Rediscovering Van Gogh in the 1913 Armory Show

By the Archives
September 4, 2013
Detail of page from Walk Kuhn's scrapbook of press clippings from the 1013 Armory Show.

Armory Show scholar Laurette E. McCarthy guest blogs on her recent detective work in tracking down a Van Gogh painting exhibited in the seminal 1913 show.

Vincent van Gogh, The Weeders, 1890, Oil on paper, on canvas, 49.3 x 64 cm, Foundation E.G. Bührle Collection. Image used with permission.

One of my most significant and exciting recent “rediscoveries” is a Vincent van Gogh painting that none of us recognized—not even the current owners—as having been in the 1913 Armory Show. Quite a find!

In the Armory Show scrapbooks in the Walt Kuhn papers and Armory Show records held by the Archives of American Art, there is a 1913 newspaper article from The Christian Science Monitor that reproduces the work with the title The Laborers. Another article from the time, also in the Armory Show scrapbooks, shows the work with the title Landscape.

Scrapbook of Armory Show press clippings, page 24 Scrapbook of Armory Show press clippings, page 71
Pages 24 and 71 of the Walt Kuhn scrapbook of press clippings documenting the Armory Show, vol. 2, 1913. Walt Kuhn, Kuhn family papers, and Armory Show records, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Noted art critic Frank Jewett Mather Jr. reproduced the painting in his essay, “Newest Tendencies in Art,” The Independent (March 6, 1913) with the title The Potato Diggers. Yet no work by Vincent van Gogh titled The Laborers or The Potato Diggers is listed in any of the Armory Show catalogues. And so here was another Armory Show mystery to be solved.

Sonderbund exhibition catalogue
Internationale Kunstausstellung des Sonderbundes Westdeutscher Kunstfreunde und Künstler, 1912. Walt Kuhn, Kuhn family papers, and Armory Show records, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

My research led me to the Foundation E. G. Bührle Collection in Zurich, Switzerland, where the work is now located and has for its current title Two Peasant Women Digging in a Snow-Covered Field at Sunset (The Weeders). I corresponded with Lukas Gloor of the museum who had no idea the painting had been in the 1913 Armory Show—he was thrilled to find this out!

According to the museum’s website, the painting was owned by Bernhard Koehler of Berlin by 1912 but the exhibition history for this work does not include the Armory Show. It does, however, include the Sonderbund exhibition held in Cologne in the fall of 1912 to which Koehler lent the painting. We know Walt Kuhn visited the Sonderbund show and we know that it served as a model for the Armory Show. Furthermore, Kuhn even marked this painting in his copy of the Sonderbund catalogue, number 41, now in the Armory Show Records in the Archives’s collections.

Its title in the Sonderbund catalogue was Kartoffelernte, or The Potato Diggers—as it appeared in Mather’s article. In another article, written for the March 13, 1913 issue of The Nation magazine, Mather complained, “The Armory Exhibition shifts bewilderingly day by day through changes of hanging and admission of new pictures. This keeps the interest up, but adds to the difficulties of a critic.” That practice continues to bewilder and plague scholars of the Armory Show to this day and is one reason why we can keep making these new “rediscoveries” and why we will probably never know the exact number of works in the original 1913 Armory Show.

Guest blogger Laurette E. McCarthy is an independent scholar and curator. She is an authority on Walter Pach and a leading Armory Show scholar.


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very interesting, i like that.