AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS.- The Van Gogh Museum recently acquired a work entitled Still life with a portrait of Mimi painted in 1889-90 by the Dutch artist Meijer de Haan (1852-1895). Meijer de Haan was a pupil of Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) and played a significant role in the avant-garde circles surrounding Gauguin in Paris and Brittany. Because of his brief career and commensurate oeuvre work by the artist seldom appears on the market. With this new acquisition the museum has realised a long-held wish to add a work by Meijer de Haan to the collection. The purchase was made possible with support from the BankGiro Loterij.
Meijer de Haan began his career in Amsterdam, where he painted mainly portraits and figure pieces. In 1887 he left for Paris. There he struck up a friendship with Theo van Gogh, Vincent van Gogh's younger brother, moving into his apartment in October 1888.
Through Theo van Gogh, Meijer de Haan met Gauguin in late 1888, under whose influence his style completely changed. In 1889-1890 Meijer de Haan joined the circle of artists around Gauguin in Brittany (Pont-Aven and Le Pouldu). Like Gauguin they felt Impressionism based on realism to be a restrictive style and sought ways to breathe new life into art. They explored non-Western traditions for inspiration, as well as applied art and the art of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
In Le Pouldu, Meijer de Haan and Gauguin found lodgings at Marie Henry's tavern. Meijer de Haan fell in love with the unmarried Marie, whose young daughter the artists fondly nicknamed Mimi. This is the child portrayed in the painting. With its original composition, decorative qualities and remarkable colours, Still life with a portrait of Mimi is representative of the experimental work of the artists of Pont-Aven. In this still life Meijer de Haan tried to combine his own tendency towards realism with Gauguin's preference for a more abstract approach.
Paul Sérusier (1863-1927) also lodged at the tavern occasionally and together with Gauguin and Meijer de Haan he decorated the walls of the dining room. The objects in the background of Still life with a portrait of Mimi are most probably part of this decoration.
Apart from a view of a farm at Le Pouldu currently at the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, Meijer de Haan is largely represented in Dutch collections by his early work produced in the Netherlands (including a Portrait of a young woman painted in 1883, at the Jewish Historical Museum). Few examples of work by members of the Pont-Aven group are found in Dutch public collections. This innovative canvas fills a gap in the Van Gogh Museum collection. The purchase is also in the tradition established by Vincent and Theo van Gogh, of collecting work by avant-garde artists of the second half of the nineteenth century.
The painting was purchased from a private collection via the Paris art dealer Waring Hopkins of Galerie Hopkins-Custot. Still life with a portrait of Mimi forms part of a presentation from 8 April to 12 June 2005 entitled Around Gauguin: Post-Impressionist work from the Triton Foundation. The show features a selection of Post-Impressionist paintings from this international collection on the third floor of the Rietveld Building. Among the works exhibited are paintings by Pierre Bonnard, Maurice Denis, Paul Sérusier, Félix Vallotton and Edouard Vuillard. Also shown is the astonishing Self portrait painted by Meijer de Haan in 1889-1891, an absolute highlight of his oeuvre. Here the artist consciously portrayed himself as an essentially modern master by surrounding himself with his new models: Japanese prints and work by Gauguin.