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Van Gogh Repetitions



$12 for adults; $10 for students as well as visitors 62 and over; free for members and visitors 18 and under. 

Collection item 0799

Curator and Conservator’s Notes

Chief Curator Eliza Rathbone and Head Conservator Elizabeth Steele discuss their research into van Gogh’s process.

ER: In 2005 the Phillips’s Road Menders was studied beside The Large Plane Trees at The Cleveland Museum of Art. Their conservators and curators undertook detailed technical examinations on the two works to better understand van Gogh’s process of creating repetitions.

ES: The surfaces of the paintings were studied using a stereo binocular microscope. X-radiographs were made of each work to detect differences in the application of paint. Infrared images were analyzed for signs of tracing or other duplication methods. This in-depth study, paired with direct comparison of the two works side by side, made a convincing case as to which painting was created on site and which was the repetition. The brushwork in The Large Plane Trees is fluid; there are signs that van Gogh reworked certain passages and that he added the figures and other details, such as the lamppost, on top of a completed landscape. The brushwork in The Road Menders is more controlled; the layout of the composition appears pre-planned, with places left in reserve on the canvas for most of the elements. The spontaneity found in the Cleveland painting pointed to it being the first rendition, while the more controlled execution in the Phillips’s street scene designates it as the repetition.

ER: These fascinating results led me to propose an exhibition that would bring these two works—and other van Gogh repetitions—together. Over the course of five years, our team of curators and conservators traveled widely—to museums in the Netherlands, Paris, Rome, New York, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, and Philadelphia, and collections from California to Switzerland—studying works that are in the exhibition, as well as related works that could not travel.   

ES: We meticulously examined over 50 paintings in 23 museums, in total studying 18 instances of repetitions. We reviewed the records and studied the x-radiographs and infrared images for each picture, spending countless hours peering through microscopes, searching for signs that would elucidate the artist’s process.

ER: Because each work has its own individual history, this was the only way to glean the kind of precise facts we needed to draw upon for our research. It was thrilling to see van Gogh’s brushstrokes magnified, and to see the edges of his paintings that had been hidden behind the frames, revealing the original brilliant colors.

Exhibition Support

Proudly sponsored by 

Lockheed Martin logo




Additional support provided by the Robert Lehman Foundation

and TTR Sotheby’s International Realty

Brought to you by the Van Gogh Repetitions Committee: John and Gina Despres, Louisa Duemling, Dr. Gerald and Kay Fischer, Nancy M. Folger, B. Thomas Mansbach, Barbara and Arthur Rothkopf, Melissa J. Thompson, and George and Trish Vradenburg

The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

The exhibition features exceptional loans from the Musée d’Orsay.