Vincent Van Gogh in Paris: A Turning Point

On 12 March 2021, by Anne Doridou-Heim

In March 1886, the Dutch painter arrived in Paris, where he lived for two years. One hundred and thirty-five years later to the month, a key work from this seminal and productive period is back on the market.

Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890), Scène de rue à Montmartre (Impasse des Deux Frères et le moulin à Poivre), 1887, oil on canvas, 46.1 x 61.3 cm (18.14 x 24.16 in).
Estimate: €5,000,000/8,000,000

Scène de rue à Montmartre (Impasse des Deux Frères et le moulin à Poivre) (Street Scene in Montmartre [Impasse of Deux Frères and the Pepper Mill]), painted in the spring of 1887 and owned by the same family for a century, has never been exhibited. It is a turning point in Van Gogh’s work; a period of gestation between the early Dutch paintings’ dark tones and the dazzling swirls of the Arles period. It was the work of a young man in his thirties who, upon arriving in Paris, embraced the avant-garde in a city where everything seemed possible. He moved in with his brother, Theo, head of the Boussod, Valadon & Cie gallery, and spent two years crisscrossing Asnières, Clichy and Montmartre—a small area but big enough for him. Although he frequented Cormon's studio for a while and met Émile Bernard and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec there, he chose to work alone. The close-knit brothers found lodgings at 54 rue Lepic, where Vincent brought his easel and brushes, painted the panoramic view from the fourth-floor window and set out to explore the city. Montmartre, with its cabarets, mills and atmosphere of a free old village, seemed like a promised land to him.

From 1886 to February 1888, he painted Paris from these heights, capturing the zinc rooftops, kitchen gardens, guinguettes  (open-air cafes) and windmills, one of the local landmarks, with their sails turning in the breeze. Here, he focused on the pepper mill. Less famous than the Moulin de La Galette, it was used by grocers to grind pepper, as the name suggests, and was demolished when the Avenue Junot was opened. Van Gogh had a tenacious desire to learn and progress. His style evolved towards a neo-Impressionism mingled with the influence of the Japanese prints he discovered at the nearby Bing store in Rue de Provence. His palette grew brighter, reflecting the light so particular to Paris. He was deeply inspired, painting no fewer than 200 works during this period.

In 1988 the Musée d'Orsay held an exhibition of 50 paintings Van Gogh made during this productive interlude: a rare opportunity to see works scattered among major international museums and a few privileged collectors. "Compared with this city, all others are small,” he wrote in a letter to his sister Wilhemina on June 20, 1888. “Paris seems as big as the sea. But one always leaves a whole piece of life there." The reappearance of this work is a wonderful opportunity to rediscover his vision. And with a Parisian Van Gogh selling in Paris, the city once again becomes a celebration and no mistake!

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