This may be the most important picture that you have never heard of. Certainly I had never heard of it. Nearing the end of “Van Gogh – The Life” by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, I was extremely surprised to discover that Van Gogh sold at least two paintings in his lifetime as well as some drawings. This rather explodes the “never sold a painting in his lifetime” myth. Certainly a misconception I have long held.
In fact the above painting was the first Van Gogh that was bought on the open market and purely on the basis of its artistic merit and beauty.
Prior to its sale some of his drawings and works had been bought (more out of pity and as a gesture of charity) or taken in lieu of rent or to pay off debts. The Red Vineyard was painted in a day on 4th November 1888 in Arles entirely from memory and imagination, the day after Vincent walked through a nearby vineyard. The painting was exhibited (arranged by Theo Van Gogh) in Brussels in March 1890 and bought by Anna Boch (Villeroy & Boch family association) herself an artist (though unlike Van Gogh she had considerable means and didn’t suffer for her art) for 400 francs.
Anna Boch kept the painting at her house in Brussels until 1906 when she sold it to a Parisian art gallery for 10,000 francs. She was not in need of money but rather intimidated by the talent of Van Gogh. Indeed Anna Boch thought that his painting was so beautiful that she was blocked in her own creativity and capacity to paint.
The Red Vineyard was bought in the same year by a Russian textile magnet, Sergei Shchukin, a collector of Impressionist and Post Impressionist art. Following the revolution Lenin signed a law appropriating all of Shchukin´s paintings. After various journeys across Russia during WW2, to escape destruction or appropriation by the Germans, the painting was given by the Russian state to the Pushkin Museum in Moscow where it can be found today.
It doesn’t make Vincent’s personal story any the less poignant. Having committed suicide, and dying on 29th July 1890 at the age of 37, thinking himself a failure he certainly never knew what a Van Gogh painting would eventually become.