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21 March 2019


When Jim Ede, creator of Kettle’s Yard visited Amsterdam in 1923, he was a Van Gogh enthusiast. By Ede’s own admission, ‘he remained interested in him always, but at that time he worshipped him’. In Ede’s book, A Way of Life, he likens the realist elements of William Congdon’s painting style to that of Van Gogh. Many paintings by Congdon can be seen in the House at Kettle’s Yard.

Ede visited Van Gogh’s sister-in-law, Jo van Gogh-Bonger, who said that if he was interested in Vincent’s paintings he would find some upstairs, through the door at the end of the passage.

When I opened the door something fell down, and after I got inside I found it to be a painting by Cezanne.  I was in a little room, near eight feet by six, and stacked round the walls were canvasses, some facing outwards, many deep.  Already I could see the great glowing Sunflowers, and a Postman with his virile beard; and as I turned the other canvasses there was wonder upon wonder-  the Chair, the Bedroom at Arles, the Self Portraits.  The room may well have been bigger but for me it seemed immensely small as the pictures grew before me.  Here were so many of the works I had read of in Van Gogh’s letters, in Maier Graefe, or seen reproduced, from the earliest to the latest.  Here were the bare canvasses as Van Gogh had carried them.  I must have stayed up there for about an hour, and when I came down the Salon was filled with people and Madam Van Gogh Bonger was pouring tea.  I went to her quickly and started to speak my enthusiasm, but she with a great ‘sssh’ aside, asked me how I liked my tea.  My one idea was that the Tate should buy some of these pictures, and I put this to her, asking her prices, and always she was saying ‘sh’, but under her breath would mention a figure which I scribbled on a page of my passport.  When I left I walked on air, perhaps because I was hungry, for during the three days in Amsterdam I had had no money for meal. That night in the ship I hardly slept; I was too excited, not only for seeing all these works, but because the prices Madam Bonger had mentioned were less than a quarter the current value.  I thought that next day, or the day after, I would be sent back with £5000 in my pocket to return with six outstanding Van Goghs.” – From ‘Between Two Memories’, Jim Ede’s unpublished autobiographical manuscript

Ede could arouse no interest at Tate and it was only months after that two of them were finally purchased, the Sunflowers and the Chair, still at Ede’s prices, though the market price was now very high indeed.

The Telegraph explored how Ede brought Sunflowers to London in an article in 2014. The following is an excerpt from this article.

“In 1923, Ede, then working at the National Gallery, Millbank – subsequently renamed the Tate Gallery – travelled to the Netherlands. After the death of Vincent in 1890 followed by that of his brother, Theo, early the next year, almost all Van Gogh’s works and the bulk of his correspondence had ended up in the possession of Theo’s widow, Jo Bonger.

Ede saw many masterpieces in Bonger’s Amsterdam apartment. But, he wrote to Bonger from his hotel, “What touches me most directly are the golden sunflowers.” He asked if she might sell the picture, “to be exhibited at the fountainhead of England’s art”. She replied insisting the picture would always stay in the family.

However, the next year, after further pleas, Bonger unexpectedly gave in. She had felt she could not bear to part with this painting, but in the end decided to make the sacrifice. Even more surprisingly, she parted not with Vincent’s copy but with the original of August 1888. “No picture,” she wrote, “would represent Vincent in your famous Gallery in a more worthy manner than the Sunflowers.” She added that, “He himself, le Peintre des Tournesols” — “the Painter of Sunflowers”, as Gauguin had called him – “would have liked it to be there”.”

Van Gogh and Britain opens at Tate Britain on 27 March 2019 and continues until 11 August 2019.