned and seldom exhibited letter from Vincent to Paul Signac and six rarely seen condolence letters to Theo van Gogh, from Camille Pissarro, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin, and others. Among the absolute masterpieces are Still life with Bible (1885) from the Van Gogh Museum (Vincent van Gogh Foundation), Madame Roulin Rocking the Cradle (La berceuse) (1889) from The Art Institute of Chicago and L’Arlésienne (Madame Ginoux) (1890) from the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Co temporanea in Rome.

Special attention for Theo van Gogh

Certain subjects receive extra attention in the exhibition. For example, there is a ‘niche’ for Theo van Gogh (1857-1891), undoubtedly the most important person in Van Gogh’s life. Nobody knew Vincent better than his brother Theo, who characterized him in a letter to their sister Willemien (Paris, 14 March 1887) as follows: ‘It’s as if there are two people in him, the one marvellously gifted, sensitive and gentle, and the other self-loving and unfeeling.’ The friendship between the brothers and their shared love of art and literature is illustrated in, among other things, the painting Portrait of Theo van Gogh (1887), a book of poetry from Vincent to Theo from 1874-1875 and a book with 42 pasted prints, presumably belonging to Theo van Gogh, all from the Van Gogh Museum. The book of poetry in particular provides a poignant impression of their brotherly love.


The exhibition is accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue in collaboration with WBOOKS, with an extensive article by guest curator Sjraar van Heugten and an essay by Helewise Berger (curator of 19th and early 20th century art at Het Noordbrabants Museum). English and Dutch, 240 pages, c. 200 colour illustrations, softcover, UK/ISBN 978 94 625 8339 9, € 24.95.

The exhibition Van Gogh’s Inner Circle is made possible by Rabobank ‘s-Hertogenbosch en Omstreken, Turing Foundation, Stichting Zabawas, Stichting Leye Fonds, Coovels Smits Stichting and Stichting N. van Ballegooijen Fonds.

Brabant icon

Vincent van Gogh was born in Brabant, in the south of the Netherlands, in 1853. This was the beginning of his exceptional talent and his headstrong character. The locations in Brabant where Van Gogh lived and worked have joined forces under the name Van Gogh Brabant. The story of his life is told in three heritage centres, 39 Van Gogh Monuments and through a collection of his original works in Het Noordbrabants Museum. Visitors can learn about Vincent, with a close-up view of his childhood years in Zundert to the beginning of his career in Etten, and from his drawing lessons in Tilburg to his first masterpiece in Nuenen.

Het Noordbrabants Museum
Verwersstraat 41, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands