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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Anna Boch

Red Vineyards near Arles, 1888, Vincent van Gogh, purchased by Anna Boch, 1890.
Anna Boch in her studio
In my book, Art Think, I composed an item on the only painting Vincent van Gogh ever sold during his lifetime (there's some dispute about this but it's too complicated to get into). The painting was titled, Red Vineyards near Arles (above). It was sold for 400 francs (a little over $1,000 in today's cash). The buyer was the sister of a friend of van Gogh's. Her name was Anna Boch (left, sister of Eugene Boch). The painting was one of six Vincent sent via his brother, Theo, for display at an 1890 invitational art exhibit in Brussels organized by an avant-garde group calling themselves Les XX (the twenty) of which Anna Boch was the only female member. Belgian by birth (1848), and a Neo-impressionist painter herself (as oppose to Post-impressionist), Anna was a great admirer of Vincent's work, having been first exposed to it through her brother. She dabbled in pointillism, though most of her work shows the influence of established impressionists, as well as her teachers, Isadore Verheyden and Theo van Rysselburghe.

The Gatherer, 1890, Anna Boch
Henry de Groux
At the 1890 Les XX exhibition, van Gogh displayed along side invited artists Paul Cezanne, Odilon Redon, Paul Signac, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Alfred Sisley, and his old friend, Paul Gauguin. These men were what we'd call today "cutting edge" painters of their time. Yet as radical as they might have been, van Gogh's inclusion among the group was seen by one organizer of the show, Henri de Groux (a minor Belgian Symbolist painter), as an affront to the others displaying with him. He especially hated van Gogh's sunflowers (Vincent sent two such paintings, below). At the opening dinner, de Groux (left) attacked van Gogh (who was not present) personally calling him: " ignoramus and a charlatan." At the other end of the table Toulouse-Lautrec suddenly bounced up, his arms in the air, and shouted that it was an outrage to criticize so great an artist. De Groux retorted with similar anger and animation. Tumult ensued. De Groux challenged the dwarfed Toulouse-Lautrec to a duel. Seconds were appointed. Signac announced coldly that if Lautrec were killed he would assume the quarrel himself. The organizers seemed to agree. Almost before dinner was over, De Groux was expelled from the group. He later apologized and was allowed to resign. The duel was averted.
Van Gogh's suggestion for hanging his work at the Les XX show.
Red Vineyards near Arles was to hang above or below these.
(The center painting, Ivy, has not been seen since WW II.)
One can only imagine the reaction of the only female member of Les XX. She too was no doubt angered and dismayed by De Groux's behavior, though as a lady, she was probably restrained by proper etiquette to merely shaking her head is despair and perhaps muttering to herself, "men!" Despite the uproar, the whole affair must have seemed a roaring success to the impecunious Vincent. Following this show, Theo entered the five remaining paintings plus five more in the 1890 Artistes Independants show in Paris a few months later. Alas, Anna Boch did not come by for a second purchase. She did, however assemble, over the course of a lifetime, quite an impressive collection of valuable impressionist paintings. Numbering some 431 works in all, there are paintings by Monet, Seurat, Gauguin, Emile Bernard, Armand Guillamin, Maurice Denis, James Ensor, even one by Henry de Groux.

Anna Boch, photographed late in life, among her collected
efforts to help support struggling impressionists.

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