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Vincent van Gogh - White House at Night - June, 1890

Vincent van Gogh - White House at Night - June, 1890 Famous People Social Studies Visual Arts Nineteenth Century Life

There is an interesting story about this painting - "White House at Night" - which van-Gogh-art-lovers throughout the world had long presumed lost.  

During the 1920s, the work was acquired by a German industrialist called Otto Krebs (1873-1941) who lived in a manor house - where he displayed (and safe-guarded) his art collection - in the village of Holzdorf.  

During World War II, when the Nazis stole paintings from private collectors, the "White House" ended-up in a German-military bunker with many other stolen works of art.  

When invading Soviet troops found the bunkers, they selected whatever works of art seemed important and sent them to Russia.  Vincent's "White House" was one of those transported works.

Thereafter, for decades, the painting resided in a storage room at the Hermitage (formerly the Tsar's "Winter Palace") in St. Petersburg.  

Then ... to the shock of everyone who had believed the painting was lost forever ... the Hermitage sponsored an exhibition called "Hidden Treasures Revealed."  It was 1995, just a few years after the fall of the Soviet Union.  The exhibition's catalog (by Albert Kostenevich, the Hermitage's curator of modern-European painting) contained this startling information:

The paintings in this book were long thought to have been destroyed in the war. Only now has it been revealed that they spent the last half century hidden in the store-rooms of the Hermitage, their existence a carefully guarded state secret ...

Outstanding paintings include several by van Gogh, among them his remarkable White House at Night painted six weeks before his death and depicting the kind of nocturnal sky seen in his well-known Starry Night ...

The pictures in this book ... have a most unusual history ... They are virtually unknown, not only to the public but to the most conscientious scholars.

Just as interesting as the painting’s whereabouts, for so many years, is a question about the work itself.  What is the celestial body depicted in the night sky?  Is it a star?  A planet?

The honors astronomy class, at Southwest Texas State University, set-out to discover the answer to that question.   After examining many records, and Vincent's own letters, they concluded that the "star" had to be the Planet Venus.  They also determined Vincent likely created the painting during the evening of June 16, 1890 (when the skies over Auvers had finally cleared following a period of bad weather).

Here are other questions which the students examined:  How about the house itself?  Was it located in Auvers-sur-Oise?  If so ... is it still standing?

Turns out, the students and their Professors (Don Olson and Russell Doescher) answered those questions, too.  The still-standing house is located at 25 & 27 rue du Général de Gaulle (about two blocks west of Vincent's room at the Auberge Ravoux).

Learn about the students' discoveries, and the long-missing painting, in Southwest Texas State's Sky & Telescope journal (April, 2001 issue at pages 34-39).

The painting is still held by the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.

Click on the image for a better view.

Editor's Note.  Otto Krebs became ill with cancer and died of the disease in 1941.  He donated a large part of his fortune to a Foundation for Cancer Research which is still in existence and is administered at the University of Heidelberg.


Media Credits

Image online, courtesy Web Gallery of Art.

PD

 

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