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Van Gogh's 'junk' painting lights up Polish art show



Poland opened an art show Friday to celebrate its only Van Gogh painting, a rare early landscape worth millions that was once described as 'junk,' hawked by a pedlar for the price of a beer and lived in an attic for 20 years.

Country Huts Among Trees dates from 1883 when the impoverished Dutch artist was still learning to paint in the countryside around The Hague.

The canvas ended up in a carpenter's attic with a pile of Van Gogh's other early paintings when he moved abroad and was eventually sold by a hawker who peddled the pictures from his handcart.

"He brought the works to a cafe. Anyone who bought him a round of beer received a Van Gogh," exhibition consultant Juliette van Uhm wrote in the show's catalogue.

"Some canvases were given to children to play with; they tied them around their waists as if they were aprons."

Many were saved by a tailor who tried to buy them all up. They were later exhibited and sold, with the Polish Van Gogh ending up in Switzerland. Charles Zbigniew Carroll-Porczynski, a Polish collector in the UK, bought the painting in 1987 and donated it to the Catholic Church in his homeland.

It's the only Van Gogh painting in Poland. /AFP
It's the only Van Gogh painting in Poland. /AFP

It's the only Van Gogh painting in Poland. /AFP

The new show at Warsaw's Museum of John Paul II and Primate Wyszynski explores various facets of the canvas.

Co-curator Stefania Ambroziak said the painting was "Van Gogh before Van Gogh," adding that the Dutch artist was "getting acquainted with oil paint and learning how to apply color."

Although the palette of the Polish painting is darker than the dazzling hues commonly associated with Van Gogh, Teio Meedendorp of Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum said it testifies to his innate gift for color.

"He was very good at mixing his colors, and opposing colors, with the reddish and green," he said.

"He was a born colorist, but it was only when he really learned about colour in Paris... that he developed into the great painter he became."

‌The exhibition Van Gogh: The Stories of One Painting runs in Warsaw until December.

Van Gogh's 'junk' painting lights up Polish art show

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