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Discoveries underneath the floorboards of Van Gogh’s bed room in Brixton

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The terraced home the place Van Gogh lodged in Brixton, which was in a dilapidated situation, is now being restored. Chinese language-born Jian (James) Wang and his British spouse Alice Childs have now virtually accomplished renovations to the three-storey, early Victorian property. In the course of the constructing work, papers courting again to Van Gogh’s time had been found secreted underneath the floorboards and within the attic timbers.


Van Gogh’s bed room in 87 Hackford Street earlier than the restoration work, March 2018
© Martin Bailey

Jian and Alice purchased 87 Hackford Street for £565,000 at public sale in 2012. Jian, initially knowledgeable violinist who moved from Chengdu to London within the 1980s, commented after the sale: “I can’t afford to purchase Van Gogh’s work, so I purchased his home”. The couple are concerned in academic tasks and cultural exchanges between the UK and China. They intend to convey Van Gogh’s former residence to life once more, as a base for visiting Chinese language artists.

The sale of the home adopted the deaths of the earlier house owners, Arthur and Marjorie Smith, who had purchased it in 1947, a couple of years after the higher ground had been broken by wartime bombing. The adjoining homes on the southern aspect had been demolished, however success saved quantity 87. The truth that the home remained virtually unchanged after the Smiths’ preliminary renovations, 70 years in the past, signifies that a lot of its 1850s inside has been preserved.

Van Gogh lodged in Hackford Street for a yr, in 1873-74, whereas working as an artwork vendor for the Goupil gallery in Covent Backyard. The home was then owned by Ursula Loyer, who ran a small faculty there, helped by her 19-year-old daughter Eugenie. Intriguing proof from Van Gogh household correspondence means that the younger Dutchman fell in love with one of many Loyer ladies, most certainly the daughter.

It was solely in 1971 {that a} postman found that Van Gogh had as soon as lodged in Hackford Street. Throughout a protracted postal strike Paul Chalcroft had time on his fingers and got down to establish the residence of Mrs Loyer, who was identified to be have rented a room to Van Gogh. The 1871 census data had simply been opened up, a century later, revealing her deal with. Two years later a plaque was unveiled close to the entrance door.

The Wangs have been sensitively restoring 87 Hackford Street, with the work being overseen by their daughter Livia, an architect. This bold venture is now nearing completion.


Union Assurance Workplace coverage for Ursula Loyer (25 March 1873), discovered within the attic timbers, now with Jian Wang and Alice Childs
© Martin Bailey

What has not been reported are the intriguing discoveries which had been made in the course of the renovations. Hidden behind a board within the attic timbers, a set of insurance coverage paperwork had been discovered bearing the title of Ursula Loyer because the coverage holder, two of them courting from the very years when Van Gogh lodged together with her. The home, valued at £100, was then insured towards fireplace for a premium of three shillings and 6 pence.


A Penny Pocket Ebook of Prayers & Hymns, now with Jian Wang and Alice Childs
© Martin Bailey

Together with the insurance coverage papers was a battered 1867 version of A Penny Pocket Ebook of Prayers & Hymns. The writer, Frederick Wayne, had their places of work within the very avenue in Covent Backyard the place Van Gogh labored on the Goupil gallery. The well-thumbed pamphlet most likely belonged to Ursula, however it’s fairly attainable that it was additionally learn by Van Gogh, who throughout his London keep grew to become an evangelical Christian.

Equally intriguing is a separate discovery made underneath the floorboards of the top-floor entrance bed room, the place Van Gogh slept. A number of years in the past I used to be within the room and gingerly peeked underneath the tatty linoleum: there I noticed previous newspapers courting again to the late 1940s, which had been used for lining. This reveals that the unique floorboards had remained undisturbed for a lot of a long time.


Fragments of paper with flowers discovered underneath the floorboards in Van Gogh’s bed room, now with Jian Wang and Alice Childs.
© Martin Bailey

In the course of the renovation work earlier this yr, the floorboards needed to be correctly secured and beneath certainly one of them a discovery was made. A builder discovered a number of scraps of graph-like printed paper with apparently added watercolour work of ornamental flowers. Though Vincent sketched whereas he was in London, there isn’t a proof that he then used watercolour and the model bears no resemblance to his personal. Maybe they had been executed by Eugenie, Ursula’s teenage daughter and the topic of his unrequited love?


Wad of papers discovered underneath the floorboards in Van Gogh’s bed room, now with Jian Wang and Alice Childs
© Martin Bailey

Together with the scraps of watercolour flowers was a scrunched-up ball of paperwork. These brittle papers are extraordinarily fragile and the Wangs are ready for conservators from the Camberwell School of Arts to fastidiously separate them. The truth that a complete wad was underneath the floorboards, fairly than a free sheet or two, means that they had been vital paperwork which had been intentionally hidden for safekeeping, fairly than papers which fell by way of a crack. It’s unlikely that any of Van Gogh’s papers ended up there, however when the paperwork are deciphered they might inform us extra about his landlady.

With constructing work nearing completion, Alice says that the home will now grow to be “a venue for artists’ residencies and exhibitions”, primarily for these from China. Her mission is to allow artists to “make a residing of their lifetimes”—one thing that Van Gogh failed to attain.

  • A hanging, practically actual-size {photograph} of the entrance exterior of 87 Hackford Street has simply been erected for Tate Britain’s The EY Exhibition: Van Gogh in Britain, which opens on 27 March. Positioned close to the doorway to the present, it would set the scene and assist guests really feel they’re getting into Van Gogh’s world – and share in his discovery of London and English artwork and literature.


{A photograph} of 87 Hackford Street close to the doorway of the Tate Britain’s Van Gogh exhibition.
© Martin Bailey

Martin Bailey is a number one Van Gogh specialist and investigative reporter for The Artwork Newspaper. Bailey has curated Van Gogh exhibitions on the Barbican Artwork Gallery and Compton Verney/Nationwide Gallery of Scotland; he’s now co-curating Tate Britain’s The EY Exhibition: Van Gogh and Britain (27 March-11 August). He has written a lot of different bestselling books, together with Starry Night time: Van Gogh on the Asylum, revealed by White Lion (accessible by way of Amazon within the UK and US), The Sunflowers are Mine: The Story of Van Gogh’s Masterpiece (Frances Lincoln 2013, accessible within the UK and US) and Studio of the South: Van Gogh in Provence (Frances Lincoln 2016, accessible within the UK and US).

• To contact Martin Bailey, please e mail: vangogh@theartnewspaper.com

Learn extra from Martin’s Adventures with Van Gogh weblog right here.


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