In 1942, H.P. Bremmer makes an offer on behalf of the Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller for The potato eaters by Van Gogh. The painting is owned by the wealthy collector Hugo Tutein Nolthenius. According to Bremmer, the acquisition would constitute ‘an extremely important addition to our collection’. The potato eaters would ‘complete the collection of works from his Dutch period’. The collection already includes a study for The potato eaters and sketches of Nuenen peasant heads that form the prelude to Van Gogh’s first ‘masterpiece’. Sam van Deventer agrees to a sum of 7,000 guilders for Bremmer to negotiate with, but unfortunately Tutein Nolthenius is unwilling to sell the painting.
When Tutein Nolthenius dies in December 1944, a new opportunity arises to acquire The potato eaters. The work, however, is still in storage due to the war and Willy Auping has his hands full with the museum, which serves as an emergency hospital. On 6 November 1945, a month after the reopening of the Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, he contacts Daniel François Lunsingh Scheurleer, Government Advisor for the Museums, about the work. He asks whether the heirs are willing to negotiate the sale of the painting. It turns out that The potato eaters has already been sold to the Hague art dealer Herman d’Audretsch.
Auping immediately gets in touch with d’Audretsch. The art dealer, incidentally, has a very different estimation of the importance of the work for the museum’s collection than that of Bremmer. ‘I think that he [Bremmer] is pretty much alone in this, but he is difficult to move from a position that he has adopted.’ On 15 March 1946 d’Audretsch proposes to exchange The potato eaters for Van Gogh’s Landscape with couple walking and crescent moon, the small painting Roses de Perse jaunes by Henri Fantin-Latour and an additional sum of 5,000 guilders.
Courtesy Museu de Arte, São Paulo Brazilië
Crown on the collection
After lengthy negotiations, a trade is agreed upon in early April: the museum receives The potato eaters in exchange for Landscape with couple walking and crescent moon plus 2,500 guilders. Auping writes to Bremmer that he is happy with the result: ‘The potato eaters, indeed a crown on our collection of Van Goghs from the Dutch period. You will understand that I am also very pleased that Fantin-Latour’s painting “Roses de Perse jaunes” is preserved for our collection’.
Letter Willy Auping to H.J. Reinink (Ministry of Education, Arts and Sciences), announcement acquisition of The potato eaters, 4 April 1946
Auping has 50 photographs printed and sent to the various parties involved with a message informing them that the transaction has been concluded successfully. Hendrik Jan Reinink, Secretary General of the Department of Education, Arts and Sciences congratulates Auping on the long-cherished acquisition: ‘I offer my sincere congratulations on the purchase of the “Potato eaters” by Vincent van Gogh. I know how much the acquisition of this piece meant to you’.