The fame Van Gogh garnered over the years gradually developed into (or merged with) his immense popularity. In the first decades after his death, the various activities of Jo van Gogh-Bonger, avant-garde artists and admirers, art dealers and newspaper editors worked together to make the public, little by little, more receptive to Van Gogh’s work, but in the second half of the twentieth century the disparate aspects that governed his fame and reputation – his work, his personality and his letters – each took on its own publicity dynamic, without a great deal of interdependence.
This did not prevent all the stops from being pulled out in such an important year as the centenary of his death. A number of major Van Gogh exhibitions were staged in 1990, and the artist suddenly became even more of a focus of attention than usual. Alongside monographic exhibitions there were also initial steps to explore Van Gogh’s artistic contacts with other artists and his influence on later generations.
The Van Gogh Museum seized the opportunity presented by the memorial year to produce a new edition of Van Gogh’s complete correspondence, in other words with all the known letters from and to Van Gogh. All the knowledge amassed since the appearance of the previous major edition, the Verzamelde brieven of 1952-1954, was incorporated: the newly discovered letters and the latest dating findings. The publisher was SDU in The Hague.
This edition again included previously unpublished letters, an impressive twenty-one of them:150
Following the example of the French translation, the whole correspondence was placed in chronological order in De brieven, in other words no longer grouped by correspondent. This meant a complete renumbering.152 All the letter sketches were illustrated in black and white. Bound in four yellow volumes, De brieven was the most comprehensive edition of the correspondence ever published.
The museum and the publisher deliberately elected to make the edition accessible to a wide public. One result of this was the decision to print all the letters in modern Dutch spelling (but otherwise to leave the nineteenth-century language as intact as possible) and to translate the letters in French into modern Dutch. It meant that the host of researchers and enthusiasts who could not read Dutch could derive little if any benefit from the new state of the art, nor from the enlargement of the corpus.