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How Vincent van Gogh helped Jews break into the world of art — and vice versa

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NEW YORK — In the culminating gallery of “Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience,” the painter’s masterpieces come to life through swirling animations projected everywhere. Even the lounge chairs are covered in “Sunflowers” and other recognizably van Gogh touches.

The process of commercializing van Gogh started 120 years ago, when German-Jewish art collector Paul Cassirer staged the first showing of the Dutch painter’s works in Berlin. After that exhibition, van Gogh’s legacy — and modern art, in general — became intertwined with the trajectory of European Jews, according to historian Charles Dellheim.

In an interview with The Times of Israel, Dellheim spoke about the “risk-taking” qualities of Cassirer and other Jews who helped van Gogh achieve posthumous fame. More than a century later, van Gogh paintings that were once owned by Jews still make headlines in connection to having been looted by Nazi Germany.

“Van Gogh’s art, especially its posthumous history, intersects with the history of modern Jews in Europe and America,” said Dellheim, whose new book, “Belonging and Betrayal: How Jews Made the Art World Modern,” was published on September 21.

Before the popularization of artists such as Cezanne, Monet, and Picasso, “art” was about elevating religion. The Jews pushing “modern” art were inserting themselves into a new field and peddling what some called irreligious or “degenerate” art.

Among the modernist painters adored by Jewish collectors, van Gogh figured prominently. Within two decades of the artist’s death, a........

© The Times of Israel

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